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Interview with Composer Bechara El-Khoury

By Viviane Ackerman

Mrs Ackerman has worked closely with Bechara El-Khoury for the past 5 years and knows his works very well. She is a consultant for various soloists, orchestras and ensembles. The interview took place in Paris, September 2006.

Why did the events of September 11th, 2001 in NY inspire a Lebanese composer?

Of course, I am a French composer of Lebanese origin, but I feel I am a citizen of the world. Even though I am a Christian, I feel very close to all other religions and also to people who have no religious faith.

For me, all human beings are important, independent of ethnic, racial origins.  And what could be more normal? Otherwise it is stupidity and mediocrity which engenders dramas and tragedies in the world we witness at the moment.

My symphonic work “New York, Tears and Hope”, dedicated to the memory of the victims of 9/11, emerged from my heart and soul. These events deeply changed our contemporary history and I felt very close to those people who lost their loved ones.

Why did you choose London to produce your new CD?

It was always my dream to make a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Abbey Road studio. As a finalist in the Masterprize competition for composers in 2003 in London, I made contact with this great orchestra which interpreted my music under the baton of Daniel Harding. It is an impressive orchestra in many ways: musically, technically and humanly. It is certainly one of the three or four greatest orchestras of the world. 

The two major works on this CD, produced by Naxos, are New York, Tears and Hope under the baton of Martyn Brabbins and The Rivers Engulfed under the direction of Daniel Harding.

What are your feelings concerning the fact that your music is played in Israel? And what is your opinion on Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra?

I am happy that my music is played in Israel because art and music don’t have boundaries, and music especially is a universal language which brings people closer together and abolishes geographical limits.

Why do people fight each other instead of loving beautiful things that unify them? I believe that whether they are individuals or politicians, people make war because of lack of culture but also lack of taste. Instead of going to war and committing terrorist acts – we should go to a concert!! It is much more interesting. Concerning the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim had a marvellous and courageous idea to unify the people of the Middle East and to make them understand through the beauty, complexity and simplicity of music how it is possible to live in peace.

In what way is your music poetic and in what way was it inspired by your Christian faith?

I was brought up by my parents to be human and fraternal. It was a catholic education without excess, just enough to have a healthy and spiritual life. I believe that my childhood and my education have unconsciously influenced my music. To me, music is a combination of heart and reason, spontaneity and deep reflexion. Jesus cradled my childhood and time did the rest.

Poetry has always been an important part of my life and I published several books of poems when I was a teenager. Poetry is an essential element in every artistic work: in music, painting, sculpture....

What is your current relationship to Lebanon?

I have affectionate feelings towards my land, my friends and family. I left Lebanon in 1979 to live in Paris and I go back now and then for short visits. Lebanon is a very small country but completely unique because it includes as many as 20 different communities. There are 3 million people living on 10 000 square km. It is where Christ accomplished the miracle of transforming water into wine, and where you can find the oldest city of the world Byblos (7000 years old). It is where our ancestors the Phoenicians invented the boat. These people went off to sea in boats and began relations and exchanges with the peoples of the world.
Is there a political message in your music?

No, there is no political message in my music, but there is a message of peace, love and hope- and a violent description of our violent world.

Have you composed music which is inspired by the Lebanese tragedy?

Of course, I composed a Lebanese Trilogy that includes three symphonic works: My first symphony “The Ruins of Beirut (1985)”, my first symphonic poem “Lebanon in Flames “(1980) and Requiem for Orchestra”, dedicated to the martyrs of war.

What are your plans for the near future?

Four CDs with my symphonic music have recently been released by Naxos. The most recent one was dedicated to the victims of 9/11. My violin concerto was recently performed in Paris by Sarah Nemtanu and the National Orchestra of France under the direction of Kurt Masur at the Theatre des Champs Elysees.

I am currently working on four composition projects: my second symphony, my fifth symphonic poem, a concerto for horn and orchestra, which is a commission of the National Orchestra of France, and a clarinet concerto. These projects have been maturing for a while and are now ready to be written.

Why did you choose the Naxos label to produce your CD?

Naxos is the leader in the recording of classical and contemporary music, thanks to the vision of its founder and President Klaus Heymann. He democratised the CD with the recordings of the great classical repertoire, and especially gave oxygen to contemporary music. Moreover, he has given new life to forgotten or neglected works of the past. And all this at a very affordable price -it has been a revolution in the CD market.

 Do you think that classical contemporary music is accessible to the general public?

Of course! People have different tastes which evolve with them. Also some perseverance is necessary, but it is not an absolute condition. Music needs to touch people, that is its purpose.

The problem is that some contemporary composers lose themselves in complex intellectual problems, with a poor result in sound, but especially without any interest except for those who compose this type of music.

A great part of contemporary music is very accessible, but sometimes you have to listen to the work a second time. It is like love: there is love at first sight which does not last, and then there are relationships which build solidly through time and experience.


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