Press

“One of the most talented composers of his generation”

—BBC World News

“… an important new artistic voice”

—New York Times

“…[a] postmillennial Schubert.”

—Gramophone

Sumeida’s Song is an intensely dramatic 60-minute four-character opera with a searing score that deftly draws from Arabic and Western contemporary musical sources. It tells of a son who returns to his peasant village in Upper Egypt in the early 20th century, having been educated at a university in Cairo. Awaiting him is his stern mother, who for 17 years has nurtured a hatred for the man she believes murdered her husband and is bent on having her son avenge her father’s death.

“… Mr. Fairouz’s multilayered music catches the complexities and crosscurrents of this family and the grim realities of their lives… There are hints of various Western contemporary idioms in his musical language: American neo-Romanticism; stretches of near-atonality that evoke Berg; astringent washes of sounds that seem inspired by Ligeti, who was one of Mr. Fairouz’s teachers. Yet the Arabic elements of his style—microtonal modes, spiraling dance rhythms, plaintive melodic writing—give fresh, distictive jolts to the Western elements… It would be rewarding to hear Sumeida’s Song with its full orchestration in a larger space. But this gripping chamber version shows the dramatic potential of black-box opera.”

—Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

“On Tuesday night one of America’s most esteemed concert bands, the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble, came to Carnegie Hall to introduce a commissioned work with the potential to resonate well beyond the usual college circuit,Mohammed Fairouz’s Symphony No. 4. Mr. Fairouz, a versatile, prolific young New York composer, based his piece on “In the Shadow of No Towers,” a graphic-novel memoir by Art Spiegelman about the personal impact and wider ramifications of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The notion of an Arab-American artist addressing Sept. 11 with an ostensibly lowbrow mix of band music and comics might have seemed paradoxical, but what resulted is technically impressive, consistently imaginative and in its finest stretches deeply moving.”

—Steve Smith, New York Times

“Mohammed Fairouz, a talented composer… experiments with dissonance and microtonality to expressive effect. ‘Four Critical Models’ (2009) uses the violin for its penetrating tone and the saxophone for its insinuating smoothness in a spiky opening; a slow, haunting second movement; and a pensive finale. Inspired by writings about music and Orientalism, the piece features a brilliantly handled third-movement indictment of stereotypically ‘Arab’ music. (Think of snake charmers.) Every time a clichéd riff emerged, it would quickly disintegrate, exhausted and uncertain. That piece followed Mr. Fairouz’s warmly sympathetic 2010 setting of the Borges poem ‘The Poet Declares His Renown’ for baritone and string quartet.”

—Zachary Woolfe, New York Times

“Mohammed Fairouz’s ‘Refugee Blues’ is an arresting, self-contained melting pot: it begins with Middle Eastern modal writing and moves decisively into Western melody, with driven rhythms that convey the shape (metrically and emotionally) of that dark Auden poem.”

—Allan Kozinn, New York Times

“In a repertoire tailored to her talents, (Maya) Beiser made a haunting episode of Mohammed Fairouz’s setting of Kol Nidrei, chanting the original Aramaic prayer for the Jewish Day of Atonement while accompanying herself on her electrified instrument in an act of communion both defiant and serene. A strummed rhythmic figure returned in recorded form and the counterpoint was stirring.”

—Allan Ulrich, Financial Times

“Mohammed Fairouz’s “Pierrot Lunaire” is an art-song cabaret trespassing as opera by a remarkably prolific New York-based composer born in 1985… written for the extravagantly transgressive tenor Timur Bekbosunov, is a setting of 10 drunkenly hallucinatory texts by another irresistible extravagant, the cultural critic and poet Wayne Koestenbaum.

“I like Wayne,” Fairouz said in a video introduction, “because he’s highbrow enough for my tastes. But he’s quite dirty.”

Fairouz and Koestenbaum pay crazy homage to the centenary this year of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” which (as with Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”) also just turned 100. The ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano is the same that Schoenberg used, and it was nice to have six numbers premiered from Fairouz’s “Pierrot” barely more than three miles from where Schoenberg lived in Brentwood.

Of course, this is Schoenberg in company with Virginia Woolf in a funny detox clinic lobby where liquid runs down her leg, perhaps schmaltz. This is Schoenberg as transcribed by Liberace and Edward Said as Yiddishkeit. The score is sweet and sour, sophisticated and screwy, sentimental and angry, and oddly spiritual for being able to incorporate all the above.

Bekbosunov was born to be this 21st-century “Pierrot,” brilliantly animating every note, expression and transgression.”

—Mark Swed,  Los Angeles Times

“First, there was a Borromeo-only curtain-raiser: Mohammed Fairouz’s ‘Chorale Fantasy,’ premiered by the quartet last year. Fairouz’s music is thoughtfully cross-cultural; the ‘Chorale Fantasy’ explores that trope with restrained effect. Modernist tangles turned into medieval austerity, while contrapuntal lines starting in Romantic territory, reminiscent of, say, Max Reger, tipped over into more maqam-like inflections. Kitchen cantillated against a rhythmically insistent drone from the other three, which then transformed into a whirl of dance. But the overall tone was contemplative, searching, and optimistic. The gentle friction between notes and styles and eras resolved, at the end, into a glowing triad.”

—Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe

“Sumeida’s Song [is] the first opera by the gifted and accomplished young Arab–American composer Mohammed Fairouz (b. 1985)… The themes are the perennial conflicts of tradition versus modernity, revenge versus forgiveness, blind faith versus progressive enlightenment. Sumeida’s Song announces its distinctive, uncompromising musical intentions in its opening bars with a succession of dissonant train whistles amid a spare, acerbic musical underpinning, suggesting bleak lives and impending conflict. Even when the singing voices enter, and the musical language softens to include open fifths, we are clearly in an exotic realm.

“Those voices belong to Asakir, the mother of Alwan, the opera’s tragic hero, and Asakir’s sister, Mabrouka… Fairouz uses masterly variation of orchestral textures to pace the drama. The tension between mother and son is immediately obvious in Act II: this is no joyous family reconciliation; they are of completely different worlds. Fairouz also introduces the use of quarter-tones, characteristic of Arabic melodic modes, to mirror Asakir’s mental disintegration; this is highly effective, and it’s a vivid contrast with her iterations of ‘God knows best,’ which take place with a clangorous unison C accompaniment. In Alwan’s response to her, ‘I shall tell them,’ he becomes the voice of nobility, amid grand, visionary music. Asakir’s Act III ‘Impossible Life’ skillfully blends elegiac lyricism with near-painful dissonance, an almost unbearable journey through her psyche. When Asakir pleads with Sumeida to kill Alwan, Fairouz plies his orchestrational craft to create horrifying high drama.

Sumeida’s Song is by no means easy listening, but it packs a ferocious punch, which was, we must assume, exactly the composer’s intention.”

—Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News

“Based on Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel of the same name, Fairouz’s four-movement piece (In the Shadow of No Towers) features a powerful performance by the University of Kansas wind ensemble conducted by Paul W. Popiel of a composition that magnificently blends sharp commentary, satire, and deep-felt emotion over the course of 35 minutes. Beginning with a terrifyingly literal take on the event itself, Fariouz’s piece explores the complexities, contrasts, and contradictions of post 9-11 America, and further solidifies his reputation as one of the most exciting young composers in classical music today.”

—Christian Williams, Utne Reader

“The real highlight came after intermission, when Mohammed Fairouz’s In the Shadow of No Towers (Symphony No. 4), received its world premiere… Inspired by Art Spiegelman’s divisive comic about the aftermath of 9/11, Fairouz’s symphony unfolds over four movements, with each based on one of Spiegelman’s panels… The first movement, The New Normal, depicted a family asleep on a couch watching TV, shocked out of their slumber on 9/11 (evoked by a terrifying blast of brass and percussion), only to fall back asleep on September 12. Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist built an eerie atmosphere of anxiety and fear through bass, low piano, and edged cymbals, sounding like a sword constantly being sheathed and unsheathed. One Nation Under Two Flags divided the ensemble in two—one side representing “blue” states, the other “red”—and included everything from Glass-like structures to a Sousa-like march. The final movement, Anniversaries (duration: 9’11″), featured the ominous tick of a clock, depicted by woodblocks. Fairouz soon added noble brass that eventually builds to a Shostakovich-like bombast, intended to be just as tongue-in-cheek as the finale to that composer’s Fifth Symphony.”

—Peter Matthews, Feast of Music

“Biblical in sweep, the opera (Sumeida’s Song) tells a story of a clash of old thought and new thought and, while written in 2009, comes, for Western listeners, on the heels of the unrest in Egypt that has led to the forming of a new type of government for that region. Fairouz is dedicated to bringing Eastern and Western thought together, and breaking down the barriers that prevent people from being everything they are, and moving forward together. This opera has winds of change swirling around and through it, and it’s one you must see. This young composer is someone to watch.”

—Sherri Rase, [Q]onStage

“At 26, the Arab American composer Mohammed Fairouz writes music that is sprightly and inventive, drawing on both Western and Eastern modes to forge a style that is winningly cosmopolitan…. The ascetically scored chamber music includes a fanciful set of airs for solo guitar, a deftly funny suite of piano miniatures, and ‘Lamentation and Satire,’ a fierce, abrasive string quartet splendidly performed by the Lydian String Quartet. All are dexterously crafted…. The most urgently heartfelt piece here is the opening ‘Litany,’ a fantasy on the Muslim call to prayer…”

—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

“The Borromeo players achieve the special balancing act of paitence and ferocity in Mohammed Fairouz’s Lamentation and Satire, an intensely felt score in which the instruments engage in compelling duos, a fugue of doleful uregncy and a farewell utterly bereft of hope.”

—Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone Magazine

“Mohammed Fairouz’s Refugee Blues, a riff on W.H. Auden’s poem of the same title, was one of the sharpest emotional impacts of the evening with a Marc Blitzstein brand of anger and white-knuckle piano accompaniment to such stanzas as ‘Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky/It was Hitler over Europe saying, ‘they must die’/O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in is mind.’”

—Olivia Giovetti, WQXR

“Inspired by the Art Spiegelman graphic novel of the same name, Fairouz delivers as powerful and evocative a work for wind ensemble as Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968. Beginning with “The New Normal,” this four movement symphony draws in a wide array of creative and affective ensemble colors but none more colorful as in the second movement “Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist.” In this second movement, metal percussion, harp, piano, and double bass scrape and groan through a grey-inspired aural landscape. The not entirely playful third movement “One Nation Under Two Flags” portrays a “Red Zone” and “Blue Zone” through musical juxtapositions of a sort which would make Ives proud. The final movement, “Anniversaries” uses a ticking clock motive throughout to highlight the notion of passing time but also to imply a ticking time bomb. The composition rides this metaphor well by transforming a simple steady rhythm into something ominous and foreboding. Throughout the entire disc, the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble sounds fantastic. All the musical layers are clear and articulate but their precision does not come through sacrificing emotion and lyricism…”

—Jay Batzner, Sequenza21

“Mohammed Fairouz wrote Sumeida’s Song, a lushly scored chamber opera, when he was only 22. Its concerns with peace and communal healing place it in the humane tradition of such works as Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlos.”

—Marion Lignana Rosenberg, WQXR

“In the sublime column was Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s short song-cycle, Three Fragments from Ibn Khafajah, an 11th century Arab poet, for soprano, flute, violin, cello and guitar. The three short poems, sung in Arabic, dealt with morality, religion and love.

“[Mary] Bonhag sang the tiny first part, almost plainsong in style, with a warm but haunting lyricism. The second part began with exotic, Middle Eastern-flavored instrumental music, joined by Bonhag passionately delivering the text. Finally, warmth and tenderness – still with the same exotic flavor – ensued in this short but powerful work.”

—Jim Lowe, Vermont Times Argus

“Mohammed Fairouz’s Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth… Think relentless and tireless uneven metrics within a common time framework, breathless rhythms and a shrieking piccolo that surges faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive intensifying en route to a climactic whip. The throbbing grooves suck you in; the thunderous textures don’t let go. As an audience member, I couldn’t help breaking a sweat. The work dangerously verges on the fringe of lusty turbo flash. But with ample inventiveness that hint at Fairouz’s thoughtful craftsmanship, his Akhenaten will be heard as often as the composer’s popular vocal works.

“Fairouz may be a child of the cosmopolitan Internet age: His music synthesizes minimalism, hard rock, jazz and jazz hands, musical theater, avant-garde and ethno-folk styles. But he does so in such a way that diverse creative impulses coexist and keep their individual distinct character.”

—Joel Luks, CultureMap Houston

“Mohammed Fairouz’s treatment of W.H. Auden’s Refugee Blues rises to the historical and emotional scope of the poem–callousness to immigrants’ humanity and desperation, alas, still a topic of no small relevance. Gaissert’s rich, resonant, varicolored tone was aptly suited to Fairouz’s dramatic vocal writing.”

—Scott Rose, The New Civil Rights Movement

“Mohammed Fairouz’s “A Source of Light” juxtaposed a letter by Isaac Newton and a poem by 20th-century poet Charles Bukowski. The latter looked at the deaths of many great artists, but with a wit and humor that ultimately proved transcendent.”

—William Randall Beard, Minneapolis Star Tribune 

“Fairouz’s work (Sumeida’s Song)  is a brilliant synthesis of Western opera and Arab musical traditions—specifically, the microtonal inflections typical of Arabic maqam… Fairouz’s command of traditional operatic craft would be astonishing for a composer twice his age—and at times, the work sounds almost Straussian in its textured web of motifs; imaginative and rigorous and expressive… ”

—Dan Visconti, NewMusicBox

“Mohammed Fairouz’s Bonsai Journal … It’s a technically difficult piece and the poetry seems deliberately separated from the music, as if the two are competing for air space, though there is an underlying dance. By including this piece by a ‘newer generation’ composer, we get a view into the world to come, which, as demonstrated here, seems serious, intense, complex. ”

—David Wolman, Fanfare Magazine

“The twenty-four-year-old Fairouz (who was present at the event, and who shyly got up from the audience to take his bows with the musicians) is obviously very talented, with a distinct musical voice of his own already.”

—Wendy Lesser, Threepenny Review

“The audience proved enthusiastic about Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s knotty and complex but finely crafted 2008 Lamentation and Satire. The 25-year-old New York City resident was on hand to introduce the intriguing work. The Lamentation proved to be a heart-wrenching plea, while the satire was a raucous fugue, but it all held together as a distinct and convincing statement. The Borromeo seemed most comfortable with the work; in fact, it recently released a recording of it.”

—Jim Lowe, Vermont Times Argus

“The occasion was the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s double concerto for violin and cello entitled States of Fantasy … the music alone was a rich experience; in the greater context of the music’s origin, the experience was intellectually and psychically provocative. The program on Saturday evening … entitled “Duologues: Beethoven and Fairouz”…  At first the juxtaposition of these two composers on the program seemed random, but the experience of the two composers’ music in proximity revealed similarities of intensity and passion, along with the integration of literary and historical inspiration … It is most difficult to critique a new work such as this because there is no point of comparison, except to the larger context of music’s ability to project directly as feeling and meaning without intellectual intervention. By this measure the concerto succeeded without question.”

—Phyllis Nordstrom, Classical Voice of New England

“The concert event that began as an act of healing in the wake of 9/11 has endured as an annual testament to peace. In this program the Borromeo Quartet, the Imani Winds, and the baritone Randall Scarlata gather to perform work the world première of Furia by Mohammed Fairouz .”

The New Yorker

“The waves of intensity, if not the intellectual rigor, lifted for a minute with a handful of miniatures by Mohammed Fairouz, who was in attendance. Still young (he’s in his twenties) and amazingly prolific, Fairouz is a wide-ranging thinker with several considerably powerful, unselfconsciously deep works to his credit – and he can also be very funny. Joan assembled a set that was both amusing and captivating: an attempt to make an etude interesting, in a very successful, Schumann-esque way; a challenge to write a piece containing no dissonances (it was mostly arpeggios); a joke that began way up the scale and ended way down; an austere twelve-tone piece and a brief, vividly autumnal requiem”

Lucid Culture

“Fairouz’s juxtaposition (in his solo guitar work Airs) of modal, Middle Eastern music and strains of Baroque figuration with modernist techniques in the third movement were subtly crafted and executed”

Arts Editor