Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation. Hailed by The New York Timesas “an important new artistic voice” and by BBC World News as “one of the most talented composers of his generation,” Fairouz integrates Middle-Eastern modes into Western structures to deeply expressive effect. His large scale works, including four symphonies and an opera, engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft and a marked seriousness of purpose. His solo and chamber music attains an “intoxicating intimacy,” according to New York’s WQXR, which selected his CD CRITICAL MODELS as Album of the Week.
Fairouz’s cosmopolitan outlook reflects his transatlantic upbringing and extensive travels. By his early teens, the Arab-American composer had journeyed across five continents, immersing himself in the musical life of his surroundings. His catalog encompasses virtually every genre, including opera, symphonies, ensemble works, chamber and solo pieces, choral settings, and electronic music. Prominent advocates of his instrumental music include the Borromeo String Quartet, The Imani Winds, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, and clarinetist David Krakauer, who all appear on his Naxos portrait disc, NATIVE INFORMANT; the Lydian String Quartet, The Knights Chamber Orchestra, Metropolis Ensemble, violinist James Buswell, and conductors Gunther Schuller, Joshua Weilerstein, Mark Shapiro, Fawzi Haimor, and Yoon Jae Lee.
Since childhood, Fairouz has found musical inspiration in literary and philosophical sources. The composer has described himself in Poets and Writers magazine as “obsessed with text.” His first attempt at composition, at age seven, was an Oscar Wilde setting; since then, he has composed an opera (with a second in progress), thirteen song cycles, and hundreds of art songs. He has been recognized by New Yorkermagazine as an “expert in vocal writing,” while Gramophonehas called him a “post-millennial Schubert.” He has collaborated directly with several distinguished poets, including Mahmoud Darwish, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney. Among the eminent singers that have promoted his wealth of vocal music are Kate Lindsey, Sasha Cooke, D’Anna Fortunato, Mellissa Hughes, David Kravitz and Randall Scarlata.
Commissions have come from Rachel Barton Pine, the Detroit and Alabama Symphony Orchestras, Borromeo Quartet, Imani Winds, New York Festival of Song, Da Capo Chamber Players, New Juilliard Ensemble, Cantus Vocal Ensemble, Cygnus Ensemble, Counter)induction, Alea III, Musicians for Harmony, Seattle Chamber Players, Cantori New York, Back Bay Chorale, Reach Out Kansas, and many others.
His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall (all three auditoriums), Lincoln Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and throughout the United States, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia. It is also heard in alternative New York venues such as (le) Poisson Rouge, Issue Project Room, Roulette, and Galapagos Art Space. Recordings are available on the Naxos, Innova, Bridge, Dorian Sono Luminus, Cedille, Albany, GM/Living Archive, and GPR labels.
As an artist involved with major social issues, Fairouz seeks to promote cultural communication and understanding. His third symphony, POEMS AND PRAYERS for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, interweaves texts of Arab poets Fadwa Tuqan and Mahmoud Darwish, the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, and prayers such as the Aramaic Kaddish. His fourth and latest symphony is IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS for wind ensemble. It is inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman’s book of the same title about American life in the aftermath of 9/11. The work premiered in March 2013 in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium; Steve Smith of The New York Times described it as “technically impressive, consistently imaginative and in its finest stretches deeply moving.” It has been recorded for future release on Naxos.
Fairouz’s first opera, SUMEIDA’S SONG, is based on the play SONG OF DEATH by Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim. The opera follows the protagonist Alwan’s attempts to bring modernity to darkness and break a never-ending cycle of violence, with grave consequences for Alwan. SUMEIDA’S SONG has been released on Bridge Records, and had its premiere staging at PROTOTYPE, a festival of new opera-theater works, at New York City’s HERE Arts Center in in January 2013. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times called SUMEIDA’S SONG “an intensely dramatic 60-minute four-character opera with a searing score… The Arabic elements of his style – microtonal modes, spiraling dance rhythms, plaintive melodic writing – give fresh, distinctive jolts to the Western elements.”
Mohammed Fairouz was chosen by the BBC to be a featured artist for the television series Collaboration Culture, which aired globally on BBC World Service TV (viewership approximately seventy million). As part of the program, which includes an in-depth profile of the composer, Fairouz developed and unveiled an entirely new dance work, HINDUSTANI DABKEH, featuring David Krakauer, the American String Quartet and Bollywood star Shakti Mohan.
Fairouz has been heard in interviews on nationally syndicated shows such as NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC/PRI’s The World, and The Bob Edwards Show. He has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, Symphony Magazine, Strings Magazine, New Music Box, and the Houston Chronicle, and featured as part of a special segment on Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall channel.
His principal teachers in composition have included György Ligeti, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Danielpour, with studies at the Curtis Institute and New England Conservatory. Fairouz has been invited to lecture and lead residencies across the country at Columbia University, Brown University, New York University, University of California at Los Angeles, Chestnut Hill College, and Grinnell College. He has served on the faculty at Boston’s Northeastern University and several summer festivals, including SongFest and the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival at The Juilliard School.
Fairouz’s works are published by Peermusic Classical. He lives in New York City.
Articles by Mohammed Fairouz:
I straddle the worlds of being a composer on the one hand but also a journalist and foreign policy commentator on the other. These things unite my passions, but today...