When Kinan Abou-afach is writes music, he is inspired by memories of life in his homeland of Syria. Images of his grandmother, his grandfather’s house and Damascus, Syria’s capital, replay in his mind. Today, things are different.
“The nice memories are gone and the new image of destruction is what I’m seeing,” said Abou-afach, cellist in the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble, a quartet comprised of Arab musicians.
Abou-afach was commissioned by LiveConnections to write a piece to premiere at the last of three upcoming concerts in the current season of LiveConnections’ ClassicAlive series.
The commissioned work allows Abou-afach to use LiveConnections to share his experiences through music with a new audience.
LiveConnections was founded in 2008 and partners with World Cafe Live to bring music-based programming to a wide variety of audiences in the Philadelphia area. The organization focuses on three streams of programming: Bridge Sessions, ClassicAlive and LiveStudio.
Bridge Sessions, LiveConnections’ pilot program, provides free, interactive and educational performances for inner-city youth. ClassicAlive presents classical concerts at World Cafe Live in an informal setting and LiveStudio, LiveConnections’ newest stream of programming, presents selected Bridge Sessions and ClassicAlive concerts via live-stream, aimed toward elderly or disabled audiences. Artists who perform in the ClassicAlive show will often record a Bridge Session and live-stream the performance through LiveStudio.
Mary Javian, the ClassicAlive curator, is responsible for bringing together artists, musicians and ensembles to collaborate on the World Cafe Live stage. Javian focuses on pairing artists and ensembles from varying genres, disciplines and styles who may not typically work together.
“I feel like I’ve done my job well when the artists are all equally uncomfortable,” Javian said.
Javian said ClassicAlive concerts require more work than putting together a typical concert. Pieces are often commissioned by LiveConnections to ensure collaborating musicians have enough material to perform.
Three upcoming shows round out the ClassicAlive season. On March 20, Brooklyn flute duo Flutronix will join Philadelphia-based trombonist Ryan Matthews. Pianist Uri Caine will also perform alongside Philadelphia-based PRISM Quartet on April 16. Jason Vieaux will wrap up the series with the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble on May 7.
Matthews and the musicians of Flutronix found common ground in electronic music. As a producer, Matthews said he tends to add his own flair to a musician’s original work. When working with Flutronix, he added additional beats and other components to complement the foundation of the group’s sound.
Prior to their ClassicAlive collaboration, the members of the PRISM Quartet were familiar with Caine and his music. LiveConnections commissioned Caine to compose a piece for the April 16 concert.
“A lot of his newer collaborations [are] where he is working with DJs and hip-hop artists and other jazz greats,” said Matthew Levy, tenor saxophonist in the PRISM Quartet. “PRISM has kind of done that from a different perspective. We are mostly a classical saxophone quartet but we’ve been reaching into all kinds of other music, from collaborating with ensembles of traditional chinese instruments to percussion groups and lots of jazz artists.”
Javian said the initial ClassicAlive collaborations have often led to the paired artists continuing to work together in the future.
The PRISM Quartet invited Caine to New York to perform the commissioned piece at the quartet’s own concert series and record the track for the group’s next CD the day after the World Cafe Live performance.
Vieaux, a Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist, will close the ClassicAlive season alongside the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble. Abou-afach said blending Western classical music with traditional Arabic sounds in his commissioned work allowed him to challenge Vieaux as a musician.
“He’s an amazing guitarist,” Abou-afach said. “I tried to emphasize the way he performs when he tries to play something not classical.”
Javian said she hopes ClassicAlive shows expand audiences’ knowledge of performance and classical music.
“I’m hoping these new collaborations just really open people up to new kinds of music and experiences,” Javian said. “To make them more willing to try new things.”
Tim Mulhern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.