Fez - Thursday morning dawned to a magnificent piano recital by Moroccan classical pianist Marouane Benabdallah at the Batha Museum in which he returned to his Arabic roots.
Fez – Thursday morning dawned to a magnificent piano recital by Moroccan classical pianist Marouane Benabdallah at the Batha Museum in which he returned to his Arabic roots.
Benabdallah was born in Morocco and left at the age of 13 to pursue continuing musical studies in Hungary at the Bela Bartok Academy and at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. While the recital included several works by these well known classical western composers, the highlight of the concert was the compilation of works of relatively unknown composers from the Middle East, including Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon, that are the culmination of a special project Benabdallah has embarked upon.
Benabdallah’s project, entitled “Arabesque,” is the fruit of research into works of classical composers of the Arab world. Although the works were clearly compositions in the traditional western classical music genre, each was laced with echoes of its composer’s Middle Eastern origins.
Maria Magdalena, which he said was composed three years ago, opened with lullaby sweetness reminiscent of Debussy or Satie, with some minor sonority lending a darkness and richness. Inspired by Chopin, he said afterwards, the piece ended with three dissident plinks to the mysterious – and timely — hoot of a nearby owl.
Benaddallah also played a lively piece by Bartok, his fingers flying over the keyboard on the second and third movements, the latter reminiscent of Flight of the Bumble Bee with some Hungarian dances overlaying the busy line.
The last two pieces were by a Lebanese composer. Benadallah began the first, a lively dance-like piece, with the birds in the trees above in the open air venue seemingly singing and whistling along with the music, as he plucked the piano strings with his left hand inside the piano, in dissonant chords, building to a crescendo.
In the last piece, a low register, lively rhythmical underlay began the piece, again bringing to mind the Hungarian dances of Brahms. Then followed what sounded like a taqsim played by the right hand in the upper register in an Arabic maqam that would have been perfect on a ney; and then back to the dance.
While the performance was worthy of a standing ovation, only this writer stood up to give one, although the applause continued long enough for two or three bows.
Benabdallah returned to the stage for a beautiful encore — “something totally different,” as he put it, which turned out to be a slow and sweet piece by Franz Liszt.
Benabdallah then took his final bow to appreciative audience applause, tall and distinguished in a beautiful Moroccan, hand embroidered, long jacket (designed by himself, he told Morocco World News) –- the perfect substitute for tails on this sunny, hot and humid morning in Fes.
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