Patrick Clark on the YES Academy Concerts: 11 July 2012–Composers; Duhok, Iraq

Assuming the reaction of an audience is a barometer of the success of a concert, the closing concerts for the YES Academy 2012 in Duhok hit their intended marks quite well. As the inaugural composition teacher for the Academy I had a vested interest in the concert of works by the student composers and so it will be my main focus here.

One might have done well to bring earplugs to this concert, but not because the music was so loud. Rather because the applause was overwhelming. Of course the whistles of support by students are the most deadly of sounds, second only to the piccolo playing fortissimo at close range, and the air was filled with these at the final cadences of each composition.

The program included the works of seven young Iraqi composers and all were charged with the sounds and rhythms of the local traditional music. I may even find myself influenced in my own future compositions by the snake-charming lines of strings in octaves (most pieces were written for a string quartet plus any available complement—two and three to part). These pieces found their appeal through the recognizable conventions so often heard in Middle Eastern music. If we, from the West, might expect more experimentation in composition, and place a premium on originality, we must understand that the sense of community here in Iraq is yet a more highly valued attribute. It is also what can make a brand new arrangement by a homegrown YES Academy student of something familiar at times more appealing than a masterpiece by a composer from the West. But one should not forget that a great favorite of American audiences is Aaron Copland’s treatment of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” in Appalachian Spring.

The word “cocktail” came up several times after the program. I suppose it is something like a box of Whitman’s chocolates: you know something of the genre of taste, but the exact flavor is unpredictable—and that is why they can be more exciting than the morsel you already know.

PDC

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