Thursday, April 4, 2013

Aromas of Quelques Fleurs

Composer and member of Musiqa’s Artistic Board, Karim Al-Zand spoke to Musiqa about his latest composition titled Quelques Fleurs.

Does Quelques Fleurs have a special meaning to you, other than the translation? Why or why not?
The title, “a few flowers,” has two references. It refers to the various movements of the work, each one based on a particular flower. It’s also the brand name of the first mass marketed perfume, which appeared in 1912, and was purportedly formulated, with the essence of hundreds of different flowers.

How did you approach Quelques Fleurs?
I tried to convey in musical terms the character of each flower, in particular my associations with the scent of the flower.

What are your most significant inspirations, pertaining to composing music?
My inspirations are often extra-musical, as is the case in this piece. I have compositions that are inspired by art of various kinds, literature, dance and so forth. There are some purely musical inspirations as well, such as folk music, jazz and other works in the Western classical tradition.

What is the music of Quelques Fleurs inspired by?

Quelques Fleurs is inspired by the fragrance of flowers. Connections between sound and smell have long been a feature of both poetry and science. The vocabulary of the perfumer also relies on musical analogy: a fragrance is formed by a “chord” of three scents—a “top note,” a “middle (or heart) note,” and a “bass note.” The perfume reputedly combined 300 different floral and other scents in its formulation. My piece contains four: Rose, Lavender, Jasmine and Orange Blossom.

How would you describe the music of Quelques Fleurs?

To convey the immersive quality of the flowers’ aroma, each movement is a kind of musical “static study.” The first uses a reiterated rhythmic pattern (an ostinato); the second cycles through a harmonic progression (a passacaglia); the third employs an unchanging collection of notes (a mode); and the fourth maintains constant motion by repeating a few short motives (a moto perpetuo). The piece was written for the Beausejour Trio (Wesley Ferreira, clarinet; Julia MacLaine, cello; Stephen Runge, piano) who presented its premiere in July 2010.

 As previously described, Al-Zand’s inspiration for Quelques Fleurs is drawn from the scent of four specific flowers, Jasmine being the most “heady of floral scents,” he says. 

“[Jasmine] thrives in Texas: there are several jasmine shrubs and vines around the Rice University campus,” said Al-Zand. “As you pass one of the flowering plants in the spring, the smell is intoxicating, almost overpowering in strength. I think of the third movement as an atmospheric nocturne (jasmine blooms only at night), which tries to capture a gradual envelopment by the potent bouquet.”

For Al-Zand, the smell of roses is redolent. He stated that it reminds him of “confectionery, especially the Middle Eastern sweets” he enjoyed as a child. Many of them use perfumed rose water in their recipes.

Aside from the fragrance of flowers, Al-Zand’s music is inspired by Arabic poetry. The subjects of some of his pieces speak to his middle-eastern heritage as well.

“My father’s LP records of Arabic music playing in our living room,” Al-Zand said. “Though we never really knew what the words meant, my siblings and I would occasionally join in with a catchy song. I recall only tiny snippets from these tunes. I quote one memorable fragment in the first movement, “Attar of Rose.” The movement represents a kind of perfumed nostalgia, a fragrant musical trace.”

The Boston Globe has called Al-Zand’s music “strong and startlingly lovely”. His music has been successful throughout Canada, the U.S., and abroad. Al-Zand is the recipient of several national awards, including the Sackler Composition Prize and the ArtSong Prize.

Quelques Fleurs will be featured in Musiqa’s Word Play on Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Zilkha Hall. 

Thank you, Karim, for taking the time to speak to Musiqa about Quelques Fleurs.

Written by Mia. M. Smith 

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