Classical Notes: Interviews, Live Music Tell Tale Of Refugee Plight


Classical Notes: Interviews, Live Music Tell Tale Of Refugee Plight

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Classical Notes: Interviews, Live Music Tell Tale Of Refugee Plight

EMPAC's biggest production this season has a strange and deceptive name. "Paper Pianos" suggests something fleeting and fleeting, but the unique musical documentary focuses on an important and ever-present issue: the agonizing struggle of refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Co-created by composer Marie Keumjian and conductor Nigel Meister, the 90-minute piece will be performed by Alan Pearson's 16-piece orchestra. It is scheduled to air on Saturday, February 25 at 3:00 p.m.

The use of the term "documentary" can refer to a film or video, but this particular piece does not contain visual images of refugees. Instead, their voices will be removed from the interviews and featured on an audio track with live music. Sometimes the production has a cinematic component, which includes audio performances and graphic designer Gevorg Murat's storytelling through hand-drawn animation.

The name "Paper Piano" comes from the story of Milad Al-Yousifi, who as a young man risked his life in Afghanistan to compose music that the Taliban believed was forbidden in Islam. He took silent revenge by teaching himself to play the piano using a keyboard he had drawn on paper. After arriving in the United States, Al-Yousifi studied piano at the Mann School of Music on a full scholarship, followed by a master's degree in composition from Brooklyn University. Guyumchyan first set to music in a 10-minute concert commissioned by Alarm Will Sound in 2016.

This original work was considered successful and the concept was expanded to include refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia and Iraq. In return, theatrical performances and projections multiply, and Keumjian joins the team of collaborators. It was created by Nigel Meister, a Rochester-based conductor and founding member of Alarm Will Sound, who studied at the Eastman School of Music and is now based in New York. Meister brings a conductor's eye and a penchant for performance uncommon to the company, all aligned with their mission to disrupt the concert experience.

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"From the beginning, the group used hybrid performance techniques to enhance the theatrical performance," said Meister.

For the sources for the expanded edition of Paper Pianos, Meister and Gouyumjian conducted several taped interviews with three other former refugees who now live in Rochester and work in refugee resettlement. His efforts to fight administrative delays and bureaucratic hurdles on behalf of the new refugees became a sideshow, giving the title a new twist: bureaucracy.

The stories of these four refugees share common themes: uprooting, longing and hope, emotions that almost everyone can relate to. But Meister said the artwork is "not a dramatic story, but an informative story."

An expanded version of the work has been in development since 2016, a period that has included three residencies at EMPAC and many shifts in the geopolitical winds. "The situation has changed dramatically," Meister said. Trump came and lowered the legal number. There have been ups and downs throughout the project.

The highly anticipated world premiere was postponed twice due to the epidemic. The EMPAC curator responsible for the selection was Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, who has since left the institution.

Although the work was commissioned for orchestra, Gouyumjian's music now shares space with many other elements. "I think the little piece was really great internally, and Marie is very generous in sharing her development concept with others," Meister said, praising her colleague for making room for other artists. Is opening. We should congratulate him for being open. We took a strong piece and added many factors to it. This is a very disgusting approach to work with.

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In a joint phone conversation with director and composer Guyumjian, he spoke with rare artistic modesty. You are asked about details about your vocals, such as whether they form rhythms from speech patterns heard in interviews. After answering the question, bring the discussion back to the humanitarian issues discussed in this thread and the importance of effective storytelling.

"I don't pay much attention to the rhythm," he said, "I hope the music won't interfere." "I see the main purpose of music as creating a space for these stories to be heard and building empathy between the speaker and the listener. It's almost psychologically assessed. I can imagine how they feel when they tell their story. How can I empathize with that? man"?

Gouyumjian said the text addresses political issues and realities, but the focus remains on the basic needs and experiences of refugees.

"We all want a safe place to live and value our home, our family and freedom of speech."

A piano sheet performance will take place on Saturday, February 25th at 3pm at EMPAC, 44 8th St. in Troy. Ticket prices range from $6-$20. Call 518-276-3921 or visit

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer from Troy.

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