Marcel Khalife gets standing ovation at the Byblos International Festival
For more than two hours, the spectators witnessed a night of outstanding instrumental solos, performed alongside mass choral and solo voice performances and orchestral compositions.
The concert began with a brief piece performed by Khalife’s accompanists – the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Harout Fazlian, Al-Mayadine Ensemble and the choirs of Notre Dame and Antonine Universities. Then the oud maestro stepped onto the stage.
The energetic Fazlian hypnotized the audience with his conducting prowess, his movement oscillating slow to fast as though he controlled the tempo as much as the orchestra and choirs’ scores.
Fazlian’s manner on the podium resembled that of a wizard casting a spell over the assembled musicians, and the sparkling tones that arose from the choirs enchanted the audience in turn.
These first, breathtaking moments of the performance set the pace for what was to come for the balance of the evening.
The opening act was accompanied by the projection of a short documentary on Khalife’s life, projected on two large screens, which enabled spectators to rediscover – or discover for the first time – the musical path the oud virtuoso has chosen.
Khalife stepped onto the stage attired in white linen and a green scarf. He first greeted his audience and reiterated how important this Byblos performance was to him, since it is his home town.
“My first lyrics were written in Byblos,” he said, “and my first song was made in Byblos.”
While playing, Khalife kept his eyes shut most of the time, suggesting the intensity with which he feels the music he pulls from his instrument. His playing clearly drew a lot of emotion and nostalgia from his audience over the evening.
Joining the maestro on stage were several solo vocalists, and pianist Rami Khalife and percussionist Bachar Khalife, his sons.
German soprano Felicitas Fuchs delivered a requiem for the children who had been killed in Gaza during the past days of the Israeli siege, and who continued to die as the concert continued. Staring directly into the faces of her audience, Fuchs’ delivery raised goosebumps on the flesh of many of her listeners.
When Khalife announced that his next song would be “Rita,” a wave of cheering and enthusiasm swept through the spectators. As the song began, audience members sang along a capella under Khalife’s guidance.
Though he was the star of the show, the maestro graciously allowed both audience and soloists enjoy the limelight.
Canadian accordionist and bandoneon-player Julien Labro also delivered and absolutely hypnotizing solo. Fingers moving like the wings of a hummingbird, his eyes shut, Labro infused the evening’s music with Latino grace notes.
Like many of the other soloists, Labro’s playing was as trancelike as it was trance inducing.
Solo vocalist Oumeima el Khalil, who’s accompanied Khalife’s performance since she was 11 years old, belted out an a capella number that echoed beautifully through the outdoor venue. Waves crashed as she sang like arranged accompaniment.
Equally stunning for spectators were the solo contributions of Egyptian vocalist Mohamed Mohsen and Lebanese chanteuse Abeer Nehme, their virtuosity beautifully complemented by orchestra and chorus.
Later in the concert, Rami and Bachar Khalife collaborated with Labro in a remarkable trio number. The three played with strength, dynamism and harmony, a reminder that virtuosity can bridge widely disparate musical practices.
The two hours of allotted time passed quickly.
The combination of Khalife’s oud, orchestra, chorus and instrumental and vocal soloists was welcomed with great enthusiasm.
If there was a low point in the show, it emerged from the audience, some of whom deemed it appropriate to flee the venue before the concert had actually ended – a distracting mark of disrespect to these world-class performers, and the audience members more interested in enjoying an enchanting performance than climbing into an air-conditioned car.
For those innocent of such matters, here’s a tip: The show isn’t finished until the orchestra stands.
The Byblos International Festival continues Saturday with Yanni. For more information, please visit www.byblosfestival.org.