A celebration on the eve of the Afghan new year, Nawroz, featured arrangements of the country’s traditional music along with original compositions. The first female conductor from Afghanistan and its leading rubab player joined with Longy students and alumni in “A Concert of Solidarity with Afghan Musicians.” Previews of the event had appeared both HERE, in the Boston Music Intelligencer, and the Boston Globe.
With vast First Church Cambridge filled to capacity last night, imagine the roars of Afghan zeal running throughout the near 90-minute celebration. Well-known Afghan-American Qais Essar, his country’s national instrument, the rubab, and cohort Hamid Habibzada, on that region’s primary drum pair, the tabla, inevitably drew us closest to the heart of the matter, first as a duo in Bandesh in Pilo and Kirwani. Emotion ran at high intensity from the calmest strums to the fieriest builds.
Both would later join in with a chorus and good-sized orchestra of Longy students and alums. The Longy School of Music at Bard College President Karen Zorn was on hand to welcome us and to remind all how the world needs more music for peace. She also introduced one of Longy’s students, Arson Fahim, who both curated and produced this very special observance. Fahim also composed Broken Mountains, which came last on the program. For orchestra, solo voice, with Fahim at the piano, his sensitive tone poem referenced Afghanistan’s breathtaking mountains and his people’s sorrows and struggles against the Taliban treatment of women, girls, and his fellow musicians. Broken Mountains closed the celebration leaving us all with a feeling of magnificent beauty and a deep sense of hope.
Another Afghan and student at Longy, Qudrat Wasefi, composed Zindagi/Marg – Life/Death for solo voice, chorus, and orchestra. A lone trumpet (played by the composer) and heavy drumbeats permeated the dramatic tribute to his homeland. Orchestra, rubab, tabla, and harmonium conjured up Milad Yousufi’s Nostalgia that expressed happiness, grief, and, in a stirring turnaround, joy [Yousufi is profiled HERE]. Interlochen student Meen Karimi composed Dawn, “a piece that ends unresolved, unfinished.” Her solo cello and the orchestra combined in a last gripping forte meant to say “do not give up.” Bob Jordan on drum set, and Derek Beckvold on saxophone, described their own involvement as a “spiritual journey” which the duo conveyed in their Improvisation on Afghan Melodies. Both had taught at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music before that became impossible.
The ensemble’s primary conductor Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey reminded us of westerner’ penchant for common time, or measures of four beats, as opposed to the more challenging time of an odd number of beats—seven—prevalent in their music influenced by neighboring India; she then led A Medley of Afghan Songs in attractive orchestral arrangements with its eastern melodies shining as gems mounted in colorful western instrumental garb. Negin Khpalwak, Afghanistan’s first female conductor, led Zindegi Akhair Sarayat by Ahmad Zahir (arr. Lauren Braithwaite) followed much in the same atmospheric and emotive expression.
The vast space of First Church Cambridge, whose pews were spilling over with people from around the world, resounded with voices in wholehearted and heartfelt solidarity. A simple leaflet provided titles and names. Music, after all, is a universal language.