2023-2024 Masterworks season opens with Scheherazade and regional debut of genre-bending clarinetist

Muskegon, Michigan, October 18, 2023— A Jazzthetik review captured the essence of Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh’s music: “It’s not Arabia, not jazz, not classical—it’s all of the above.” The genre-bending improviser and composer has been hailed as “intensely soulful” by The New York Times and “spellbinding” by the New Yorker.

Azmeh will make his regional debut with the West Michigan Symphony, conducted by Scott Speck, at 7:30pm Friday, November 3. The concert will feature his own Suite for Improviser and Orchestra, along with Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful Scheherazade and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral. Sponsored by the Past Chairs Committee—a group of former leaders of the WMS board—the performance will be held in the Frauenthal Center, 425 W. Western Avenue in downtown Muskegon.  Mike and Kay Olthoff are the 2023-2024 Season Sponsors; Blue Lake Public Radio is the Media Sponsor. For tickets, starting at $19 for adults, $10 for students, call 231.727.8001.

Kinan Azmeh began to play the clarinet at age six, studied at the conservatory of music in Damascus, and received advanced degrees from the Juilliard School in the U.S. He was the first Arab musician to win the first prize in Moscow’Rubinstein International Youth competition. He has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma and John McLaughlin, among others, and is the frontman for two bands: Hewar and the Kinan Azmeh CityBand.

The concert is exotic from beginning to end. Chimes, tuned water glasses, and Chinese reflex bells lend Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral a sacred aura. Azmeh’s suite is a colorful journey spanning Middle Eastern malfuf and Dominican merengue rhythms and motifs from a Syrian wedding. Scheherazade is a late 19th-century Russian composer’s proto-Impressionist take on the Arabian Nights, with every instrument in the orchestra given the chance to shine as a soloist.

Audience members and the general public are invited to learn more at a free Lunch ‘n Learn event held at 12 noon Wednesday, November 1 in The Block. Sponsored by Embark Financial Partners, the event will be hosted by Music Director Scott Speck and include Q & A and conversations with Kinan Azmeh. Delicious small bites will be provided by Kuntry Cookin’.

Free shuttle transport is available from Muskegon Farmer’s Market to the door of the Frauenthal, and back again after the concert. A post-concert reception will be held in the lower level Frau Lounge, an opportunity for the audience to mingle with conductor and musicians.

The eclectic theme continues at The Block on Saturday night at 7:30pm when Kinan Azmeh showcases the multi-faceted character of the clarinet via a multitude of traditions. Accompanied by pianist Jean Schneider, Azmeh will feature standard and rarely performed works for clarinet plus some of his own compositions.  For tickets, $32 to $48, call 231.726.3231 or visit theblockwestmichigan.org. ###

Michigan Arts & Culture Council
National Endowment for the Arts