Featured People: Kinan Azmeh

As the Morgenland Festival, taking place between 16 and 18 at Bimhuis in Amsterdam, is preparing to welcome Kinan Azmeh, we are taking the opportunity to feature the virtuoso clarinet player and composer and reflect on our previous collaborations.

 
Syrian artists have something major to say, they need to be able to say it and to have people hearing them out. It is incredibly important for all Syrians (including artists) that they don't feel abandoned and that they feel that people are listening to what they have to say, they need to collaborate with other artists, they also need to know that they are invited because of the power of their art and not simply because they are Syrians. In short, they need to know that they are alive and that their word counts.
 

Kinan Azmeh. Photo ©Gunther Hoffmann

 

Born in Damascus, Kinan was the first Arab to win the premier prize at the 1997 Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition, Moscow. He is a graduate of New York's Juilliard School and of both the Damascus High institute of Music and Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering. Kinan earned his doctorate degree in music from the City University of New York in 2013.

I am inspired by communities which are actively pursuing a better life for all involved, the society itself, the nature, and other communities around. It is a community that understands the responsibility towards its members and to humanity and nature at large
— Kinan Azmeh in Narratives for Europe

Speaking to the unique power of music, Kinan argues, “Music is the only language where one can listen and speak at the same time while being fully engaged. In that sense music develops skills that are incredibly useful in real life. It is enough to witness how a small community of musicians and listeners get together in a unique experience, and this experience is unique and not unified, which means that they are all experiencing different emotional experiences through the same medium.”

Kinan had the opportunity to see first hand the power of music to bring people together during his time with Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In a series of workshops at the Zaatari refugee camp and for urban refugees in both Jordan and Lebanon, Kinan brought a number of musical instruments to the camp and together with the refugees, made music, wrote songs and even had a little trial of an "orchestra" of recorder, flutes, percussion instruments, singing and clarinet. You can read more about Kinan’s work with Syrian refugees on the Terre des Hommes website.

Kinan Azmeh and Aynur. Photo ©Andy Spyra

Building both on his background and recent work with refugees, Kinan is calling for artists, cultural practitioners and organisations based in Europe, such as ECF, to build more links with Syrian artists. According to Kinan, Syrian artists, just like all other artists in the world, need to have three things: "1) something to say, 2) the means/skills/tools to do so, 3) a platform/public to express onto." He continues:  "Syrian artists have something major to say, they need to be able to say it and to have people hearing them out. It is incredibly important for all Syrians (including artists) that they don't feel abandoned and that they feel that people are listening to what they have to say, they need to collaborate with other artists, they also need to know that they are invited because of the power of their art and not simply because they are Syrians. In short, they need to know that they are alive and that their word counts."

You can read more about Kinan’s reflections on the role of music in times of crises in the joint interview with his childhood friend and also guest of the Morgenland Festival, Dima Orsho at Qantara.de.

A prolific composer, Kinan's repertoire includes several works for solo, orchestra, and chamber music, film, live illustration, and electronics. His discography includes three albums with his ensemble HEWAR, several soundtracks for film and dance, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne and a recent album with his New York Arabic/Jazz quartet. In his most recent "Home Within" Project, with visual artist Kevork Mourad, Kinan used art and music in counterpoint to each other, creating an impressionistic reflection on the Syrian revolution and its aftermath. Rather than following a narrative, the artists document specific moments in Syria’s recent history and reach into their emotional content in a semi-abstract way. You can watch a performance in this video: 

Under our previous theme, Narratives for Europe, in 2012, Kinan was a participant to the Imagining Europe event held at de Balie. He was also part of ECF’s Narratives initiative in 2013, where he shared his own new narratives for Europe, specifically on the themes Labour Force/Humans, Historical Taboos and Stereotypes.

Currently Kinan serves as artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Music Ensemble, with whom he released an album of new contemporary Syrian chamber music written especially for the ensemble by various composers and is also a frequent guest faculty at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and is on the advisory board of the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra. He is also a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

To keep up to date on Kinan's current work and learn more about his diverse musical output, you can visit his website.

Morgenland Festival, set to feature some of the finest contemporary musicians from the Near- and Middle East will take place between 16 and 18 July at Bimhuis. Detailed programme and tickets can be found on the Bimhuis website