What's New
November 24, 2019
Presenting Masters of Maqam

Clarion Concerts forges a new path on 05 December 2020, as it presents the composer, jazz trumpeter, vocalist and santur player Amir ElSaffar in a streaming concert at 5pm EST. Mr. ElSaffar, an Iraqi-American called "one of the most promising figures in jazz today" by the Chicago Tribune, will on this evening reach back to his father's roots in Iraq, and perform a collection of sacred maqams on santur in collaboration with Hamid al-Saadi, the singer said to be the greatest living exponent of maqam, and an ensemble to include Dena ElSaffar (joza), Tim Moore (percussion) and George Ziadeh (oud).

The concert will be pre-recorded at the Stissing Center in Pine Plains, NY, and will be accessed via the Clarion Concerts website, clarionconcerts.org. The stream will post on 05 December at 5pm, but will be available on the Clarion website indefinitely thereafter. A donation of $20 is requested, but any amount is welcome.

In the words of Mr. ElSaffar, "maqam" refers to highly structured, semi-improvised compositions learned through years of disciplined study under a master. Often rhythmically free and meditative, they are sung to classical Arabic and colloquial Iraqi poetry. This is an urban vocal tradition which is not written down, but rather performed in a semi-improvisational context based on established melodic modes. "One hundred years ago, maqam would be the only music you would hear in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities", says Mr. ElSaffar. Maqam is found in both religious and secular contexts, and amaz-ingly, not only serves liturgical purposes in Islam but in the Jewish and Christian traditions as well.

Amir ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background who is conversant in the language of contemporary jazz, but has also created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. He is also known as a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the subtle microtones found in maqam to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, and has received commissions to compose for jazz ensembles, traditional Middle Eastern ensembles, chamber orchestras, string quartets, and contemporary music ensembles, as well as dance troupes. He currently leads five critically-acclaimed groups: The 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra; Two Rivers, which combines the musical languages and instrumentation of Iraqi maqam and contemporary jazz; the Amir ElSaffar Quintet, performing ElSaffar’s microtonal compositions with standard jazz instrumentation; Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US performing and preserving the Iraqi Maqam in its traditional format; and The Alwan Ensemble, the resident ensemble of Alwan for the Arts, specializing in classical music from Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq. Among the jazz artists with whom he has collaborated are Cecil Taylor, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, Marc Ribot, Henry Grimes, and Oliver Lake. ElSaffar has appeared on numerous recordings, and has released six under his own name. A 2018 US Artist Fellow and a recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, he has just commenced a year as Mary Mackall Gwinn Hodder Fellow at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.


Through Hamid al-Saadi's powerful and highly ornamented voice, and in his comprehensive knowledge of the intricate details of the music and poetry of Iraq, generations and layers of the maqam tradition resonate through his magnificent presence on stage. The only person in his generation to have memorized and mastered all 56 maqamat from the Baghdadi repertoire, al-Saadi is one of the few vocalists who is keeping the maqam alive today, at a time when so many elements of this profound tradition are in danger of extinction. Born in Iraq in 1958, Hamid al-Saadi’s artistic, musical and scholarly journey with the Iraqi maqam began from childhood, inspired by his avid love of the Iraqi and Baghdadi culture, the Arabic language, music and poetry. He learned the art of singing and performing the Iraqi maqam from the legendary Yusuf Omar (1918-1987), who pronounced al-Saadi his successor. Muhammed Al-Gubbenchi (1901-1989), who taught Omar and was probably the most influential maqam reciter in history, said that he considered al-Saadi to be the “ideal link to pass on the maqam to future generations.”

The original line-up for Clarion Concerts' Leaf Peeper season 2020 featured four concerts, but by necessity the plan has been modified to two. Dave Hall, president of the board of Clarion Concerts, says "We've been concerned for months that, due to the challenges of the coronavirus, it would not be possible to mount our fall season at all. But our board was eager that we find a way to bring great music to Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, as we have been doing annually since 1957. With a combination of their very helpful ideas and some logistical shape-shifting, we have realized this dream with two terrific concerts which are being pre-recorded and streamed. The first was the remarkable duo Lark & Thurber, who played a beautiful concert that we streamed from the Stissing Center, and we're greatly looking forward to Amir ElSaffar and Hamid al-Saadi, who will bring our 2020 season to an exciting close."

"We couldn't be more thrilled that a Leaf Peeper season has come together this fall," says Eugenia Zukerman, Artistic Director of Clarion Concerts. "Dave and I and our entire board look forward to building on the adventurous directions we're taking this year and restoring our full complement of concerts in 2021."

Newell Jenkins and Jack Hurley established the Clarion Music Society in New York City in 1957. Jenkins, who specialized in music of the Baroque period, studied extensively in Europe, and there unearthed the music of Giovanni Battista Sammartini, ultimately introducing his work and that of many other composers of the Baroque era to music lovers in the United States. Under Jenkins’ direction, Clarion became known worldwide for early music concerts played on both modern and period instruments. For nearly forty years Jenkins programmed the Leaf Peeper Concerts in Columbia County. Upon Mr. Jenkins' death in 1996 Clarion Concerts of Columbia County, Inc., became independent of the New York City organization and New York Philharmonic violinist Sanford Allen was appointed Music Director. Mr. Allen expanded Clarion's range of repertoire to music of the 19th and 20th centuries, and under his leadership Clarion began commissioning new works. He retired in 2014 and flutist/broadcaster/author/poet Eugenia Zukerman became the third Artistic Director of Clarion Concerts. Since her tenure began, Clarion has continued to commission new works, present exciting new artists, expand the breadth of styles and periods of music presented, and has also established music education programs in schools in the city of Hudson NY.

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