Music & Migration Program Note
About his piece, Kinan Azmeh writes, “A fence, a rooftop and the distant sea were all present there facing my desk while I finished the piece in Beirut... These elements were a reminder of how near my home town of Damascus was yet how far it seemed after being away for five years. The piece is about random memories of individuals, more precisely it is about two characters searching for memories from home, and how they jump from one random memory to another while allowing themselves to drift away with their own thoughts, until they realize that the most powerful memories were the simplest, and they hold on to that endlessly.” For many years Kinan split his time between New York and Damascus, working as a composer and clarinetist, both as a soloist and as a member of the Silkroad Ensemble and leading his own CityBand in New York. But since the beginning of the war in Syria, he has not been able to return to Damascus. This
experience of a dear friend and much-admired colleague brought into close focus the emotional realities of war and migration that we read about with increasing regularity in the news.
The Aizuri Quartet’s own members’ families hail from Japan, Korea, the United States, and Armenia by way of Lebanon and Canada, and we were inspired to build a concert centered around the theme of migration viewed through a personal lens. We were particularly interested in the various and nuanced ways in which this issue resonated in our own musical community. For the occasion of our final concert as the 2017-18 MetLiveArts String-Quartet-in-Residence, the members of the Quartet each invited a composer whose work she particularly admired to respond to the theme of migration in whatever way they saw fit, whether through a direct reflection on personal or family experience, or a more general, abstract, or emotional response. A native of Ankara, Turkey, Can Bilir explores via a haunting palette of sounds “the unspeakable, intangible and irresolvable” nature of traumatic events and memories in his “Irresolvable Fragment.” In “Diente de León,” composer Pauchi Sasaki’s music reflects the uncertainty of migration and finds parallels between the plant Diente de León (dandelion, or tiger’s tooth in Spanish), whose flying seeds don’t know where they are going to land before they start a new cycle, and the experience of migrators, who “ignore the exact latitudes of their new soil.” She explores the “blurring nature of memories, as
migrators rebuild their place of origin in their minds. A new subjective and individual space is then constructed based on nostalgia and will.” About her piece “Between Air,” Wang Lu writes: “Between the flow of naturally pulsating motion and the inhaling and exhaling of instrumental bodies, [this piece] gently explores breath-like phrases through subtle micro-shading and timbral deviations to create a continually deepening emotional journey.” And Michi Wiancko’s “Lullaby for the Transient” tells a current immigration story from an emotional perspective, as she imagines the insecurity and aftermath experienced by a single mother and son who have successfully completed a border crossing. She writes,“It begins with the simple song texture of melody plus accompaniment, though often containing an underlying feeling of conflict, expressed through unexpectedly shifting meters, percussive strikes on instrument bodies, or wildly interruptive atonal flourishes. The listener will hopefully hear that "song" transform gradually into the volatile and virtuosic voice of an instrumental soloist - our transient heroine
moving from space to space, searching for a final resting place of peace and beauty, but in the end being forced to accept the persistence of unrest.”
One of the first composers the Aizuri Quartet worked with was Lembit Beecher, whose quartet “These Memories May Be True” we first performed in 2013. Of this work he writes: “My grandmother, Taimi Lepasaar, died as I was beginning work on this piece. She had had an amazing life, growing up in Estonia before World War II, surviving both the Soviet and of her country, and immigrating to the United States, where she raised two daughters by herself (her husband was lost in the final chaos of the war) while working as a public school music teacher and church organist. Her stories about Estonia and her journey to the United States exerted a strong spell over my childhood. As I worked on this piece, I thought about the sense of exile she must have felt after she left Estonia and I thought about the way stories and memories define us, whether or not they are complete or even true. This piece is a little like the scattered image of Estonia that I had while growing up: a few songs and a few stories, all filtered through many layers of retelling, and touched by a sense of nostalgia, a sense of something beautiful that
has been lost in the wash of time.”
Most of the works on the program are intimate and personal in their reflections, but the music of Komitas Vartabed, considered the father of Armenian music, is deeply treasured throughout the Armenian diaspora. A composer, priest, choir master, ethnomusicologist, and survivor of the Armenian genocide, Komitas’s music has become an enduring symbol of home and identity for a people separated from their homeland.