Some of the best projects start small and then grow in unexpected directions; such is the case for Mohammed Fairouz’s new oratorio, Anything Can Happen, co-commissioned by the Back Bay Chorale, which will receive its Boston area premiere this coming Sunday at Sanders Theatre, Harvard along with Mozart’s Requiem in the Süssmayr (Baerenreiter Edition).
Fairouz is a prolific young Arab-American composer whose cross-cultural compositions have been performed all over the world, and whose work has recently garnered attention from the BBC in the UK and Public Radio International in the USA. His first opera, Sumeida’s Song was premiered in January at the Prototype Festival in New York, and his Symphony Number Four for Wind Ensemble premieres at Carnegie Hall late in March. Anything Can Happen was the result of a joint commission of The Grinnell Singers of Grinnell College in Iowa, the Back Bay Chorale, Marsh Chapel at Boston University and Cantori New York.
Collaborating on the work with the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Fairouz initially proposed a small work crafted around Heaney’s poem Anything Can Happen. Published in 2004, and inspired by one of Horace’s odes it elicits memories of 9/11. Heaney responded by proposing something more: using two additional poems: In Iowa and Höfn.
Deeply interested in the texts of his compositions, Fairouz said that he “found, in the process of putting together the texts with Seamus, that there were beautiful parallels to the narrative of these three apocalyptic poems in passages from the Arabic Injeel (the equivalent to the New Testament).” He eventually decided to set these original old Arabic texts to music, movements that form the inner parts of the overall piece.
The result is a small but dramatic oratorio for chorus, bass soloist and viola. The Sunday performance features David Kravitz, who recently performed the role of Abraham in the Boston Lyric Opera commission Clemency by James Macmillan, and the New England Conservatory’s Roger Tapping, newly appointed violist of the Juilliard Quartet.
Scott Allen Jarrett added in an interview: “Fairouz is extraordinarily skillful at framing Anything Can Happen. Both beginning and ending allow the listener to gradually be drawn in—all sonority before emerging melody—color only, without form. As the picture comes into view, lyricism emerges. All this is guided by subtle and delicate harmonic shifts. Fairouz’s voice is direct and honest: economical in score (mixed chorus, solo viola, and solo baritone) the textures are immediate and driven by familiar harmonies.”
The choice of the viola as a solo instrument is key to the piece’s dramatic potency according to Fairouz. “The strings imitate the human voice beautifully. The viola encompasses both the male and female voice ranges from mezzo soprano through to high baritone. Right from the beginning, I was able to capture the entire vocal range, incorporating the viola as the 5th choral voice.”
The Back Bay Chorale decided to pair Fairouz’s work with Mozart’s Requiem. The Requiem as is a “response” to the Fairouz, Jarrett said. “The texts in the Fairouz are bleak, and carry a sense of the inevitable. Consider the rhythmic ‘motor’ of the viola part throughout the piece: even in the interior movements where the viola part’s contour are more lyrical, there is still a sense of inevitability brought about by the rhythm. “Jarrett continued, “Mozart, by contrast and compliment, accepts realities, even stares them in the face (Dies irae for instance), and looks beyond. Both pieces are connected by the Divine, and depict human frailty in the care of the Creator. Both Fairouz and Mozart find a deep personalism in the solo movements, offering another possibility to regard the human condition.”
The concert is at 3:00 pm on Sunday March 17th at Sanders Theatre, and also features Teresa Wakim, Soprano, Misty Bermudez, Alto and Stefan Reed, Tenor completing the solo quartet for the Mozart. Full concert details and tickets are available here.