Locales (2014)

18 minutes
Oboe and String Trio
Commissioned by Ian Shafer


I. Liwa: Sheikh Zayed Road at Dawn
II. Dabkeh: Shar’i Hamra at Dusk
III. Chanson: Rue d’Argentine, 2am
IV. Ayre: Exhibition Road, 9am
V. Musical Number: 26th/9th, Hudson Guild at Midnight


Place has always been vital to me and the places that mean the most to me are cities. More than just areas to live, the world’s great cities have characters of their own that reflect the people and generations who built them. At their best, our cities express the extraordinary potential for cosmopolitan harmony and coexistence that comes with people interacting, working together and sharing creative space and ideas.

Each of the cities in Locales has a deeply personal meaning for me. All are places where I’ve spent a great deal of time. Each movement of Locales serves as a musical snapshot of a specific location within the cities at a specific time of day. My intention wasn’t to create a literal portrait of the soundscape of these cities but rather to capture their atmosphere and spirit. This music is as much about the cities as what they mean to me. So the movements of Locales progress, from east to west, as a series of diary entries. Each movement also offers my take on local musical forms.

We begin our journey on one of the most impressive roads on the planet. Liwa: Sheikh Zayed Road attempts to capture the audacity of human vision that resulted in a harsh, sleepy corner of the Arabian Desert being transformed into the site of one of the world’s most iconic skylines. The music takes the form of a Liwa, a traditional dance of the Gulf Arabs. A Liwa usually begins with a slow plaintive solo played on the mizmar, an instrument that resembles the oboe with its piercing double-reed sound, and then picks up pace with whirling gestures.

Our next stop, Beirut, is expressed through the most iconic Arabic dance form: the Dabkeh. The music begins atmospherically with the sun setting over Hamra Street in downtown Beirut but quickly picks up the pace. This mirrors the daily transformation of Hamra Street from an intellectual and artistic haven by day to the vibrant nightlife punctuated by wild clubs, bars, tattoo parlors and general merriment. The liveliness of this dabkeh is my tribute to the ever-perseverant and fun-loving people of the state of Lebanon.

I spent many sleepless nights as a teenager in my apartment on Rue d’Argentine in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. In this movement, the oboe becomes a singer as I take the vocal form of the Chanson to express the endless peace, calm and elegance of this beautiful street at 2am.

It became a daily ritual for me coming home from after-school German classes at London’s Goethe-Institut to pause and take in the spirit of Exhibition Road. On the short walk from the Goethe-Institut to the South Kensington Tube Station I would take quick detours to pass the Royal Albert Hall, the Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Every Friday I would stop in the Victoria and Albert to visit the Rodin sculptures as loyally as I would visit a good friend. This short gentle movement, in the form of an English Ayre, is a small token of my love for Exhibition Road.

The westward journey of Locales ends in my hometown of New York and in my neighborhood of Chelsea. The movement takes its name from the Hudson Guild, an organization that embodies the best of community spirit in big cities. The music is a description of a noisy midnight street scene on 26th Street in the West Side of Manhattan and is extremely active. This brash, extroverted music takes the tone of that most New York-related art-form: the Broadway musical number.

- Mohammed Fairouz (2014)

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