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Interview with Bechara El-Khoury (Paris, November 2003)

For Naxos France-Integral Distribution.



1)      You were born in Lebanon. Why did you leave your country and why did you choose to establish yourself in Paris?

I left Lebanon in 1979, four years after the start of the war which lasted 20 years, though I did not leave because of this war.  Even though I had already completed my musical studies in Lebanon (piano, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, orchestration) with Agop Arslanian, my goal was to go to Paris to perfect my craft as a composer and orchestrator with Pierre-Petit. He gave me the keys to the subtleties of the structure of a piece of music as well as the techniques of the contemporary orchestra.

In Paris I was given the opportunity to listen to modern music from all backgrounds and to take full advantage of French culture - which was mine anyway in Lebanon. In 1987, I became a French Citizen.

2)      What has been your musical path? What are the different musical directions you have taken in your compositions until now? Does your inspiration come from both your backgrounds?

When I was still a teenager (between the ages of 12 and 22) in Lebanon, I composed a number of symphonies and concertos, as well as fugues, but none of these works are present in my official catalogue (published by Max Eschig). It begins in 1979, the year I came to Paris. In Lebanon, I was Kappellmeister at the Saint Elie Church in Antelias, near Beyrouth. I led the Mass every Sunday at six o’clock in a huge church which could hold up to two thousand people. Sometimes I played the piano, other times the organ, and also conducted the choir and other musicians. I conducted my own works which were especially written for the mass as well as more traditional works.

We made a record at EMI of my religious works (for soloists, choirs and orchestra) when I was 16. Other records were recorded later. At that time too, at the age of 14, I published three poetry books.

At the beginning, I was mainly influenced by Russian music, then by German composers and later by French music. But I think the oriental aspect is still perceptible; it has probably lessened with time but I think I naturally synthesised all these influences. Among all those that nourished my musical imagination I would cite Richard Strauss, Mahler, Zemlinsky, Berg, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Penderecki, and Dutilleux.

My music is tonal but it is an enlarged tonality, it is also modal and does not shirk away from dissonance. I have always been outside of the current movements . . . because what interests me is to write what sings deep inside of me. I have a preference for symphonic writing and in the silence of the night when I’m orchestrating my work, I feel total bliss and feel that I am completely free.

   3)   Tell us about your latest recording which came out at NAXOS recently.

This recording groups four of my symphonic works interpreted by the Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under the direction of Vladimir Sirenko.

My first symphony, the “The Ruins of Beyrouth”, is the last piece of a Lebanese Trilogy dedicated to the tragic war in Lebanon; the two first pieces were the Symphonic Poem “Lebanon in  Flames” and the “Requiem” for orchestra. This first symphony was written in 1985 for the 10th anniversary of the Lebanese War and is a work in which hope and drama are mixed, an absolute nightmare within a beautiful dream. The influence of Schoenberg appears especially in the first movement which plays on this duality of tonality/atonality.

The fourth symphonic poem “Wine of the Clouds” is an impressionist work full of poetry which transforms itself at the end in an orchestral orgy where the musicians can unleash all their virtuosity.


“Twilight Harmonies” was written in memory of the great French conductor Pierre Dervaux who conducted my works many times at The Théätre des Champs Elysées and at the Salle Pleyel.  It is a work where hope lies amongst the most sombre expressions of drama.

And finally, the symphonic meditation “Hill of Strangeness” is a poetic work in which romance and impressionism mix in a serene meditation.

It is a great opportunity for me to have been recorded by NAXOS because for the last 16 years, its president Klaus Heymann has been advancing an extraordinary policy which is saving classical music and living composers by recording their music and distributing it across the world.


4)      What are your plans for the future?


Thanks to René Bosc, director of music at Radio France, I have had a commission which was recorded by the Orchestre National de France in 2001: ”Eternal Rivers”. This piece has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall under the baton of Daniel Harding who will again conduct that piece at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris on the 19th of February 2004 by the Orchestre National de France.

Rene Bosc is an open-minded, authentic composer and a conductor who has restored the balance at Radio France. Thanks to him, composers of all musical styles and of all horizons are played. He has repaired an injustice.


My other concerts will take place in Tel-Aviv with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, in Russia and Ukraine. I also have projects in the United States.

Recently, I wrote a concerto for violin and orchestra for the great French violinist Gerard Poulet.  Its debut is planned for the 2004-05 season. This important project will mark the beginning of my collaboration with Alphonse Leduc Publishers.

At the moment, I am working on my second symphony and my third piano sonata, which are both inspired by the life of Jesus.

My dearest wish is to continue my collaboration with NAXOS which will of course be beneficial and stimulating for my musical evolution.





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