On Tuesday, March 10, the YNYC mixed ensemble will present “Lightning Illuminates: Irish Poetry and Melody,” featuring the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s “Second Coming.” Following are program notes from the concert. Tickets and additional information are available here: bit.ly/YNYClightning
Irish folk melody, beloved for the gentle leaps and rolls of its contours, captures the pain and pleasures of life with remarkable accuracy. The narratives are direct, prone to beautiful adjectives instead of metaphor, and the stories are wrapped in their own misty atmosphere. To borrow a line from Seamus Heaney, the notes are perfectly arranged to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.” Born from an ancient struggle to define Irish identity, Irish poetry and music have emerged as some of the most powerfully recognizable in the world. This unified culture emerged in a land of political, social, and religious diversity and division. While The Troubles (Northern Ireland Conflict) fade from our memory, we see similar divisions emerging with frightening speed in other parts of the world.
Tonight we will hear Mohammed’s vision of violence though the lens of Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats. Discussing poetry with Mohammed is a dizzying thing; he references texts from myriad centuries, languages, ideologies and geographies. Poetry and music are not mere decoration to him. He is aware of the world, and does not resist bringing that awareness to his art. Current trends in choral composition skew toward shallow renderings of beautiful poetry. A song about water could sound like a still pond, for example, using thickly layered chords with limited harmonic motion. These tone-poems have their place, (we love performing this kind of music) and the ability to paint words with music has been the muse for choral composers throughout history. Sometimes, this style of music begins to feel like holding a mirror up to another mirror. Nothing new appears. With Mohammed, a song about water will take you on a journey from clouds, rain, rapids, quiet puddles, and raging oceans. Or it will sound like a desert, so much so that all you want is water.
Like the poetry, the music is vivid and direct. Mohammed is a bold person, and like any great artist, his knowledge and experience guide him into the eye of the storm, where the truth is often hiding. What we get is his idea. It assumes that human experience has already demonstrated the DNA of peace and war, and that there have always been artists around to document how those things have played out in the world. Mohammed’s music, like the Irish songs accompanying tonight’s world premiere, is about identity, and it finds life among brave artists and open-hearted audiences.
Hope is a function of struggle, and so we offer you a concert assembled on hope, with the conviction that music can identify the beauty under the ashes. Lightning Illuminates.
Michael Kerschner, March 9, 2015