Bridging Music and Poetry – Mohammed Fairouz and David Handler at Le Poisson Rouge
The newly launched series, Return to Language, which seeks to imaginatively blend text and music into an amalgamate of artistic substance, provided a perfect opportunity for a special presentation featuring Le Poisson Rouge’s own David Handler and American-Arab composer Mohammed Fairouz.
Fairouz’s January 2015 release of Follow, Poet on Deutsche Grammophon marks the artist’s debut on the yellow power label – excellent timing for a live performance of “Audenesque”, an excerpt of the recording, with the Ensemble LPR conducted by Evan Rogister.
Mezzo soprano Kate Lindsey’s (photo- with Ensemble LPR) astonishing vocal range and theatrical talent gave intense expression to the highs and lows of Fairouz’s composition, transforming wild pitches and uttered lingual sequences into fanciful rhythmic and melodic otherworldliness.
Set to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and read by Irish writer, Paul Muldoon, “Audenesque” is based on an elegy mourning the loss of poetic giant W. B. Yeats; it is also a tribute to the 20th century lineage of English-language poets.
With four symphonies, an opera and several chamber and solo works to his name, Fairouz’s deeply emotive, timeless messages and metaphors, as well as the musical references to his Middle Eastern roots, have contributed greatly to the composer’s growing reputation as an unique musician The New York Times calls ”an important new artistic voice.”
Composer, violinist and violist David Handler’s composition, Celtic Verses, performed by harpist Kristi Shade and mezzo-soprano Mary Mackenzie whose crisp voice and purist diction moved with the music’s poetic waves, offered a further highlight of the evening.
Long familiar with the concept of language as music and sound, Handler recalls being as fascinated by the material leading to Celtic Verses, as he was with the transformative power of language in Fairouz’s work.
For Handler, co-founder of LPR and the Ensemble LPR, which, in a previous interview, he described as a natural outgrowth of LPR’s curatorial identity, the evening’s musical collaboration also helped to further the venue’s artistic and curatorial identity.
During the evening’s on-stage discussion with the composers, former IMG Managing Director Elisabeth Sobol, who had initiated the series for Universal Music Classics, shared her fascination and lifelong belief in the power of language and literature. At IMG, where she had managed artists like Evgeny Kissin, Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman, Sobol – now President and CEO of the Decca Label group – was instrumental in opening the doors for new music and genre-bending collaborations.
Joined on stage by Paul Muldoon, she expressed her hope that the evening’s encounter between two exceptional artists working at the crossroads of music and language “will spark a deeper kind of listening experience and, ultimately, a deeper sort of emotional response, because that’s the whole point of art: to be inspired and moved deeply.”
And Fairouz explained his thoughts: “In both our poetic and diplomatic lives, I would argue for a broad return to a love for illustrious language. Poetry can give us a means to reach beyond the daily, confused present and touch something timeless and eternal. At a time when the search for meaning has never been more critical, it seems to me that a return to language, to a respect in the way we treat each other with and through language is the first step in solving some of the problems of human communication and understanding that are manifest in conflicts from the Middle East to the halls of the U.S. Congress to the unchecked, vitriol sounding on social media. In times like ours, there is an imperative to use and value language more carefully and thoughtfully – a need to listen to and admire thoughtful language as part of our day-to-day lives. Our highest forms of linguistic expression are a defining element – and reflection of – our humanity.”
Sounds like a well-versed prayer to me.