Aix en Provence


The curtain will very soon be rising on the first French performance of "Orfeo & Majnun": a few words from Bassem Akiki, Conductor of the wonderful project which will take place on the cours Mirabeau on 8 July next.

You are responsible for the musical direction of "Orfeo & Majnun", what does this far-reaching project mean for you?

I find this project fascinating, because it brings together not just two – as we have a tendency to say – but three cultures: two very distinct musical languages belonging to western culture (the musical for Howard Moody and classical contemporary music for Dick van der Harst). To that we add Arab music by Moneim Adwan.

A real challenge is it not?

Absolutely! If there is one thing that needs to be remembered about this project, it is the notion of “freedom”. How far does freedom go for each one of us? What are its limits? How do you protect the dignity of each one of the cultures represented, of each one of the musical tendencies? The aim being to avoid that one of the represented cultures turns out to be dominant, because that is the main pitfall. In addition, everybody needs to be given the means to express themselves with total freedom whilst seeking to maintain a balance and a fair distribution between the three sound worlds. With regard to this, the lively debates concerning the choice of the finale are highly significant.

Tell us a about it…

It is the last piece to have been composed. There exist several versions of it, each one of them brings out one culture in particular. The question which was asked therefore was: who would have the last word? Which culture would triumph? We were running the risk of leaving to one side our initial convictions. So, we went back to the drawing board in order to give back to each one of the musical tendencies in the project a worthy and balanced place in the heart of this finale. But, I will not say any more than that. It will be a surprise…

What are the aspects of the sonority of "Orfeo & Majnun" which seduced you?

It is for me a return to the sources, I am of Lebenese origin, even if I have been working in Europe for 15 years in the world of western art music. When I saw the traditional Arab instruments such as the qanûnused in this opera it immediately took me back to the musical landscape of my childhood.

What has this experience brought to you on a personal level?

It has been a veritable philosophical quest. I feel partly responsible for the sense that  was intended to be given to this creation, protector of the message that it sends out to the greatest number. I know that the singers and the musicians – all origins combined – who took part in this managed to live the experience harmoniously. I am envious of their carefreeness, because as far as I am concerned, I feel a weight on my shoulders: that of enhancing in an equitable way the singularity of each one of the cultures represented. The cornerstone of "Orfeo & Majnun"!

Interview by Aurélie Barbuscia
Translation by Christopher Bayton


With the support of Fondation Bettencourt Schueller, Fonds Chœur à l'ouvrage, Fondation d'entreprise Total, The Eloise Susanna Gale Foundation

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