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Classical 101

Zabur - An Oratorio for Peace In Syria

Aaron Sturgill
Maestro Eric Stark, Mohammed Fairouz, and myself at the post-concert reception. These men are visionary.

Nearly 300 musicians raised a plaintive call for peace this past weekend in Indianapolis in the form of an oratorio.

It was the culmination of composer Mohammed Fairouz, Maestro Eric Stark, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, tenor Dann Coakwell, and the incredibly gifted baritone Michael Kelly. I think it may be my favorite piece of music in recent memory. It was nothing short of transcendent.

The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir took applications from nearly 100 composers for a large-scale work that would combine choral and orchestral forces and include an integral part for their incredible children's choir.

Mohammed's concept was chosen for its obvious musical merit as well as its overarching themes of peace, lamentation and recognition of those suffering in Syria today.

I had the pleasure of meeting Fairouz, Stark and Kelly following the performance, and each of them clearly brought a sense of urgency to the work that made it a unique and very personal endeavor.

At an intimate reception after the premiere, Mohammed urged the many donors and individuals of influence to take notice of the meaning of the work and its humanitarian call-to-arms rather than merely enjoying it as a piece of art.

"Art for the sake of art is meaningless." he declared, and I could not agree more.

Baritone Michael Kelly had similarly passionate remarks about the work's meaning for him as a singer and advocate for equal rights. He said quite clearly that New York had a ban on state-funded non-essential travel to Indiana right now due to the initial anti-gay legislation version of the Religious Freedom law. The ban was lifted after revisions were made to the law.  

While Kelly wanted to respect that measure of repercussion, he felt it was more of a statement to come and perform on behalf of his community than to stay home. And it was.

He wore a rainbow pin on stage and to the reception to mark his personal stance, and it was quite effective. Kelly's voice and his artistry are both testaments to the equality of all capable musicians.

I took more away from Indianapolis this weekend than simply entertainment or even musical gratification. The support for their symphony and choir is inspiring. There is a true public involvement in the arts in Indianapolis.

Before the performance, there had already been two interfaith and intercultural exchanges hosted by the Symphonic Choir and numerous community members. Likewise, the Pre-Performance Maestro Conversation was well-attended and applauded as a true benefit to the audience rather than an afterthought or exclusive experience. The Hilbert Circle Theatre was packed for the performance, and most of us in the audience were in tears before we even got past the intermission to Fauré’s Requiem.

It was interesting how greatly the people of Indianapolis truly look for new music to be accompanied by standard repertoire rather than the opposite way around. Columbus, I urge you to encourage partnerships between composers and our ensembles, and to reach out into our diverse and beautiful community for inspiration and conversation.

We have so much already going for us here, and so much more we can achieve!