Musical Performance: The Columbia University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble

Sat, June 27, 2015 8:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Amir ElSaffar,
santur & vocals
Paul Bloom, piano
Vicente Hansen, percussion
Raffi Wartanian, 'oud
Elias Ibrahim Dagher, piano

The Columbia University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble is a performance ensemble devoted to vocal and instrumental music from the Middle East and other nearby regions, including the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia. Directed by Amir ElSaffar, the group's repertoire includes songs and instrumental pieces from folk, popular, and classical genres of the region, emphasizing the many commonalities of the diverse groups in this greater cultural area.

The Columbia University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble gives students exposure to a non-Western musical style, and helps develop new sets of skills and sensibilities through weekly rehearsals and an end of semester performance. In this concert, the group will perform several Muwashshahat from Aleppo, as well as an Iraqi maqam, a Turkish Saz Semaisi and Longa, two Azerbaijani songs, and an original instrumental composition by Amir ElSaffar. Additionally, each student will present a composition/improvisation from their own musical works. Special guests from the Alwan Ensemble will join the group for this concert.

Tickets: $15 General, Students and Seniors
(BUY NOW)(*small online fee is applied)

Doors open at 7:30 pm

The Columbia Middle Eastern Music Ensemble is generously funded by Columbia's Center for Ethnomusicology and the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program.


Amir ElSaffar, director
Trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar has distinguished himself with a mastery of diverse musical traditions and a singular approach to combining Middle Eastern musical languages with jazz and other styles of contemporary music. A recipient of the 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artists Award, ElSaffar has been described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music without doing either harm,” (the Wire) and “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” (Chicago Tribune). ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background, conversant not only in the language of contemporary jazz, but has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody. Described as “an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble,” (All About Jazz), ElSaffar is an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making.

Paul Bloom is a pianist, composer, and current undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City. He grew up in the Boston area, where he attended Needham High School and took part in the New England Conservatory prep program. He also was a Brubeck Institute Fellow from 2012-2013, and has had the opportunity to study with many incredible artists, including Joe Gilman, Kris Davis, Julian Lage, Stefon Harris, Hal Crook, Dave Zoffer, Doug Johnson, Steve Sussman, Wes Wirth, & Austin McMahon.

Elias Ibrahim Dagher is a pianist and a recent graduate of Columbia University, where he obtained a degree in English literature. While there, he also studied piano performance at the Juilliard School. He is lucky to count among his mentors many wonderful musicians, including his two piano teachers Jerome Lowenthal and Julian Martin. He has also studied and performed at various music festivals across North America, including Banff and . These days, he is particularly fond of the poetry of W.H. Auden and the music of Beethoven.

Vicente Hansen is a Chilean drummer and composer currently based in New York. In his hometown Santiago, Vicente studied and performed with renowned local jazz musicians, such as Esteban Sumar, Cristóbal Menares, Mauricio Rodríguez, Andrés Baeza, and Cristóbal Orozco, among others. In New York, he has had the privilege of deepening his knowledge of jazz under the instruction of Ben Waltzer, Jeff Ballard, Ari Hoenig and John Riley. Vicente has performed at Bimhuis (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Symphony Space (New York, NY), Miller Theatre (New York, NY), Thelonious Club de Jazz (Santiago, Chile), Le Fournil Bistrot and Jazz Club (Santiago, Chile), among other venues. He is also a recent graduate of Columbia Univesrity, where he studied composition with Alfred Lerdahl, George Lewis, and Georg Friedrich Haas.

Raffi Wartanian is a writer and performer currently living in New York. He studied guitar for twelve years before studying the oud at the Komitas Conservatory in Yerevan, Armenia, where he completed a Fulbright research fellowship. In 2012, he produced an album of folk music by Kurdish refugees from Iraq. Raffi’s debut album, Pushkin Street, came out in 2013. The following year, he produced and edited a three-volume textbook of Armenian oud music, and in 2015, his music and lyrics appeared on Titerng, the sophomore release of award-winning Lebanese Armenian artist Eileen Khatchadourian. Raffi has been honored to continue his study of the oud with Ara Dinkjian while completing graduate studies in international affairs at Columbia University.

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: 2015-08-25 16:48:53

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