On September 29, 2014, renowned Syrian-American composer and pianist gave a lecture and concert at the college of music that highlighted artistic ways of engaging the on going conflicts in Syria. The event was sponsored by the Center for Asian Studies, with additional supporting funds from the College of Music, the Graduate Committee for the Arts and Humanities, and the Office of International Education.
The lecture and music event was organized as an educational program for the university and Boulder community on a current issue of global significance, namely the ongoing conflicts in Syria and the Middle East. It afforded the university faculty and students and the larger Boulder community the opportunity to engage an individual whose personal life has been impacted on many levels by the Syrian situation and the events of the Arab Spring, and how his experience of the events find expression in his music.
The two-part event comprised of one-hour lecture that was delivered by Mr. Jandali as part of the musicology and music theory colloquium series, which centered on the current conflict situation in Syria and how he makes compositional choices in response to the conflict. The second part was a two-hour concert on his work “Echoes from Ugarit,” which is his interpretation of a Hurian clay musical script (dated 1400-2000 B.C.) discovered in Ugarit, Syria 1950, also known to be the oldest music notation in the world. Mr. Jandali brought a copy of the original cuneiform clay script to the hall, which he introduced to the audience, passing it around so they could feel and examine its unique texture and writing closely. The historical and cultural significance of the ancient script and the modernist symphonic interpretation given to it by Malek Jandali cannot be overstated. It is a rare example of the convergence of archeology, history, politics, and music. Mr. Jandali is the first Syrian composer to set the script to modern symphonic arrangement. By doing so, first he provides us an opportunity to appreciate what this music sounds like at least in its melodic and modal form. Second, he brings both the ancient and contemporary human music culture into one sequence of artistic expression. On another level, his work evokes interdisciplinary interests so that his work comprises a scholarly road junction, where archeologists, art historians, and ethnomusicologists meet and interact.
The second part of the concert was his Chamber Works for Piano Cello, and Clarinet, premiered here at CU, and featuring CU's own Meghan Knapp, on Cello, and Jessica Vansteenburg, on Clarinet. In this opus of nine movements, Malek Jandali executed an excellent and poignant synthesis of Arabic melodic and rhythmic modes with elements of Western art music. According to him, musical synthesis is a testament to what he considers his dual heritage, namely his Syrian and American heritages. It also speaks to the freedom of expression, particularly the freedom to explore and experiment with new sounds, which America has afforded him; the right of which is being stifled by dictatorships such as the current Syrian regime, which would rather either coopt the arts for their oppressive agendas, limit the expressivity of music for fear of what it evokes- freedom, or even attempt to forbid and destroy it.
The event was very well attended and overwhelmingly well received. The afternoon colloquium lecture, which was held in the Chamber Hall (C199) in the College of Music was attended by over seventy people including faculty and students, and many people from the Boulder community. The chamber hall was packed full for the evening concert with several people in attendance that came from outside of the university including the Denver-Boulder metro area.
In the run up the event, Malek Jandali and CU ethnomusicology student Kesley Thibdeau who is analyzing Jandali’s work as part of her doctoral research were featured on the Colorado Public Radio’s daily show “Colorado Matters” http://www.cpr.org/news/story/grad-student-studying-arab-spring-brings-syrian-composer-cu-boulder.
Kelsey Thibdeau who is also a recipient of the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) for the 2013-14 academic year through the Center for Asian Studies is now continuing her study of Malek’s work for her doctoral dissertation. She is planning to travel to Jordan next year to investigate how the Syrian refugees are using music to respond to their experience of displacement, connection with the larger global Syrian diasporic network, and the impact of the transnational musical productivity (such as the work of Malek Jandali) on the ongoing conversations in relation to the conflict.