Highlights of 2016
Their Majesties the King and Queen of Jordan
In early October, I performed in a ceremony to award His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan the 'Westphalian Peace Prize' in Münster, Germany. I represented the West Eastern Divan Orchestra as part of a duo with violinist Michael Barenboim.
With Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan in October 2016.
Tour of Palestine: Byrd to Schoenberg
*This tour was sponsored and organised by the Beethoven Academy, Bonn and the Barenboim-Said Foundation, Ramallah. The majority of the photos below were taken by journalist Stefan Metzler. Special thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible.
Shortly after the award ceremony, I toured Palestine with four centuries of keyboard music (Byrd b1543 to Schoenberg d1951). In each of the events, I bookended my survey with Byrd's Fantasia in A minor and Schoenberg's Three Pieces op.11 but filled in historical gaps with different works. I am often surprised at how controversial Schoenberg is to this day, no matter where I play his music. Yet, I'm equally excited by the open mindedness I encounter among Arab audiences towards it. The Arab World is after all a region where classical music is not as ingrained in the culture as it is in the West, yet. I'll admit, I did not know what to expect when I first started performing Schoenberg there a few years ago.
*Here is the full programme.
After my recital at Bethlehem Unversity with Mr. Torsten Schreiber (Director of the Beethoven Academy, Bonn and my promoter on this tour) Sister Patricia Crockford (Head of Music at the University) and Brother Stephen Tuohy (Vice Principal of the University)
Apart from giving recitals, I conducted workshops at various schools and universities, including the Talitha Kumi school in Beit Jala, and the Barenboim-Said Foundation in Ramallah. My explanations and introductions took place in Arabic with occasional translations into English for the few non-Arabic speakers who were interested and supported the project. It is very common to have such events in either English or French, depending on the Arab country in question. However, I felt that this project should be presented in the native language so as to emphasise the universal qualities of classical music and to encourage students to explore it further as an art form that can become their own. Many of the students may have never listened to any classical music before whilst others were enrolled at one of Palestine's four music schools, and therefore seasoned listeners.
Conducting a workshop at the Talitha Kumi School in Beit Jala.
Playing excerpts during a lecture at Bethlehem University.
I was very proud to learn about these music schools, how they flourish in spite of the military occupation that students and staff endure every day; getting to and from these institutions is usually nothing less than an odyssey. Regardless of whether the students' response to the Schoenberg was positive, negative or simply inquisitive, the impression I got from our discussions was very exciting. There was such a willingness to understand this music and embrace the whole experience of listening to classical music live - especially for those who were new to it. This is all the more impressive when one considers that even today - with reference to the region's colonial past - audiences in the Arab countries consist of individuals who juggle several languages and cultures at once, including their own, which has a rich musical heritage itself.
Searching for my family's lost home in Jerusalem, with the help of Torsten Schreiber, Tarek Bakri (researcher) and supperters Hans-Joachim Hecek, Christiane Ley and Klaus-Dieter Mertens.
Just before playing my final concert in Ramallah's Hall of the Medical Relief Society, I made last minute arrangements to leave the West Bank in search of my family's lost property. The house was legally owned by my great-grandmother, Nabiha Said, but functioned as an inclusive home for the whole family; this was very common in British-Mandate Palestine. My grandfather Albert, his siblings and his famous cousin, the late scholar Prof. Edward Said were all born in this Jerusalem villa, which has since been extended to an apartment block (without our knowledge or consent). It was perhaps the family's greatest loss in the war of 1948; we have never received any kind of compensation for the building since its confiscation. In hindsight, playing the Goldberg Variations by Bach - an arched work of about 40 minutes with a ‘home-coming' of the opening Aria at the end - just hours after such an emotional visit, made this particular concert one of the most poignant and meaningful of my career so far.
Said Family Home ca. 1947. This is a screenshot from a home video, as shown in a documentary about my late relative Prof. Edward Said. We used this to confirm the property during our search because of the clear view of what was then the front gate and the entrance steps. The family that lives there today confirmed that it was 'previously owned by the Said family' according to their own research but declined my request to come inside. We had quite a long chat on the other side of the gate nevertheless.
The confiscated Said home today. This gate is no longer in use but I managed to get my mobile phone through for a shot of the steps (photo below) with the consent of the family that lives there today.
My great-grandmother Nabiha Said with her twin sons Robert (left) and my grandfather, Albert.
Palestine, late 1930s
Beethoven - Haus, Bonn
Last year's performances started and ended at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, the eponymous composer's hometown. It is currently a museum with a recital hall and an established concert series of its own, to which I was awarded a mentorship, giving me access to some of the most renowned Beethoven scholars in the world.
As part of the mentorship, I performed Beethoven's ‘'Eroica'' Variations and most recently, iconic chamber works by Brahms with leaders of the Beethoven Orchestra - Bonn, Christian Brunnert and Artur Chermanov (Click here for a review of the concert in German).
With the director of the Beethoven-Haus Mr. Malte Boecker (left) and the Mayor of Bonn, Mr. Ashok Sridharan after being awarded the mentorship which commenced in 2016.
Backstage after our chamber music recital with leaders of the Beethoven Orchestra - Bonn:
Christian Brunnert, cellist (left) and Artur Chermanov, violinist
Da Vinci Players - London, UK
Da Vinci Players is a UK based society of musicians which I founded. We focus on programmes that have the keyboard at their core with repertoire including chamber works such as this Beethoven Quintet or larger ensembles as in this Mozart Concerto. A highlight from this season's repertoire was Schoenberg's ‘Ode to Napoleon' which I directed from the keyboard in a private event at the Solti Residence in London. It was part of the programme ‘Disillusion and Betrayal' which started with a reading of Lord Byron's poem 'Ode to Napoleon' (read by William Sieghart CBE) and included a rarely performed piano quintet by Byron's contemporary, the composer John Field.
Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.
An important highlight from this year's unusual number of events in the Middle East was a recital at the beautiful 'Sakip Sabanci' Art Museum in Istanbul last May. My performance was part of the 'İstanbul Resitalleri series, which boasted a list of eminent pianists including Angela Hewitt and Nikolai Demidenko during the same season. I was received with real enthusiasm from a young and energetic audience.
My promoters invited me to stay at the historic Pera Palace - Europe's oldest hotel in the city. It gave me the feeling of waking up in a wonderful museum due to the very interesting exhibits from the hotel's past, such as Turkey's oldest electric lift. It is also celebrated for being the birthplace of Agatha Christie's novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express' and Yehudi Menuhin's favourite hotel in Istanbul. During the Second World War it was the site of many clandestine negotiations, including an attempt to save the lives of one million Hungarian Jews.
Outside the concert auditorium in Istanbul, May 2016.
With my mother Dina Habash (directly opposite me), friend and supporter Muammer Erboy (seated next to me) and
'İstanbul Resitalleri' producer Nazan Ceylan, enjoying a delicious meal after my recital.