I. Bashir’s March
II.Lamentation: Ariel’s Song
III. Song and Little Dance
IV. Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh
“The piece de resistance was a new Mohammed Fairouz suite, Jebnal Lebnan (meaning ‘Mount Lebanon,’ the historical name for the mountainous country), which the Imani Winds recently recorded. The composer explained beforehand that its withering opening segment, Bashir’s March, was inspired by his visit to the site of a former refugee camp there, ‘the most horrific thing’ he’d ever seen. Monica Ellis’ bassoon drove it with a chilling nonchalance, the rest of the ensemble fleshing out a coldly sarcastic, Shostakovian martial theme that Jeff Scott’s french horn took to its cruelly logical, mechanically bustling extreme. After a solo interlude where Coleman got to subtly imitate an Arabic ney flute, the group hit a high note (if you’re willing to buy the premise of a dirge being a high note) with the second movement, Lamentation: Ariel’s Song. Ominous atmospheric washes led to an elegantly plaintive bassoon solo and a methodical crescendo that built from elegaic to fullscale horror, its fatalistic pulse suddenly disappearing, leaving the atmospherics to linger ominously before ending on a more lively but equally wary note. This angst subsided somewhat but still remained through the rest of the work: the tango-like Dance and Little Song, with their bracing close harmonies and Scheherezade allusions, and Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, a cleverly interwoven rondo of sorts featuring Coleman on pennywhistle that ended energetically with a confluence of klezmer, gypsy and Arabic tonalities, an apt evocation of a land that’s been a melting pot (and a boiling point) for centuries.” [full review]
Jebel Lebnan literally translates as “Mount Lebanon”. This work for wind quintet was commissioned by the Imani Winds and musically chronicles events from the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and their effect on the current face of Lebanon.
The first movement, Bashir’s March, refers to Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Phalange Party held responsible for the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla Refugee Camps. The movement is marked “intense and relentless with no compassion or tenderness” and opens with a wild scream in the clarinet and piccolo. The movement continues on a downward and conflicted spiral symbolic of violence until it collapses. Following this movement is an interlude for solo flute called Nay (the Arabic word for flute). This interlude is the free song of an Arabic flute heard in the night from the distance of the mountains.
This leads to a funeral march Ariel’s Song, which is a slow movement and a heartfelt lamentation on the wanton loss of life (the war resulted in an estimated 150,000 to 230,000 civilian fatalities with many more people displaced).
Following this funeral march is something of a reawakening. This is a celebration of the resilience of the Lebanese people as spring follows winter (I have always been amazed by the capacity of the Lebanese to go clubbing in Beirut while the city is being bombarded).
The final movement, called Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, is an Arabic round dance. This is mostly lyrical music and embodies the concepts of simple song and melody so cherished in the Arab World. It invokes the spirit of Mar Charbel, Lebanon’s Patron Saint.