What did Irada Ibragimova say about

M. I. Quandour's works


Cry Jerusalem

A Musical Odyssey by Quandour

 Irada Ibragimova

(From the Jordanian English Language paper, The Star)

    It was an unusual Concert, a special Concert for a special occasion. It was the Jubilee Concert of Mohydeen Quandour’s sixty-fifth birthday, and as destiny would have it, it took place in Amman Jordan, on the exact ground where the talented Circassian composer was born and raised. Among the rich Concertos, Quartets, Trios and Duets played here was one piece of music, which left me spellbound and hypnotized for days afterwards. This was a new suite for Cello and Orchestra, performed by the Iraqi American Cellist, Karim Wasfi.

   When I first heard this music it made me melancholic and despairing. The music touches your soul and activates whatever grief you might have stored inside you. My eyes were tearful from the very first mournful note to the last. Yes it really was ‘tears of Jerusalem’ or as the composer aptly called it “Cry Jerusalem”.

   Mohydeen Quandour once said, in a television interview, that “music is like poetry, it descends upon you from out-of-space and then you struggle with it for days, weeks and maybe months, trying to give it form and structure.”

   This music and the feeling it gave to so many people who heard it, is so universal that it seems the title is almost irrelevant because the music itself speaks to you so clearly and so tragically. It seems, as the Composer said, that the music was born first, arriving mystically from somewhere out of this world, before it acquired its form or title. That is exactly what happened to me also. Without knowing the title or any of the composer’s ideas, the music spoke to me intimately and I knew exactly what were its theme and subject matter.

   Jerusalem, this small piece of ground on Earth, is where the three heavenly religions came together to coexist. It should have become the city of peace. In fact Jerusalem has not seen peace in over two thousand years. Nobody who observes what’s going on today in that city can walk away unaffected. The tragedy that is unfolding, and continuing to unfold in Jerusalem today, is perhaps a graphic illustration of man’s inhumanity to man. The Music of Mohydeen Quandour is a soul-wrenching expression of anguish, a mournful cry, in musical notes, of that exact tragedy.

  The work starts with a very beautiful melody. It is melancholic, or maybe you could say meditative. Here I would like to especially note the resourcefulness of the composer in his choice of the Cello as the Solo instrument. This is the one single instrument, which can reproduce that special celestial “Universum” sound. Because of its special role in the composition, it reproduces those particularly haunting accents and allows the other instruments to amplify and clarify in their musical expressions. The concept and tonality of the whole work is ushered and assisted by the Cello solo to recount the tragic predicament of Jerusalem.

  At the beginning, the principal theme is followed successively by two related but haunting melodies. Here you can hear the doleful invocation frequently. Three sounds are utilized, A flat, A natural, and again A flat, which are so ingeniously linked and correlated that you can comfortably say that the composer has total professional control of sound reproduction and orchestration in the best classical tradition. Exactly as the painter knows what colors to mix in order to reproduce a masterpiece, so the composer knows how to reproduce the wonderful, yet heart-wrenching, sounds from both the orchestra and the Soloist.

   The development section which follows, is unpretentious, yet dramatic and clever. The Solo continues its haunting rendition of passages like a grave poem and without relief, despite the onslaught of the orchestra’s emotional interventions.

    I cannot pass up the opportunity to talk about the accompanying orchestration. It is a ceaseless wave after wave of rich mournful harmony wavering intermittently between A minor and D minor chords. What this asserts is the sense of a dark ominous cloud hovering over the city, not allowing the sunlight to come through. For me as a musician, it is enough to hear the beginning themes of this work in order to appreciate the high level of the composer’s professionalism. I could stop right here now because I already gave my opinion of this composer, but there are so many more wonderful and meaningful moments in this work about some of which I am compelled to talk.

   The first theme of this work is both beautiful and meaningful. It is repeated again, but each time changing its color and tonality with inventive variations. These emotive changes are very recognizable and rich with feelings. During the third recapitulation with the flute solo, you get the impression of lack of confidence, of faint-heartedness. This is how the composer purposely wrote it. I think the composer wanted to show the hopelessness, desperation and turbulence of the soul of Jerusalem, this soul which refuses to be dominated by any single power, the soul which was originally destined to be shared by all mankind.

   Jerusalem’s prayers for her freedom, and maybe for universal freedom, remain enclosed within its confined space, its ancient walls. Nobody hears her prayers. Her voice rings hopelessly in vacuum, bouncing against patriarchal stones. Therefore in the third variation of the theme, Jerusalem is defeated, despondent, without hope for resurrection. That is exactly what the music portrays.   

    The same beautiful theme, with some variations, when picked up by a solo flute is simply exquisite. The melody, which at first seems simple, is in fact an ingenious and stirring rendition in its depth and fullness. I think the composer wanted to express here the voice of the vulnerable residents of Jerusalem, the hopeless mothers. If we are to divide this work into four distinct parts, the flute enters during the third part of the work. Later the Solo cello comes in and embraces the flute warmly, playing a melody of its own. This polyphonic structuring is tantalizing, leading in the end all the orchestra instruments back to the principal culmination of the theme of the composition. With this the composer tells us that we all share in the same pain of Jerusalem.

   The fourth part of the work introduces a new melody with charming oriental rhythms expressing some faint hope for resurrection but at the same time showing the confusion of humanity in resolving Jerusalem’s problems. There are some dramatic expressions during the development of this theme, which lead you to think that Jerusalem is enraged, and is giving humanity a last chance to adhere to its special status, its uniqueness in the midst of chaos and violence. The Solo cello concludes the work in a reflective finale finishing with a short but emotive cadenza. Here again the composer displays his artistry with the choice of Middle Eastern musical motifs confirming once more the exact location and nature of this poetic musical odyssey.

   The conclusion is extraordinary and unexpected. It proposes no answers; on the contrary the last dramatic beats present a musical question mark with serious undertones of doom. You cannot escape their poignant message.  

Irada Ibragimova

Laureate of Musicians Competitions

Baku, Azerbijan