Portrait of a Moroccan Cantor singing about Love” or “Memories from a Place I’ve Never Been” is a piece that took me on a real personal journey. Essentially, I perceive it as an open love letter to Morocco and to my late Grandfather, Albert Elharrar who was born in Casablanca, 1937 and passed away four years ago. The first two inspirations that triggered the writing process of the piece are Chapter 8, Verse 7 of "Song of the Songs” and an old cassette of a Moroccan cantor singing it. The iconic verse, considered to be written by the biblical King Solomon, speaks about the tremendous power of love, comparing it to a fire that cannot be washed away even by the greatest rivers or to something that cannot be replaced or fixed even by the greatest fortunes in the world. The imagery and purity of this line has always deeply resonated with me and so I felt driven to search for musical representations of it. After several trips to old cassette stores in some very religious parts of Israel, I found the version of the verse that moved me the most being sang by a Moroccan Cantor. Ornaments, small fragments and key landing points in the Cantor’s lines as well as my own musical reflection of the text has become the “bread and butter” of the piece providing its main themes, motives and textural ingredients.
Later on in the process as I continued to meditate on the recording and on the text, it revealed to me that the image of my late grandfather keeps coming up. Although he wasn’t a musician, the voice and tone of the Cantor in the recording very much reminded me of his, particularly when he would sing the Shabbat dinner prayer I heard almost weekly while growing up. It is through him that I feel so connected and instantly moved by Moroccan culture, almost as though I have my own memories from there even though I’ve never physically been. Looking back at the verse, it fell into place that although the usual interpretation is that it speaks about love between man and woman or man and god, for me, it is about the love flame for a dear family member that keeps burning even when he’s no more.
Ultimately, the piece tells the story of that process, offers reminiscences of my imaginary memories from Morocco and an abstract portrait of the cantor from the recording transmitted through my own lens and voice. Although writing for an orchestra, I wanted to stay close to the musical language that is home to me being a pianist, improvisor, Israeli Jew of mixed heritage, a resident of New York city, member of several musical communities and a researcher of several musical traditions. The vocal element is apparent as well as usage of the Makammat (the middle eastern modal system), Moroccan Shaabi rhythms, aleatoric techniques and a transcription of the memory of my late grandfather singing the Shabbat prayer melody that is turned into a fugue - all of which wrapped by the words of the verse as an envelope for the entire endeavor.
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