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> Emily Jacir - Palestinian-American artist wins...
> Aliyyeh Nuseibeh: school principal
> Abdel-Hamid Hamam: A composer and a scholar
> Jumana El-Husseini: painter
> Salma Khadra Jayyusi, poet and critic
> Badrans: A Century of Tradition and Innovation
> Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, historian
> Amin Nasser, composer
> Khalil Rabah, artist
> Fr. Gaudentius Orfali of Nazareth
> Amoun Sleem, community organizer
> Nasri Fernando Dueri, musician
> Fayeq [Mike} Nasser
> Abdul Jawad Saleh, politician
> Laith Bazari, DJ
> Augustine Lama, composer
> Talal Nasereddin, CEO
From Schubert to Rachmaninov
Born in Ramleh in 1935, the young Amin Nasser found himself part of a family that cherished music, art, and culture. In 1969 I remember sitting in a hall listening to the late Mousa Nasser (ex-minister in Jordan and one of the early patriarchs of Birzeit College - now Birzeit University) telling many of us young students that “everyone wants to be a minister, but few care about art and culture. This has to change.” Certainly young Amin followed this advice.
He grew up in the little town of Bir Zeit, where he was attracted to songs and anthems. Even as a young boy, Amin was moved by the national anthems of musicians such as the Fleifel brothers, Salvador Arnita, Hanna Khashadorian and, later, Yousef Batroni. At the age of 14, he started experimenting with piano composition. One of his first compositions had a national theme, and when it was completed, he immediately began to look for lyrics to go with it!
As a high school student in 1951, he found his cousin, Kamal Nasser, in one of the classrooms trying to play the piano. Kamal looked at young Amin and asked for his help to write music for one of the famous poems of a national Palestinian poet. Kamal was admitting that Amin knew how to play piano, but that he (Kamal) did not. That was perhaps one of the earliest challenges that Amin faced during the prelude to his music career. He welcomed the challenge and met with such success that his song was performed at the graduation ceremony of his high school that year.
Thus began his official career as a composer.
His subsequent songs and anthems were appreciatively acknowledged by all who heard them. The incredible resiliency of his melodies to the Arabic language was secondary to the emotive quality of his music - music that pierces deep into the heart of the listener. Later he rewrote several of his early songs and anthems for voice, with more mature composition and, sometimes, using choral style.
Shortly after he finished his studies at Birzeit College, he travelled to Austria where he studied piano and composition at a conservatory. After graduating he moved to Germany and engaged in more advanced studies in music. Finally the young Amin had the precise combination of knowledge, education, and talent that transformed him into an accomplished musician.
Back at home, he returned to Birzeit College, this time as a teacher. He taught music for four years before going to Amman, Jordan, where he was appointed by the Jordanian minister of culture as member of a committee that was commissioned to establish the Jordan Conservatory of Music, along with Atiyeh Sharara (violinist) and Hala Nusseiba (musicologist). Shortly after the 1967 War, the composer, Yousef Khasho, was appointed director of the conservatory. Amin succeeded him in that post for three years.
A caring musician, with nationalism being one of the main motifs of his creativity, he decided to come back home to the West Bank. He was again employed by Birzeit University as a faculty member. Together with a group of his colleagues, he established the National Conservatory of Music that was affiliated with the university. He became its first director and continued teaching at the university until he retired in 2002. A year later he left for the United States where he still lives and composes.
One could wonder how Amin managed to create both docile piano music to accompany his vocal melodies and, in other piano works, a mastery of performance that could be attributed to the virtuoso style of modern-day romantics. Was Amin a romantic? By all means, yes! As a musicologist myself, with a lot of experience in romantic piano music, I can sense the traits and character of a pianist whose breadth of style stretches from Schubert to Rachmaninov; yet he belongs to the closing decades of the twentieth century.
Perhaps one of his greatest works at the start of his young career as a musician is the vocal work entitled “To My Mother.” This is a poem written by his cousin Kamal. And the composition was triggered by the devastating image of his aunt when she learned of the murderous assassination of her son, Kamal, by Israeli commandos in Beirut in 1973.
Another example of his creativity is his skill in blending styles of harmony with his piano melodies - his ability to form concrete structures such as the sonata form or more liberal rhapsody form. In his works, “Second Piano Sonata” and “Oriental Rhapsody,” one notices his ability to blend harmony with various styles of enharmonic colours that lead away from the mind and straight into the heart.
Amin has published two volumes of works, and he is currently working on further compositions for his third volume. This could take a “while;” but for a composer who has worked under varying circumstances and has experienced the pressures of creating feelings of passion and nationalism blended with oriental language and fine music creativity, this “while” could be much shorter than expected.
We should all look forward to news of the release of his third volume.
I have never met Amin, unfortunately, and have never heard his music viva voce except once:
I was sitting in Furno Hall at Bethlehem University, during a conference about the life and works of a Palestinian poet, artist, and musicologist (Jabra Ibrahim Jabra), when a duet performed an aria composed by Amin to the words of Jabra. The soprano (whom I had heard 30 years earlier) was as “quelle douceur” as ever. The music moved me so much that the words were a “follower” rather than “leader,” as is often the case. Only then did I understand how young Amin could, more than fifty years earlier, write music first and only afterwards look for lyrics to accompany it.
Amin Nasser cherished music and did not rely on the words only to embellish the sounds of his melodies as other mundane, short-lived “composers” did. He is a true and everlasting composer indeed.
Dr. Saleem Zougbi
Bethlehem Academy of Music
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