Clarion is delighted to present a concert of classical Iraqi Maqam music performed by the eminent American musician Amir ElSaffar and his ensemble. Amir is well known in the United States as a jazz and classical trumpeter and master of the santur, the classic Middle Eastern percussion instrument, a precursor of both the harpsichord and piano and sometimes described as the Persian hammer dulcimer. In our concert, Amir is joined by Dena ElSaffar playing the joza, a spike fiddle; also, George Ziadeh plays the oud, the Arab lute similar in form to western lutes but without frets; the fourth member of the group is Tim Moore on percussion instruments such as the riqq (tambourine), the tabla and the goblet-shaped doumbek or dumbug. The fifth and vital member of the ensemble is the reciter (singer) Hamid Al-Saadi.
To untutored western ears, Middle Eastern music maybe most recognizable from the quarter notes embedded in otherwise familiar harmonic scales. Equally important, and unmistakable, is its polyrhythmic nature. Needless to say, as with Western music, there are complexities and subtleties in traditional Arab music, obvious not just to the connoisseur but to people broadly.
Maqam is a storied artistic tradition, consisting of a musical and vocal system, and a vast repertoire based on modes (scales), melodic fragments, improvisation and ornamentation. Each scale has a distinctive Arabic name (think of Dorian, Lydian and other modes of the Western tradition). They are playable on the piano except, of course, when they contain quartertones.
Maqam melodies are combinations of 4- or 5-note mini scales called jinn (pl. ajinas) with the melody arising from the choice of ajinas and the emphasis given to certain notes. There are said to be 56 melodies in the Iraqi Maqam but improvisation and emphasis makes for a huge number of possibilities. But, in addition, one must not fail to grasp the vital role of the human voice in Maqam, drawing as it does on the richness of Middle Eastern secular and religious culture, mainly Muslim, but also Jewish and Christian.
Clarion Concerts has been bringing live classical chamber music to the Hudson Valley and Berkshires region for decades and we can only do that with your help. Won’t you please consider making a donation to our organization? We are an entirely volunteer-run non-profit so ALL of your donations go directly to paying musicians, concert hall fees and to our educational programs in area schools. While we suggest a $20 donation to enjoy this concert, any amount will be welcome. Thanks so much and enjoy the concert!
We thank the following foundations, businesses and individuals for their generous support of this concert. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.
* In memory of Josh Lipton