Sacramento, California. February 01, 2012. Ian Vandermeulen, Assistant Editor of Symphony, and a graduate student in Middle Eastern Studies at the City University of New York quotes Delegata President & CEO, Kais Menoufy, for a community article titled “Beyond the Melting Pot”. The article reflects Kais’ Building Bridges efforts with the Songs of Hope Concert Series as it highlights American orchestras across the nation. “Beyond the Melting Pot” By Ian Vandermeulen
Published in Symphony Magazine Winter 2012 Edition, pages 52-59.
(For full article, please see the link below. This is an excerpt from pages 52 and 58.)
American orchestras build bridges to a region in transition by engaging Arab and Iranian composers, and forging ties with Middle Eastern communities at home.
In February 2011, as American media outlets and others around the world were buzzing about Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation following the “Arab Spring” protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Sacramento Philharmonic was gearing up for its first subscription program of the calendar year. Looking for a way to mark the occasion, then-Executive Director Marc Feldman decided to add a short work by Egyptian composer and conductor Nader Abbassi to the orchestra’s standard subscription concert that week. Music Director Michael Morgan introduced the aptly titled New Conception, which fuses Middle Eastern themes and Western orchestral harmonies, before preforming it alongside works by Mozart and Beethoven.
It was a watershed moment. “For orchestras to be topical and on the cutting edge of anything where the news is concerned is highly unusual,” says Morgan, “and gives the non-concert going world a reason to take note, because we’re doing something that actually has a connection to what they are seeing, reading, and thinking about.” Such response to current events is particularly difficult given how long it takes to plan concert programs, and that orchestras often start years in advance. But Abbassi had already served as guest conductor on the orchestra’s “Songs of Hope” concert series, which presents Middle Eastern composers and performers alongside more standard fare as a way to bridge cultures.
… A look into the city’s (Sacramento’s) recent history revealed synagogue burnings in the late 1990’s and a tense relationship between local Jewish and Muslim communities that was in desperate need of healing. Enter Kais Menoufy, CEO of Sacramento’s Delegata Corporation.
Menoufy, an Egyptian Muslim, was at the time involved in the construction of a mosque in Sacramento, and felt it important to bring the local Muslim and Jewish communities together and present the Muslims in a more positive light. Delegata thus became a sponsor of the first “Songs of Hope” concert in 2008, and another in January of 2010, which featured Nader Abbassi conducting one of his own works, Nile Bride, alongside Vali’s new concerto, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with Israeli pianist Shai Wosner, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. The two programs bookended Michael Morgan’s 2009 trip to Egypt to conduct an all-American program to a sold-out Cairo Opera House, where Abbassi is artistic director.
Menoufy recalls some hitches in getting “Songs of Hope” off the ground, including forgoing potential support from the Israeli and Egyptian embassies, who wanted to use the concert as a political platform, and local resistance to having Israelis and Palestinians performing together on the same stage. “But after we had the first concert we heard nothing but positive things,” Menoufy says. “The second time was a big celebration. Everybody wanted to be there.” The Philharmonic, now led by Interim Executive Director Jane Hill, has not yet scheduled a third “Songs of Hope” concert, but Menoufy and Morgan both express hope that one will happen in the near future.
To see the article, visit: https://issuu.com/americanorchestras/docs/symphonyonline_winter_2012