"Nearer To East: Chamber Music from the Arab World," scheduled to take place Saturday, 12 January, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, part of Lincoln Centre, will include works by renowned Egyptian-born American composer, performer and ethnomusicologist Halim El-Dabh; Canadian-American composer Karim Al-Zand; Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh; British-born Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk, Arab-American composer with an Egyptian background Mohammed Fairouz; Zaid Jabri from Syria and the Emmy-nominated Syrian-born Kareem Roustom.
According to the concert's programme notes: "Avoiding exotic and orientalist clichés, this thoughtful programme of contemporary Western classical music from the Arab world and beyond brings together a collection of passionate, eloquent, and bold works reflecting the past yet speaking in the idioms of the present."
Among a number of musicians, the concert will feature one singer: American soprano Christine Moore, who is also the core motor of the event at the Lincoln Centre.
Though acting as the concert's initiator, Moore revealed to Ahram Online that the idea of the concert came from Kareem Roustom, who presented a similar concert, with the same name, at Tufts University in Boston in early 2012.
"I had always wanted to present a concert like this in New York, with the intention to try to take it everywhere, actually," Moore explains to Ahram Online. "Kareem Rouston agreed to let me use the name and theme for a similar concert at the Lincoln Centre Library."
Though usually performing Western classical music and having a large repertoire of operatic works and performances in internationally renowned concert halls with acclaimed orchestras and musicians, Moore's interest in the Arab world is neither limited to this single event nor is it accidental.
Her biography includes several cooperations with the artists from Egypt, Syria and other countries from the Middle East. Curiously, she has a rich history of ancestors in Egypt and Lebanon.
Christine Moore's ancestors come from the Levant, mostly from Lebanon, at the time the mandate of Syria. Some of Moore's ancestors migrated to Egypt due to the instability in Lebanon following the war of 1860 between the Druze and the Maronites. In Egypt, the family stayed for a whole century.
The two most important and influential relatives who migrated from Lebanon to Egypt were Yuhanna Abcarius, Moore's great-great grandfather from her mother's side, and his brother Iskander Abcarius.
"Yuhanna was a scholar, trader, businessman, verbal translator (dragoman), writer and translator of books. His most prominent work is his An English-Arabic Reader's Dictionary (still published by Librairie du Liban), which was the first of its kind written in the Arab world under the Ottoman Empire," Moore explains.
"Iskender Abcarius dedicated all his life to literature, writing poetry, novels, literary and philosophical works. He was very well known and beloved in Egypt for his poetry. He wrote several books, including the first Arab epic poem, and a book about pre-Mohammedan Arabic history. His two books about Egypt: El-Menagheb El-Ibrahimeyya wal Measser El-khedoueyya (Ibrahim Pasha’s deeds and Khedivial achievements) and Nouzhat El-Nefous wa Zinet El-Trouss (The Stroll of Souls on Paper), a collection of several of his poems and prose."
When talking about her ancestors, Moore can even tell the exact address where the family lived: at 15 Boutros Pasha Ghali Street in Heliopolis. "When I saw the film Heliopolis by Ahmed Abdalla, I couldn't believe they filmed in that same building! I nearly fell out of my chair!"
Moore's love of music was born at home. Though her mother, Jeanne Abcarius, worked as a translator, "she had a beautiful voice, my aunt told me, that she never developed," Moore reveals. "My sister is a blues guitarist and singer, totally opposite to me, but we grew up with a love of singing from our father, Harold Moore, who wanted to be a professional, but couldn't afford lessons, and my mom, who hid her talents all those years."
Though eventually Moore's mother and all her relatives left Egypt in the 1950s, and Moore was born to an American father, she keeps returning to the region, including Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. She visited Egypt in 2007. "I can't wait to go back to Egypt," she comments. Meanwhile, Moore pursuits include many artistic collaborations with Egyptian and other Arab musicians.
In 2010, in New York City, she sang a solo concert of all German Lieder with an Egyptian pianist, Mohamed Shams, a cooperation that she recalls very warmly. "He is not only a wonderful pianist but also he has a truly innate understanding of how to play with a singer. I didn't have to tell him anything or point to any phrasings. This experience was amazing."
Moore also sang two pieces — Partita Poly Obligati and To A Newborn: Habib El-Dabh — by Halim El-Dabh in February 2011 at his 90th birthday celebration at the Lincoln Centre Library for the Performing Arts. Magda Saleh, who organised the event, will be also organising a series of Egypt concerts at the library in February.
A few years back, also in New York City, Moore did the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz's piece, "Tahwidah," which the composer wrote for her and renowned Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh.
Apart from an interest in the Arab world, Moore has a flourishing career as a soprano performing the Western classical music repertoire. Her biography includes opera performances and concerts throughout the US and Europe. Her operatic repertoire includes Mimi in La Bohème with the Leipzig Opera, Micaëla in Carmen with the Sacramento Opera, the title role in Madama Butterfly with the Central City Opera, Suor Angelica at the Chautauqua Festival among many others. She also performed in Barber's Knoxville-Summer of 1915 with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Mendelssohn's Elijah, the Fauré Requiem, Mozart's Requiem, Brahms' Requiem and Verdi's Requiem.
Her UK concert debut in 2005 in Schönberg's Pierrot Lunaire at the Paxton Chamber Music Festival in Scotland gained the acclaim of critics who noted her "colourful and evocative" performance.
"There were several impressive women in the concert. Soprano Christine Moore stood out for lyrical singing of an aria in the 'Susannah' title role; for energetic presence and clarity of diction in a scene from Douglas Moore's 'The Ballad of Baby Doe,' and for striking acting in the 'Student Prince' excerpt," a critic fromAlbuquerque Journal, commented on Moore's performance.
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