Kinan Azmeh: Clarinet, Composer

“Intensely soulful… Virtuoso” The New York Times 

“[Azmeh’s] rhapsodic clarinet [is] able to seduce with a rare intimacy and explode in ecstasy.”  Los-Angeles Times

“Spellbinding!”  The New Yorker 

“brilliant liquidity and meltingly beautiful tone” The Times, London 

Hailed by critics and audiences alike, winner of Opus Klassik award in 2019 clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh has gained international recognition for his distinctive voice across diverse musical genres.
Originally from Damascus, Syria, Kinan Azmeh brings his music to all corners of the world as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include the Opera Bastille, Paris; Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Moscow; Carnegie Hall and the UN General Assembly, New York; the Royal Albert Hall, London; Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires; Philharmonie, Berlin; the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, Washington DC; the Mozarteum, Salzburg, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie; and in his native Syria at the opening concert of the Damascus Opera House.

He has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Dusseldorf Symphony, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, The Azerbaijan State Symphony, Winnipeg Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Toronto Symphony, A Far Cry, The Knights Orchestra,  Calgary philharmonic, Qatar Philharmonic and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra among others, and has shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Marcel Khalife, John McLaughlin, Francois Rabbath, Aynur and Jivan Gasparian.

Kinan’s compositions include several works for solo, chamber, and orchestral music, as well as music for film, live illustration, and electronics. His resent works were commissioned by The New York Philharmonic, The Seattle Symphony, The Knights Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Elbphilharmonie, Apple Hill string quartet, Quatuor Voce, Brooklyn Rider, Cello Octet Amsterdam, Aizuri Quartet and Bob Wilson.

An advocate for new music, several concertos were dedicated to him by composers such as Kareem Roustom, Dia Succari, Dinuk Wijeratne, Zaid Jabri, Saad Haddad and Guss Janssen, in addition to a large number of chamber music works.
In addition to his own Arab-Jazz Quartet CityBand and his Hewar trio, he has also been playing with the Silkroad Ensemble since 2012, whose 2017 Grammy Award-winning album “Sing Me Home” features Kinan as a clarinetist and composer.
Kinan Azmeh is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School as a student of Charles Neidich, and of both the Damascus High institute of Music where he studied with Shukry Sahwki, Nicolay Viovanof and Anatoly Moratof, and Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering. Kinan earned his doctorate degree in music from the City University of New York in 2013.
His first opera “Songs for Days to Come” which is fully sung in Arabic, was recently premiered in Osnabruck, Germany in June 2022 to a great acclaim. He has recently been appointed to the National Council for the Arts on a nomination by President Joe Biden.

www.kinanazmeh.com

Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra

From the composer, Kinan Azmeh:

I have always loved to compose, always loved to play as a soloist with orchestra and I have always loved to improvise, so I decided to write a piece that would allow me to do it all at once!

The three movements: Love on 139th Street in D, November 22nd and Wedding were originally written in 2005 for my project Hewar, an ensemble made of clarinet, oud and voice, and what began simply as three lead-sheets ended up becoming a full orchestral work and my most performed work.

The suite tries to blur the lines between the composed and the improvised, which comes from my belief that some of the best-written music is one that sounds spontaneous and improvised, and some of the best improvisations are the ones that sound structured as if composed. This work is meant to both turn an orchestra into a band and to give a great room for the soloist to improvise
and to “composer on the spot” and to play freely within the larger structure of
the work.

Love on 139th street in D, is inspired by NewYork City’s neighborhood of Harlem where I lived for few years, a simple homage to its cultural mix and a dedication to my downstairs neighbor who blasted reggaetone all day long!

November 22nd is a meditative work that tries to depict that ambiguous emotion one encounters by feeling at home somewhere far from one’s original home. I wrote this piece in the US inspired by the sonic memory of a marketplace that used to exist behind my parents apartment back in Damascus, it seemed to have a slow and steady pulse to it similar to the rhythm of life which keeps moving forward regardless of our emotions about it.

Wedding is made of two contrasting sections, a relatively calm one followed by a fast and energetic dance. It tries to capture the general mood found in a Syrian village wedding party usually held in the public square for everyone to attend. These parties are always exciting and never predictable.

William Grant Still, Composer

Long known as the “Dean of African-American Classical Composers,” as well as one of America’s foremost composers, William Grant Still has had the distinction of becoming a legend in his own lifetime. On May 11, 1895, he was born in Woodville (Wilkinson County) Mississippi, to parents who were teachers and musicians. They were of Negro, Indian, Spanish, Irish and Scotch bloods. When William was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught English in the high school. There his musical education began–with violin lessons from a private teacher, and with later inspiration from the Red Seal operatic recordings bought for him by his stepfather.

In Wilberforce University, he took courses leading to a B.S. degree, but spent most of his time conducting the band, learning to play the various instruments involved and making his initial attempts to compose and to orchestrate. His subsequent studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music were financed at first by a legacy from his father, and later by a scholarship established just for him by the faculty.

At the end of his college years, he entered the world of commercial (popular) music, playing in orchestras and orchestrating, working in particular with the violin, cello and oboe. His employers included W. C. Handy, Don Voorhees, Sophie Tucker, Paul Whiteman, Willard Robison and Artie Shaw, and for several years he arranged and conducted the Deep River Hour over CBS and WOR. While in Boston playing oboe in the Shuffle Along orchestra, Still applied to study at the New England Conservatory with George Chadwick, and was again rewarded with a scholarship due to Mr. Chadwicks own vision and generosity. He also studied, again on an individual scholarship, with the noted ultra-modern composer, Edgard Varese.

In the Twenties, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York, and began a valued friendship with Dr. Howard Hanson of Rochester. Extended Guggenheim and Rosenwald Fellowships were given to him, as well as important commissions from the Columbia Broadcasting System, the New York Worlds Fair 1939-40, Paul Whiteman, the League of Composers, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Southern Conference Educational Fund and the American Accordionists Association. In 1944, he won the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the best Overture to celebrate its Jubilee season, with a work called Festive Overture. In 1953, a Freedoms Foundation Award came to him for his To You, America! which honored West Points Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received the prize offered by the U. S. Committee for the U. N., the N.F.M.C. and the Aeolian Music Foundation for his orchestral work, The Peaceful Land, cited as the best musical composition honoring the United Nations.

After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1930’s, citations from numerous organizations, local and elsewhere in the United States, came to the composer. Along with them came honorary degrees like the following: Master of Music from Wilberforce in 1936; Doctor of Music from Howard University in 1941; Doctor of Music from Oberlin College in 1947; Doctor of Letters from Bates College in 1954; Doctor of Laws from the University of Arkansas in 1971; Doctor of Fine Arts from Pepperdine University in 1973; Doctor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Southern California.

Some of the awards that Still received were:  the second Harmon Award in 1927; a trophy of honor from Local 767 of the Musicians Union A.F. of M., of which he was a member; trophies from the League of Allied Arts in Los Angeles (1965) and the National Association of Negro Musicians; citations from the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles Board of Supervisors (1963); a trophy from the A.P.P.A. in Washington D.C. (1968); the Phi Beta Sigma George Washington Carver Award (1953); the Richard Henry Lee Patriotism Award from Knotts Berry Farm, California; a citation from the Governor of Arkansas in 1972; the third annual prize of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters in 1982. He also lectured in various universities from time to time.

In 1939, Still married journalist and concert pianist, Verna Arvey, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Still died of heart failure on December 3, 1978.  ASCAP took care of all of Dr. Stills hospitalization until his death.

Dr. Still’s service to the cause of brotherhood is evidenced by his many firsts in the musical realm:  Still was the first Afro-American in the United States to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States, when in 1936, he directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in his compositions at the Hollywood Bowl. He was the first Afro-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the Deep South in 1955, when he directed the New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University. He was the first of his race to conduct a White radio orchestra in New York City. He was the first to have an opera produced by a major company in the United States, when in 1949, his Troubled Island was done at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City. He was the first to have an opera televised over a national network. With these firsts, Still was a pioneer, but, in a larger sense, he pioneered because he was able to create music capable of interesting the greatest conductors of the day: truly serious music, but with a definite American flavor.

Still wrote over 150 compositions (well over 200 if his lost early works could be counted), including operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber works, and arrangements of folk themes, especially Negro spirituals, plus instrumental, choral and solo vocal works.

http://www.williamgrantstillmusic.com/

A Big Honking Mystery

There are often moments where you look at a score and wonder if you are playing what the composer intended. With Gershwin’s American in Paris it turns out that we were not!

Gerswhin was painting a musical soundscape when he created American in Paris, and to really create the atmosphere of a busy Parisian street he used some non-standard instruments in his orchestration – including the taxi horn. The score requires 4 taxi horns in the percussion section with markings indicating when to play horns with ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’.

Until very recently, the belief was that the markings ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ were the pitches of the horns. Turns out that was probably not the case.

Gerswhin died 9 years after the premiere of American in Paris, but was involved in a 1929 recording that has unlocked the puzzle. The taxi horns used in the 1929 recording are the  same taxi horns Gerswhin had brought back from Paris specifically for the piece’s premiere in 1928. Turns out ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ were a short hand for which taxi horn to use.

This discovery was made by Mark Clague, musicologist at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is currently editing a critical edition of George and Ira Gershwin’s music through The Gershwin Initiative at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. The Gershwin Initiative, a partnership with the Gershwin family, is an ongoing examination of the Gershwin’s music initiated by Todd Gershwin, a U-M alumnus, the grandnephew of George and Ira Gershwin, and the son of Marc George Gershwin.

When listening to the February 4, 1929 Victor Recording supervised by the composer, it is clear that the circled ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ letters are not the pitches Gershwin intended. The taxi horns on this recording sound more dissonant. After further investigation, Clague argues that the correct pitches should be Ab and Bb (above middle C), high D (a third above that) and low A (a third below middle C).

The beauty of Gerswhin’s music is that playing horns tuned to ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ work incredibly well in the piece.

No matter what the intentions with the horns were, we can all agree it’s still a much loved piece of music performed multiple times a year all over the globe.

That’s definitely something to toot your horn about!

 

Daniel Clarke Bouchard, piano

Daniel Clarke Bouchard began playing the piano at the age of five and gave his first piano recital at the age of six. He received the Grand Prize at the Joy of Music Festival held at McGill University. In 2009, he won the gold medal at the Montreal Classical Music Festival. In 2010, he won Gold at the Quebec Music Educators Association Competition. In 2011, Daniel won first place at the Canadian Music Competition and received the Yamaha, Canimex and Gilles Chatel scholarships.

Daniel has performed in many great venues all across Canada, most notably at the Maison Symphonique, the Wilfrid Pelletier hall, the Maisonneuve Theater and Koerner Hall in Toronto. In 2012, Daniel performed at Carnegie Hall as the winner of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition in New York.

He has performed for many fundraisers in Canada, particularly for the Dilawri Foundation, the Horatio Alger Foundation and for Alzheimer’s research.

Daniel has shared the stage many times with the great Oliver Jones, who was his mentor and idol growing up. Daniel performed at the 2012 International Jazz Festival with Molly Johnson, at the Tedx Youth Conference, and at the Place des Arts with the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir and Trevor Payne. Daniel also performed for the Vision Awards Gala in Montreal. He also was the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada’s cultural ambassador in 2014.

Daniel is known by his fans for his numerous appearances on television. His first big television appearance came on the show “Kiwis et des hommes” in 2011. Ever since, he has been interviewed countless times on CBC Radio and Radio-Canada and articles have been written about him in magazines and newspapers all across the world. Recently, he made appearances on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Tout Le Monde En Parle, Canada AM and the George Stroumboulopoulos show.

In 2014, he was invited to perform on stage with Earth, Wind and Fire as part of their Shining Star World Tour.

Daniel has performed with many orchestras, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra with Dina Gilbert, the National Arts Center Orchestra with Alexander Shelley, the I Musici of Montreal with Jean-Michel Malouf, the Sinfonia de Lanaudière with Stephane Laforest, the Metropolitain Orchestra of Montreal with Daniel Myssyk and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Appassionata Ensemble with Daniel Myssyk, with the world-renowned Auryn Quartet and several others. Daniel has won numerous awards, including the Félix Award for the 2014 Classical Album of the Year, the 2014 Montreal International Music Competition’s Choquette Symcox Award and the 2017 SPACQ Foundation’s Eval-Manigat Award.

danielclarkebouchardpianist.com

Mélanie Léonard, conductor

Mélanie Léonard, born in Montréal and raised in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield (Qc), was the Music Director of the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra (2016-2022) and is currently Music Director with Symphony New Brunswick. Maestro Léonard is Assistant Professor of instrumental conducting-contemporary music at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal.

Prior to her appointment in Sudbury, she held the positions of resident conductor (2009-2012) and associate conductor (2012-2013) with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2023-2024, she is making her debut with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and is reinvented by the Saskatoon Symphony and Orchestre Métropolitain.​

She guest conducted at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and with several Canadian Orchestras, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Métropolitain, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I Musici, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, Regina Symphony Orchestra, Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, Stratford Symphony Orchestra, Niagara Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil. Mrs. Léonard is a sought after studio recording conductor. She lead the orchestra and choir in the studio recording of the music for Aura(music byGabriel Thibaudeau et Marc Bell), a multidisciplinary show produced by Moment Factory and presented at the Montreal Notre-Dame Basilica. She recorded soundtracks for movies, multimedia projects, and more recently for Paradise City, an immersive environment in a South Korean Hotel complex.

She worked with renowned artists such as Herbie Hancock, Charles Richard-Hamelin, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Shauna Rolston and actors John Rhys Davies (Lord of the Rings) , Garrett Want (Star Trek) and John de Lancie (Star Trek)

in 2014, she founded the Wild West New Music Ensemble in Calgary, for which she was Music Director and Conductor (2014-2016). During the same year, she co-founded the Calgary New Music Festival and served as its Artistic Director until 2016. She was also the music director of Vaudreuil-Soulanges choir. Maestra Léonard was music collaborator for La Croisée des Cheminson ICI Radio-Canada Première Calgary from 2013 to 2016 and in 2017, Orford Music invited her to give a conference about artistic leadership (Finding human connection in a virtually connected society). In 2018-2019, she was adjudicator for Festival et concours de musique classique de Lanaudière and Festival des harmonies et orchestres symphoniques du Québec.

Mélanie Léonard completed her Doctorate in orchestral conducting at Université de Montréal under Maestri Paolo Bellomia and Jean-François Rivest. She holds a bachelor degree in Music Theory from the same university. She received her Masters of Music in Orchestra Conducting from the Hartt School of Music (Hartford, Connecticut), where she studied with Maestro Christopher Zimmerman. In 2012, she received the Jean-Marie Beaudet prize in orchestral conducting, awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts.

https://www.melanieleonard.ca/

George Gerswhin

Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz on September 26, 1898, in Brooklyn, New York. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Gershwin began his foray into music at age 11 when his family bought a secondhand piano for Gershwin’s older sibling, Ira.

A natural talent, it was Gershwin who took it up and eventually sought out mentors who could enhance his abilities. He eventually began studying with the noted piano teacher Charles Hambitzer, and apparently impressed him; in a letter to his sister, Hambitzer wrote, “I have a new pupil who will make his mark if anybody will. The boy is a genius.”

Throughout his 23-year career, Gershwin would continually seek to expand the breadth of his influences, studying under an incredibly disparate array of teachers, including Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger, Edward Kilenyi and Joseph Schillinger.

After dropping out of school at age 15, Gershwin played in several New York nightclubs and began his stint as a “song-plugger” in New York’s Tin Pan Alley.

After three years of pounding out tunes on the piano for demanding customers, he had transformed into a highly skilled and dexterous composer. To earn extra cash, he also worked as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway singers. In 1916, he composed his first published song, “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em; When You Have ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em.”

From 1920 to 1924, Gershwin composed for an annual production put on by George White. After a show titled “Blue Monday,” the bandleader in the pit, Paul Whiteman, asked Gershwin to create a jazz number that would heighten the genre’s respectability.

Legend has it that Gershwin forgot about the request until he read a newspaper article announcing the fact that Whiteman’s latest concert would feature a new Gershwin composition. Writing at a manic pace in order to meet the deadline, Gershwin composed what is perhaps his best-known work, “Rhapsody in Blue.”

During this time, and in the years that followed, Gershwin wrote numerous songs for stage and screen that quickly became standards, including “Oh, Lady Be Good!” “Someone to Watch over Me,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Embraceable You,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” His lyricist for nearly all of these tunes was his older brother, Ira, whose witty lyrics and inventive wordplay received nearly as much acclaim as Gershwin’s compositions.

In the 1920s, Gershwin spent time in Paris, which inspired his jazz-influenced orchestral composition An American in Paris. Composed in 1928, An American in Paris inspired the 1951 Oscar-winning movie musical by the same name, which was directed by Vincente Minnelli and starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. A Broadway musical based on the film opened in 2014.

In 1935, a decade after composing “Rhapsody in Blue,” Gershwin debuted his most ambitious composition, “Porgy and Bess.” The composition, which was based on the novel “Porgy” by Dubose Heyward, drew from both popular and classical influences. Gershwin called it his “folk opera,” and it is considered to not only be Gershwin’s most complex and best-known works but also among the most important American musical compositions of the 20th century.

Following his success with “Porgy and Bess,” Gershwin moved to Hollywood and was hired to compose the music for a film titled “Shall We Dance,” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was while working on a follow-up film with Astaire that Gershwin’s life would come to an abrupt end.

At the beginning of 1937, Gershwin began to experience troubling symptoms such as severe headaches and noticing strange smells.

Doctors would eventually discover that he had developed a malignant brain tumour. On July 11, 1937, Gershwin died during surgery to remove the tumour. He was only 38.

Gershwin continues to be one of America’s most iconic composers.