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Arts at MIT’s Visiting Artists Program is featuring the work of alumnus Jamshied Sharifi ‘83 this week with a panel about the Arab Spring, which inspired a new work commissioned by and for the MIT Wind Ensemble, Awakening.
A panel discussion held on March 13 in Killian Hall, titled Awakening the Arab Spring, featured Sharifi with members of the MIT community, including Associate Provost and Ford International Professor of History Philip S. Khoury; Obaidah Abuhashem ‘12, president of the MIT Arab Students’ Organization; and Emily Jackson ’12, president of the MIT Wind Ensemble.
During the panel, excerpts from Awakening were performed by Sharifi and members of the Wind Ensemble, including Jackson, in a preview of the world premiere that will take place on Saturday, March 17, at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets are free for this concert in advance and $5 at the door.
In a succinct overview of the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab World that began in December 2010, Khoury declared himself a “pess-optimist” — both pessimistic and optimistic in the same breath — about the prospects for democratic reform in the Middle East. Abuhashem, a native of the Gaza Strip, spoke of his generation’s hope and optimism about the prospects for change. Jackson described the benefits of rehearsing with the composer of Awakening and “watching him watch us and react as we played his new piece.” Sharifi praised the students, noting, “It is very rare to see the kind of passion and intensity of music-making displayed by the Wind Ensemble students. It is really refreshing to see people playing music because they have to, because it is burning inside them.”
Sharifi discussed his motivation for creating Awakening and explained its structure and themes as the musicians played excerpts of the piece, which has three movements: I. Maghreb/Bouazizi/The Uprisings, II. Reflection: Let Each One Hear Her Own Thoughts, and III. Ahead: The Real Transformation Has Barely Begun. The first movement is an introduction and an evocation of the “seed of revolution moving from country to country carried by a seed of melody that moves from section to section” of the wind instruments. The melodic idea becomes heavier and stronger later in this movement. The second movement represents a period of reflection and tonal reflection about what has happened, which sounds different from the rest of the piece. The third movement is intense and fiery and includes a clarinet solo.
“I was, like many, moved by the events of the Arab Awakening,” Sharifi noted. “For those of us with Persian heritage who watched the earlier political protests in Iran, initially with hope and then with bitter disappointment, the success of the civil movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were especially gratifying. The labor of developing effective and responsive political systems in those three countries still remains. But something in the Middle East has undeniably changed. And I hope to honor that shift in my new piece, Awakening.”
Sharifi was approached by Frederick Harris, Jr., music director of the MIT Wind Ensemble, to create a work recognizing the Arab Spring.
“With the goals of exploring the music of the Persian and Arab worlds and bringing more awareness to the Arab Spring, I asked Jamshied Sharifi to compose an original work that would reflect the struggles for freedom across the Middle East,” Harris explained. “Born in Topeka, Kansas, to an Iranian father and an American mother, and having a history of composing music with worldview concepts, Jamshied Sharifi is uniquely qualified for this project.”
The occasion for these events is Sharifi’s residency from March 13-17 as part of the Visiting Artists Program at MIT. Sharifi has had a remarkable professional career as a composer, keyboardist, producer and arranger. His work includes scores for motion pictures, performing and recording with his own world music ensemble, collaboration with artists such as Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson, and an arrangement for President Barack Obama’s inaugural concert, held at the Lincoln Memorial.
The March 17 concert program for Awakening: A world premiere by Jamshied Sharifi also includes Bernard, Divertissement for Winds; Copland, Variations on a Shaker Melody; Schuman, When Jesus Wept; and Bernstein, Profanation from Symphony No. 1. The concert is performed by the MIT Wind Ensemble with Frederick Harris, Jr., music director; Kenneth Amis, assistant conductor; and is introduced by Jamshied Sharifi, composer-in-residence.