The Syrian Big Band was the first of its kind in the Arab world and gave big band a voice in Syria. Working with the Metropole Orkest, soloists of the Syrian Big Band – most of them now live in the West – are playing an adventurous programme at Carré, packed with traditional repertoire and own energetic work. Versatile musicians such as ney player Moslem Rahal (who was at the 2016 festival with The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians), singer Dima Orsho, and singer and multiinstrumentalist Ibrahim Keivo are presenting their soulful
sounds. Top clarinettist Kinan Azmeh and Dutch trumpet player Eric Vloeimans are playing the world premiere of a double concerto for clarinet and trumpet: Tragoudi. It will be composed by Greek-Dutch Calliope Tsoupaki, whose work is often inspired by traditional music from Greece and the Middle East.
Two years on from the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, featuring guest musicians from Africa and Europe, the Metropole Orchestra presents another genre-defying concert with a number of soloists from the
Syrian Big Band. The idea came from Hannibal Saad, who founded this big band (Syria’s first) in 2004 and has been the driving force behind the Dutch festival Oriental Landscapes since last year. With this concert he wants to showcase the diversity of musical styles originating in his home country. Most of the music comes from the area between the Tigris and Euphrates, known in Arabic as ‘the island, al-Jazira. For centuries, this area has been a patchwork of cultures and peoples: Anatolian tribes, Arabs, Armenians, Syriac Christians, Bedouins, Kurds, Turks and Yezidis. Apart from living alongside each other, these groups have also influenced each other. A number of the songs featured in the concert are found in the repertoire of various Cultures. One example is the opening song Allala, an ode to the moon that possibly dates from the time before the rise of Christianity and Islam and which is heard all across the Middle East.
The pieces selected are far removed from the solemn, traditional repertoire of ensembles such as Al-Kindi and the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music. In this concert there is a greater emphasis on folk traditions and the kind of music played during festive occasions and while working the land, arranged and adapted for the Metropole Orchestra. Apart from the two orchestras, solo musicians from Syria also play an important role: mezzo soprano Dima Orsho, clarinettist Kinan Azmeh, singer Ibrahim Kevo, and Moslem Rahal on ney (a reed flute). Dutch jazz trumpeter Eric Vloeimans also features prominently.
Apart from traditional material, the concert also includes new compositions. Dutch-Greek composer Calliope Tsoupaki has written a double concert for Kinan Azmeh and Eric Vloeimans, who must give his trumpet the soft, melancholy timbre of an Armenian duduk. He will also perform Song for Syria, a new composition of his own. Works by Kinan Azmeh also featured, and Dima Orsho will sing her own songs Those Forgotten on the River of Euphrates, Hidwa, and Trip to Gouta. The orchestra will play one of Kareem Roustom’s festive pieces called Dabka; Dabke is a folk dance and a type line dance from the Middle East, which is typically performed at joyous occasions. “The idea is to give the audience a glimpse of Syria’s musical riches”, Hannibal Saad explains. “And of what Syria might sound like if there wasn’t a war on.”
Clarinettist and composer Kinan Azmeh (Damascus, 1976) began studying violin at the age of five but switched to the clarinet one year later because, being left-handed, he found bowing with his
right hand a challenge. He received a diploma in performance from the Damascus Higher Institute of Music and an electrical engineering degree from the University of Damascus. He continued his studies of the clarinet at the Juilliard School in New York and graduated with a doctorate in music from the City University of New York.
As a clarinettist, Kinan Azmeh is active in the genres of classical, jazz and world music. He has performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is made up of a variable group of young musicians from the Middle East. He has shared the stage with the Kurdish singer Aynur and the Armenian duduk player Djivan Gasparian. He appeared with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra at the opening of the Damascus Opera House in 2004. In the Netherlands, he has performed with jazz trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and pianist Jeroen van Vliet, among others.
He is a member of Hewar, a quintet of musicians all sharing a Syrian background, as well as the Kinan Azmeh CityBand quartet, a group that devotes itself to fusing Arab music with jazz. He is also a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and serves as the artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Players, an ensemble dedicated to contemporary music from throughout the Arab world. His compositions include works for solo clarinet, orchestra and chamber music ensembles. He has also written music for film and dance performances. Azmeh was previously in the Netherlands for performances with the Fuse String Quartet on the Podium Witteman Live television programme, as well as at the Morgenland Festival and in the Bimhuis.
Ibrahim Keivo (1966) was born to an Armenian family in the north of Syria. Apart from Armenian spiritual songs, his mother also taught him to sing works from Turkish, Kurd and Arabic traditions from an early age. It was the start of en enduring interest in cultures, religions and ancient civilizations from the area. He studied at the Institute of Music in Aleppo, where his teachers included the composer and musicologist Nouri Iskandar, a specialist in early Syrian music. Iskandar was the first to record in writing the country’s ancient orally transmitted repertoire, the very music Keivo had grown up with. Keivo mastered a diverse range of string instruments including the baglama, the kamancheh and the oud, and above all the bozuk, an instrument with three paired strings. He acquired international renown in 2002, when ZT-Hollandia gave him the principal part singing in an adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae, set to music by Nouri Iskandar. He toured across the whole of Europe with this production. Since then, he has received frequent requests to perform on the international stage as a soloist and in ensembles, both in the Arab world and the West. In 2009 he performed at the Morgenland Festival in Osnabruck, where he played a composition by Iskandar with members of the Syrian Big Band. In his music Keivo primarily focuses on old religious music from his native region and songs from the folk tradition. He wants to show that this part of the world is a richly varied patchwork of cultures.
The Syrian mezzosoprano Dima Orsho (1975) studied singing and clarinet at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus. She completed her studies at the Boston Conservatory, where she specialised in opera. Her repertoire comprises classical music (including the role of Titania in Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream), jazz and music from the Middle East. She is also an active composer, mostly for TV, radio, film and theatre productions. Orsho was a member of the artistic team behind the Leish Troupe, a company of artists from different disciplines based in Damascus, which produced movement theatre until the civil war broke out in 2011. She has been a member of the Syrian jazz trio Hewar since it was founded in 2003. The year after she performed with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra at the opening of the Opera House in Damascus. Together with oud player and artistic leader of The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians Issam Rafea and percussionist Omar Al Musfi she started the DIO Trio, which plays old and traditional music from the Middle East. Last year she performed at the Salam Syria festival in Hamburg with Hewar, the NDR Big Band and members of the Syrian Big Band, and with a symphony orchestra of former Syrians. This production also featured her compositions. In 2017 she also appeared at the Morgenland Festival in Osnabruck with Hewar. Orsho is one of the six female vocalists featured on Awakening Beyond, a recent double album by composer Kareem Roustom.
After graduating from the Syrian Higher Institute of Music in Damascus in 2003, Moslem Rahal specialised in techniques for playing the ney (and end-blown reed flute). He later taught ney in the music department of the university of Homs. Rahal carried out research into the role of the ney in Arabic music and was invited to participate in an international conference about the instrument during the Jerash Festival in Jordan in 2007.
He became a soloist in the National Symphony Orchestra of Syria and a member of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (SNOAM). He was a member of the Twais Quartet, founded in 2004 by the artistic leader of SNOAM, oud player Issam Rafea, with the aim of going in search of the roots of instrumental Arabic music and incorporating these in contemporary compositions. He performed at the Holland Festival two years ago as a member of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, in a concert reuniting current and former members of SNOAM, many of whom fled Syria because of the armed conflicts of recent years. Together with singer and oud player Waed Bouhassoun he recorded an album of Sufi songs in 2008.
These days Moslem Rahal lives in Barcelona, where he is a member of the renowned Hesperion XXI ensemble led by Jordi Savall. Through his research into Arabic music and his many collaborations with European artists, Rahal has acquired an important role as an interpreter of music from Arab traditions in a Western setting.
Composer Kareem Roustom (1971) moved from his birth country Syria to the United States in the 1980s. He studied jazz guitar with Charlie Banacos, before focusing on composition and ethnomusicology. These days he is affiliated with the music department of Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he teaches film music composition, music from the Middle East and orchestration. He also founded the Arabic Music Ensemble there. Apart from his work for orchestras, smaller ensembles and choirs, he composes music for films, and is active as an arranger and producer. As an immigrant, Roustom is always aware of the feeling of being uprooted, and feels an affinity with the millions of people fleeing armed conflict and natural disasters. This theme has taken centre stage sing the beginning of the civil war in Syria, seven years ago. He composed Aleppo Songs for piano to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. The organisation receives all the revenue resulting from the sale of the score and from royalties. A recent project was the 2017 double album Awakening Beyond, featuring female singers including Tina Turner, Mor Kabasi and Dima Orsho. His compositions are influenced by jazz and classical and traditional styles from his native region, although those sources are not always immediately recognisable. He pays a great deal of attention to colouring in his music and sees Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten and Oliver Knussen as his leading examples in this area.
Calliope Tsoupaki (1963) is a Dutch-Greek composer. She was born in Piraeus, Greece, and has been mainly living and working in Amsterdam for over two decades. Tsoupaki studied piano and music theory at the Hellinikon Conservatory in Athens. She took summer courses with Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez and participated in the Internationale Ferienkurse in Darmstadt. From 1988 to 1992 she studied composition under Louis Andriessen and electronic music under Gilius van Bergeijk at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague.
A significant part of her oeuvre is closely connected to her Greek background, both in terms of the music itself as the subjects and themes she focuses on. It also displays her love of old music. In 2012 she created Maria, a commission for the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble that brings together classical and folk traditions surrounding the veneration of the Virgin Mary. In her composition Narcissus (2013) delicate combinations of perfumes play an important role. In 2015 she wrote the opera Mariken based on a medieval counterpart to the parable of the prodigal son. Fortress Europe, from 2017, focuses on the issue of migrants from war zones being stranded on Greek islands. Her compositions have been performed at a variety of festivals including editions of the International Gaudeamus Music Week in 1991 and 1993. The Holland Festival has premiered a number of her works, such as Lucas Passie (2008), Greek Love Songs (2010) and, at the special request of Pierre Audi, the oratorio Oidípous (2014).
Calliope Tsoupaki teaches composition at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.
Eric Vloeimans (1963) began his studies of classical trumpet at the Rotterdam Conservatory but switched to the jazz department, where he graduated with honours in 1988. He is famous for the velvety tone he can coax from his instrument, and, thanks to his melodic and versatile playing, he is a welcome collaborator with musicians from a wide range of styles and genres. He has recorded CDs with such diverse artists as the Portuguese singers Fernando Lamereinhas and Mafalda Arnauth, with the Calefax reed quintet, and with the Holland Baroque Society, as well as with composer and jazz pianist Martin Fondse, sound artist Michel Banabila, Colin Benders (Kyteman), and with DJ Armin van Buuren. These musical collaborations have taken Vloeimans to every corner of the globe, from Japan to China and South Africa.
He has also toured internationally with his own bands. These include his ‘chamber jazz’ trio, Fugimundi (with pianist Harmen Fraanje and guitarist Anton Goudsmit), and Gatecrash (with Jeroen van Vliet on keyboards, Gulli Gudmundsson on bass and Jasper van Hulten on drums), a group that aims to bridge the gap between electronic effects and jazz and pop music. In 2011, he performed seven times in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. In that same year, he composed a trumpet concerto, Evensong, with Martin Fondse, which was premiered by the Limburg Symphony Orchestra. He has received numerous prizes: in 2001, he won the Boy Edgar Prize, and the following year, the Bird Award. Three of his CDs have earned an Edison Award: Summersault, with his trio Fugimundi, won in 2006, and his group Gatecrash won an Edison for their CD Gatecrashin' in 2007. Vloeimans’ CD Testimoni, recorded with Martin Fondse and the Matangi Quartet, won an Edison in 2012.
Composer and conductor Jules Buckley is a musical pioneer who pushes the boundaries of contemporary genres. He is the Chief Conductor of the Metropole Orkest from the Netherlands, whose highlights include a Grammy Award for Sylva, their lauded collaboration with Snarky Puppy, and groundbreaking collaborations with: Quincy Jones for the BBC Proms, Henrik Schwarz for the Amsterdam Dance Event, Kurt Elling, Tori Amos, Markus Stockhausen, Michael Kiwanuka, Kandace Springs, Basement Jaxx. Buckley is also the co-founder of The Heritage Orchestra, a flexible chamber ensemble, dedicated to performing new music with a daring approach to crossing and linking musical genres. Ever the musical agitator, Buckley’s work has led to collaborations, recordings and live projects with an astonishing range of musical collaborators including Massive Attack, Arctic Monkeys, John Cale, Emeli Sandé, Hollie McNish, Anoushka Shankar, Laura Marling, Benjamin Clementine, Ibrahim Maalouf, Dizzee Rascal, Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest and Eric Vloeimans.
The Metropole Orkest (MO) plays jazz, pop, world music and film scores, and has shared the stage with legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny, Brian Eno, Herbie Hancock, The Basement Jaxx and Bono. The MO invests just as much in playing with the next generation of stars like Caro Emerald, Laura Mvula, Robert Glasper, Woodkid, Snarky Puppy and Gregory Porter. Under the helm of the young British chief conductor Jules Buckley Metropole Orkest seeks to challenge boundaries of current symphonic pop and jazz. The Metropole Orkest is a regular guest on The Netherlands’ main stages such as the Amsterdam Paradiso, The Concertgebouw and has played in both the Barbican and Royal Albert Hall in London. The Orkest also plays many festivals including North Sea Jazz, BBC Proms, Holland Festival, Pinkpop and Lowlands. In recent years, the Metropole Orkest won 3 Grammy Awards. The Metropole Orkest has produced more than 150 albums and thousands of radio and television broadcasts. Despite this musical versatility, people all over the world can recognise inimitable sound, style and identity of the Metropole Orkest. The MO is a regular guest at the Holland Festival and played among others with Woodkid, Antony & The Johnsons and Markus Stockhausen.
Founded in 2005, the Syrian Big Band soon developed into a jazz orchestra with an oriental identity. The ensemble makes its own compositions and arrangements, and experiments with new ways of combining jazz with a diverse range of musical genres: world music, contemporary and classical Western music and traditional Arab and Syrian music. This has allowed it to build a unique repertoire that gives his orchestra its distinctive character. The solid foundation of jazz is able to absorb and support the other styles and genres without changing their essence. The touchstone the orchestra keeps coming back to is their performance of classic, contemporary and innovative jazz music.
The Syrian Big Band has made an important contribution to a growing interest in jazz among Syrian musicians, and has brought jazz closer to the Syrian public. It has also become an incubator for new talent, giving young musicians an opportunity to build successful careers. The Syrian Big Band has played at a number of prestigious festivals including several editions of Morgenland in Osnabrück, where it performed with the big band of public broadcaster NDR. Although it has a sizeable brass section, it combines this effectively with traditional instruments with a considerably softer character, such as the Qanun and Ney (reed flute).
The orchestra has been adopted by Syrian Music Lives. Through the concerts it organizes, this organization wants to raise awareness of music and musicians from the war-torn country. The aim is not just to show a positive image of Syrian culture, but also to help heal the wounds the civil war has caused among Syrians themselves.
- Kinan Azmeh,
- Jules Buckley
- Wolf Kerschek
- Kinan Azmeh,
- performed by
- Metropole Orkest
- Koninklijk Theater Carré, Holland Festival, Metropole Orkest