By: Obelit Yadgar
Composer: Paulus Khofri
Arranged and orchestrated by Michel Bosc
In his illustrious career as composer, Rabi Paulus Khofri (1923-2000) composed a vast amount of vocal and instrumental music that frames the character and the spirit of the Assyrians. “Whatever reaches one’s ears,” he wrote, “reflects all tides of life this nation has undergone in the past, present and will experience in the future.”
Khofri published his music collectively in numerous books. Assyryt (“Assyrian Diamond”), composed in 1984 in Book No. 3 of his musical catalogue, is a large collection of Assyrian folk pieces for piano solo. The renowned French composer Michel Bosc, commissioned by the Assyrian Aid Society of America to orchestrate Assyryt for this year’s Mesopotamian Night Gala Concert, chose 20 pieces from this collection to orchestrate into a suite. For this program, Assyryt will be presented in two suites of 10 pieces each and performed by the Gottschalk Music Orchestra, conducted by John Kendall Bailey.
“Paulus Khofri writes for a large audience,” says Bosc, “and the orchestra brings out a lot of colors.” What’s more, Bosc explains that he liked Assyryt the first time he heard it, and adds, “I felt as if I were traveling across the entire Assyrian culture.”
Since Khofri was conservatory-trained — he studied in America with Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg and Walter Piston, three major 20th century composers — his music not only breathes a purely Assyrian folk sound, but sometimes it also lets the Assyrian in the composer soar in the Western classical music tradition.
When he began work on orchestrating Assyryt, Bosc notes, he heard that distinct European influence in Khofri’s music. For Bosc, the music had Mozartian inspiration with Assyrian harmonic colors and ornamentation. “You feel he was erudite,” he adds, talking about Khofri. “But sometimes he takes a breath and the music becomes purely Assyrian. It’s like a wind of freedom, very surprising and delicious.”
Before starting his orchestration of Assyryt, Bosc listened to as much of Khofri’s music he could to get a sense of the composer’s orchestral style. He read the original piano score over and over again, and played it, until he felt as if he had composed the music himself. Although the music was clear, light, easy to play, and intimate, Bosc explains that he found orchestrating it a challenge nevertheless.
“I wanted to respect this music and never change it or add a single note,” he points out. “That was a challenge, because the original score is a miniature and could have been rewritten with more voices or heavy chords before being translated into a full orchestra.”
What makes Assyryt Suite especially enticing is the French baroque sheen, notably that of Jean Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764), that Bosc brushes over the Assyrian folkloric spirit of Paulus Khofri. This is extraordinary, and befitting the classical tone of the 2009 Mesopotamian Night Gala.
“Just enjoy the music and be proud of this master,” Bosc advises. “This music is written for dreaming and singing.”
Master of Ceremonies