• Four Arab composers will work with The Royal Opera and Shubbak mentors during a five-day residency, from 10 July to 14 July 2017.
  • An evening concert at LSO St Luke’s on 13 July 2017 will include the premiere of scenes from Woman at Point Zero, by Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk, and feature existing works by the four composers resident for the Festival.

The Royal Opera and Shubbak, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Festival, are delighted to announce a London residency for Arab composers from 10 July to 14 July 2017. During the residency, four emerging composers will experience the work of both The Royal Opera and Shubbak Festival, exploring current and future artistic practice with mentors from both organizations and engaging with leading creatives and producers, and fellow writers and composers.

The residency will include an evening concert at LSO St Luke’s on 13 July 2017, featuring an excerpt from Woman at Point Zero by Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk and existing works by the four composers resident for the Festival.

John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera for The Royal Opera said: ‘I am delighted that The Royal Opera is continuing its collaboration with Shubbak Festival and grateful to Abu Dhabi Festival for supporting this exciting residency. The residency will hopefully enable the selected composers to develop their distinct voices further and inspire them to create new operatic works. I am also thrilled that we can share excerpts from Bushra El-Turk’s Woman at Point Zero, an outstanding example of cross-cultural collaboration.’

The London residency follows The Royal Opera and Shubbak’s previous collaboration on Cities of Salt, a co-production of an opera by Syrian composer Zaid Jabri. Extracts from Cities of Salt were performed in the Linbury Studio Theatre in July 2015.

Eckhard Thiemann, Artistic Director of Shubbak said: ‘Writing for the voice and telling stories through the voice exists in every culture. We are delighted to hear from Arab composers how their ideas, narratives and sounds connect with London’s rich contemporary opera scene.’

H.E. Huda Ebrahim Alkhamis, Founder and Artistic Director of Abu Dhabi Festival said: ‘Abu Dhabi Festival exists to celebrate and nurture the diversity of cultural expression. Central to this is a commitment to take works by Arab artists to the world. As we experience increasing global division, dynamic voices of creative expression are more essential than ever. We are delighted, once again, to collaborate with our partners Shubbak and The Royal Opera to nurture the development of exceptionally gifted Arab composers and initiate tolerance and understanding between cultures.’

The four selected composers – Nabil Benabdeljalil, Bahaa El-Ansary, Amir Elsaffar and Nadim Husni – were chosen for their potential to become opera makers.

Moroccan composer Nabil Benabdeljalil studied composition at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine and the Conservatoire de Strasbourg. His music, which combines Western and Moroccan/Oriental compositional elements, has been performed by the English Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Symphony Orchestra of Morocco, the BOHO Players and the Xenia Ensemble, and at such venues and festivals as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Seattle Chamber Players’ Icebreaker Festival. The Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra have commissioned a new work by Nabil Benabdeljalil, to be performed in April 2017.

Egyptian composer Bahaa El-Ansary studied composition at The Academy of Arts in Cairo, the Conservatoire de Bordeaux and the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Boulogne-Billancourt. His music is influenced by spectral and avant-garde techniques and has been performed in Egypt, Italy, Iceland, England, Austria, France, Singapore, Lebanon, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Iraqi-American composer Amir Elsaffar studied trumpet at DePaul University School of Music in Chicago and has performed across jazz and classical idioms with such ensembles as the Cecil Taylor Orchestra Humane in New York and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (working with Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim and Mstislav Rostropovich). His compositional output blends his Iraqi heritage with contemporary jazz styles and instrumentation. He has received commissions from Chamber Music America, Newport Jazz Festival and the Jerome Foundation and is currently the Transcultural Music Composer in Residence for the Royaumont Foundation in France.

Syrian composer Nadim Husni studied composition and conducting in Kraków. He has been commissioned by the International Kraków Composers Festival and has had his music performed by the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. His work is inspired by Syrian culture and draws heavily on Arabic language.

Woman at Point Zero is a seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal el Saadawi, about her encounter in a Cairo prison with Firdaus, a prostitute condemned to death for murdering her pimp. An allegorical tale of historical female oppression, it simultaneously questions what true freedom and empowerment can mean for women. Bushra El-Turk’s adaptation of the work was conceived in collaboration with German Egyptian Soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos, who sings the role of Firdaus. It features a libretto by British Egyptian writer Sabrina Mahfouz and direction by Maria Koripas, and uses a diverse wind ensemble featuring members of Ensemble Zar to develop a musical language that straddles cultural and artistic boundaries. The opera blends vivid gestures of movement and sound to give Firdaus a voice that rises above national identity and cultural belonging to tell her life story, from continuing brutality to her discovery of freedom and dignity in death. The development phase of Woman at Point Zero has been commissioned by Shubbak with Abu Dhabi Festival, with support from The Royal Opera, Snape Maltings and PRS for Music Foundation.

Bushra El-Turk's music has been described as ‘ironic’, ‘arresting’ and of ‘limitless imagination’, reveals the influence of her Lebanese roots and straddles Eastern and Western idioms. She has been selected by the BBC as one of the most inspiring 100 Women of today, and her music has been performed and broadcast on radio and television globally, in collaborations with the London Symphony Orchestra (Panufnik Composers Scheme 2012), BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestre National de Lorraine, Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, the Latvian Radio Choir and Atlas Ensemble, among others. Her works have been performed at venues including Lincoln Center, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Southbank Centre and the Barbican. Bushra El-Turk is artistic director and leader of Ensemble Zar, a fresh and fearless cross-genre ensemble whose mission is to express the Middle Eastern artistic temperament in its rawest form, and experiment with new sounds in the process.

Bushra El-Turk said: ‘Merit Ariane Stephanos commissioned me to write a piece for her to explore our experience of hybrid identities and our fascination with the interconnection between musical and physical gestures. Nawal el Saadawi’s seminal novel Woman at Point Zero rang loudly as a highly physical piece. Together with director Maria Koripas and poet/librettist Sabrina Mahfouz, we are developing a cross-cultural language of music and movement. Drawing on the different idioms of a culturally diverse wind section of Ensemble Zar, we are using breath as a key tool to express Firdaus’s complex and controversial character.’


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