A “spellbinding solo meditation that hovered between Arabic cantillation and expanded Western tonality, with hints of jazz” and the “most memorable moment of the Divan’s New York residency,” wrote the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, of Kinan Azmeh’s “Prayer: A Tribute to Edward Said,” performed at a January 29 chamber concert, one of several events ancillary to the Divan’s four-concert series at Carnegie Hall.
This was high praise indeed for clarinetist and composer Azmeh, a D.M.A. student in music performance, considering the superlative quality of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an Arab-Israeli orchestra founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim and the late literary scholar Edward Said.
Azmeh, a former member of Divan, explained the creative urge behind his musical tribute: “The piece tries to depict this great man’s life and his continuous struggle for the cause of his people. I was incredibly fortunate to meet him a few times—the latest of which was at his New York residence—meetings that continue to inspire me, both in my music making and in life in general.”
Said, a literary theorist and public intellectual born in Jerusalem, served for forty years as professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and was University Professor when he died in 2003. An accomplished musician, Said was much involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights throughout his life. Barenboim, an Israeli born in Argentina, is a pianist, conductor, and music director of world renown. “Seeking to enable intercultural dialogue and to promote the experience of collaborating on a matter of common interest,” he and Said they formed the Divan with young musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries. The orchestra’s name derives from a collection of poems considered central to the development of a concept of world culture—“West-Eastern Divan,” composed in Persian style by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The chamber concert was presented in collaboration with the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University, NPR Music, WQXR, and (Le) Poisson Rouge.