Musical Performance: 'Oud Maestro and Composer Issam Rafea Performs Taqsim & Original Compositions

Sat, February 21, 2015 8:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Issam Rafea Performs Taqsim & Original Compositions on 'Oud
with guest musician, Dave Phillips, on bass

Tickets: $20 General | $15 for Students & Seniors (Buy Now*)
(*A small online fee is applied)

Doors open at 7:30 pm

Considered an 'oud virtuouso and a renowned composer, Issam Rafea was invited in March of 2013 to direct the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble and to give a series of presentations and performances at Northern Illinois University School of Music. Offering a unique opportunity to see Issam perform live in New York, Alwan for the Arts is very pleased to present an evening with Issam rooted in taqsim and in Issam's own compositioins.

Taqsim is a melodic musical improvisation that usually precedes the performance of a traditional Arab, Greek, Middle Eastern, or Turkish musical composition. It traditionally follows a certain melodic progression in either a solo instrument performance, or one that is backed by a percussionist or other instrumentalist playing a drone on the tonic of the maqam, one of the principal instrumental genres of Arab and Turkish classical music. A taqsim is ordinarily improvised and consists of several sections; it is usually (though not always) nonmetric. It may be a movement of a suite, such as the North African nauba or the Turkish fasil, but may also be performed alone or as introductory piece to vocal performances. Usually, a taqsim is cast in one principal maqam, or mode, but, often in the course of its performance and once the main maqam has been thoroughly established and explored, the improvising musician modulates for brief periods to other maqamat and returns at the end to the original mode. Although any melodic instrument can be used to perform taqsim, those most often used in Arab music are the ʿoud (short-necked lute), buzuq (long-necked lute), and qanun (plucked dulcimer) and in Turkish music, the ney (end-blown flute).

Issam is an internationally acclaimed 'oud soloist, whose performance at Alwan will offer a unique opportunity to see him perform live, during his temporary stay in the United States. Issam will be accompanied by Dave Philips on bass for select pieces performed as part of the evening's original repertoire.


Born in Kuwait in 1971, ISSAM RAFEA studied in Kuwait and Syria at the High Institute of Music in Damascus. He received his BA degree in 'oud and double bass in 1995. Currently, in addition to his position as Chair of the Arab Music Department at his alma mater in Damascus, he is on the faculty of the Arab Conservatory in Damascus, where he teaches both 'oud and western harmony. Winner of the 2010 Best Composer Award in the Dubai International Film Festival (Muhr Arab) for his score for the film Matar Ayloul (September Rain), he was also the principal conductor of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arab Music from 2003-2013. Issam Rafea is also an active composer and arranger for Syrian TV and theater. Fourth prizewinner at the Cairo Improvisation Competition in 2000 (and first in the 'oud category), Issam was also awarded the second prize at the Arabic Traditional Ensembles competition in Cairo, Egypt, 1997. Rafea studied under Fayez Zahr El-Din, Aref Abdallah, and Askar Ali-Akbar. He is currently visiting the United States, residing temporarily in Illinois where he continues to perform, compose, and teach throughout his stay.

In addition to several solo appearances with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Solhi Al Wadi, Rafea has performed in France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait, and the United States. He participated in festivals such as the Mediterranean Festival in Algeria, the World Universal Expo in Seville, Spain, Spiritual Music Festival Marseille, France, The Arabic Music Conferences in Cairo, and Babel Festival in Iraq.

He is also the co-founder and 'oudist for the contemporary Arab music group Hewar, which has performed in several countries such as UAE, Egypt, Germany, UK, France, Japan, and USA. In 2011 and 2012, the group participated in the Morgenland Festival in Osnabrueck, Germany with successful performances that resulted in the production of a new live performance album entitled Letters to a Homeland. Rafea also founded Twais Quartet, a group that performs both original compositions by Rafea and traditional Arab music works.

Rafea has collaborated with groups like Gorillaz, arranging five works that were performed by the Syrian National Orchestra for Arab Music, and recorded at the Damascus Opera House. One piece was selected to be in Gorillaz album Plastic Beach in 2009. The project concluded with a tour in the UK, Europe, Lebanon, Syria, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia. Additionally, Rafea participated in a series of concerts and workshops in 2010 at the Royal Academy in Denmark as part of the Syrian-Danish cultural collaboration. He was invited by the German Institute in Ankara, Turkey to participate in an electronic music concert.

Issam Rafea Website

Bassist and composer DAVE PHILLIPS just released his fourth CD of his jazz group Freedance and is currently the bassist on the Broadway hit, The Book of Mormon. He also works with world music artists; Kiran Ahluwalia, Kinan Azmeh and Tareq Abboushi as well as the adventurous quartet Spooky Actions which interprets 20th century composers like Messiaen and Schoenberg with improvisations between movements. His early training at The Mannes College and Juilliard along with his deep love for groove makes him one of the highly sought after musicians in New York.


Alwan's music program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council.

Last updated: 2015-01-28 10:11:53

'Oud Maestro Issam Rafea
'Oud Maestro Issam Rafea
Dave Phillips on Bass
Dave Phillips on Bass

Alwan for the Arts

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(between Broad St. and Broadway)
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(646) 732-3261

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