Review: Beyond Words

March 9, 2024
Regional News – Eyes on Wellington

The attacks on worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on the 15th of March 2019 left a permanent mark on New Zealand. Over the last two years, Muslim communities around Aotearoa have provided guidance and support for this anniversary concert.

Umoja Anthem of Unity, by Valerie Coleman, set the theme – promoting peace and unity through music, deliberately intertwining Western and Eastern musical traditions. Singer Abdelilah Rharrabti, vocalist and daf (drum) musician Esmail Fathi, and saz (Turkish long-necked lute) player Liam Oliver from Ōtautahi Christchurch’s Simurgh Music School were accompanied by the orchestra, somewhat in the form of a concerto. The Eastern tonal structure was strong and the men’s voices were powerfully reminiscent of the grief and trauma suffered in 2019 and since.

Moroccan artist Oum, known for her modern take on traditional sounds, gave a strong vocal performance in Daba, that strength made greater in the way her solo voice faded at the finish.

Reza Vali’s Funèbre for solo violin and strings was a standout, emotional, gut-wrenching experience. NZSO concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen’s versatility and musicality brought a voice from his violin that echoed the voices heard earlier.

In Mantilatos, Kyriakos Tapakis showed us how a virtuoso plays his oud, how impressive it sounds, and how hard his fingers worked as the last bars raced along at breakneck pace.

Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song was beautifully and confidently played and lifted to another level by conductor Fawzi Haimor’s skilful use of silence in the pauses.

The final piece, Ahlan wa Sahlan, commissioned from John Psathas and composed in collaboration with Oum and Tapakis, was about belonging and being safe with the people you know. The five movements traversed cultures and emotions, Oum’s vocals and Tapakis’ oud above the orchestra, reminding us of language and music still not always familiar to Western ears, and that we must continue to learn from the 15th of March.

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