US tenor Marc Heller explains how he’s bridging the gap between East and West with a brand new classical concert series
Tell us about ‘From Here to There’. The concert on March 31 is a pilot concert for a year-long series that we’re preparing at the moment. It’s an excerpt from a much longer journey that will trace the musical thread between cultures, from Arabic classical and pre-classical roots – we’ll be starting with Abyssi and Andalusian works – through to the Spanish art song, and landing at last in Southern Italy.
That sounds pretty complex. Can people who don’t know Spanish or Andalusian music enjoy it? Of course! The music is gorgeous, passionate, sensual, and accessible – it appeals for the same reason that so many other types of music do.
So what are you planning with the rest of the series? The aim of the future concerts is to build bridges between cultures by highlighting our musical similarities. It’s a medium that requires no translation. Rather than importing and then sending home pieces of Western culture, we want to develop and integrate existing classical voices.
What will happen on the night? The main performance will be of ‘The Love Bird’, an Arabic work that has been composed specifically for this event by a world-class oud player, Khalid Mohammed Ali, and the poet Maad al Jabori. I’m a tenor, so I’ll be performing that alongside Mr Ali, with help from conductor and pianist Gianluca Marcianò. We’ll also be doing Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody and the song ‘Granada’, both of which are based on Andalusian melodies. We also have a marvellous soprano called Monica de Rosa McKay, who lives in Dubai but was born, raised and trained in Italy. She’ll be performing too.
Will the series’ focus be on classics or new works? Well, we’re very pleased to showcase new music and new poetry, but the best part of it all is the pool of resources from which we can draw. We can go on producing concerts for a long time if we rely not just on the proliferation of Arabic works but also the Western and even Far Eastern classical works that derive their influences from them.
How influential has Arabic music been on Western music? More so than most of us would believe. Until a few years ago, people believed that Western music’s originals lay solely in ancient Greece, right down to the musical treatise attributed to Aristotle. But in point of fact, ancient Semitic civilizations – like Babylon, Assyria and Phoenicia – had influenced the ancient Greeks far earlier. Even the scales we learned as children – do re mi and so on – are Arabic. And you can hear Andalusian themes in Spanish classical, tango and flamenco music, as well as in all manner of Italian and French art songs and operas. Also, the oud is the forerunner of the mandolin, the hanun is connected to the harpsichord and the autoharp, and the rebab is the forerunner of the violin. It’s all there!