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UN in Vienna Stages World Premieres by Migrant Composers

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By Reinhardt Jacobsen

VIENNA (IDN) – The first-ever musical event of its kind at the United Nations in Vienna has showcased the richness of culture and art that migration brings. Co-hosted by the UN migration agency (IOM) and the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), the ‘Voices of Migration’ concert at the Vienna International Centre on June 28, featured powerful performances. These included two world premieres by migrant composers from Iran and Turkey, performed by a diverse group of world-class musicians.

The impressive programme was curated by Bärli Nugent, a renowned concert flautist and Assistant Dean and Director of Chamber Music of the Juilliard School in New York City. The event drew a high-level audience of over 150 diplomats, UN officials, classical music aficionados, and members of academia. Highly-acclaimed Vienna musicians included Sophia Hahn of the Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra, violinist Sylvia Kimiko Krutz, soprano Jerilyn Jiuan-Ru Chou, and pianist Aki Maeda.

“Migration is a complex issue and one that dominates world news,” said Argentina Szabados, Director of IOM’s Regional Office in Vienna. “All too often we see sensational headlines where migration is portrayed in a negative light. However, there is a more positive story of migration which we wish to tell – and celebrate – here today. It is the story of talent, of ambition, of hard work in the face of adversity. Migration brings diversity, and this rejuvenates and elevates culture, such as cuisine, art, fashion and music.”

Solos, duets, and trios for flute, violin, piano, and soprano transported the audience to the late 17th century with Bach’s poignant Fugue from Sonata in G, to the mid-18th century with an excerpt from Mozart’s Concertone, KV 190 for flute, violin and piano, and to a more contemporary era with an excerpt from Sonata for flute and piano, op. 61 by Austrian composer Richard Stöhr.

Bärli Nugent’s inspiration came from her Austrian mother who studied under Richard Stöhr at the ‘Musik Akademie’ before he was forced to flee during the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938. “Music was where I found my voice,” she said. “My goal has always been to share stories and change lives through music. I am an artist-citizen seeking to make a contribution towards understanding and fellowship amongst peoples.”

The highlights of the programme were the world premieres of two dynamic works by migrant composers whose musical creations were inspired by their own migration stories and the current migration crisis.

One of the works was ‘Aylan Bebek’ for flute and piano by the young Turkish composer Cem Güven. It was inspired by the story of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body, photographed on a Turkish beach after his family’s failed attempt to reach Greece, became an image that shocked humanity.

Shayan Mokhtarani, a native of Iran, had his Sonnet for soprano, flute and piano premiered as well. Shayan says: “What I like about this event is that it celebrates diversity and shows the beautiful side of migration which is something we need in the current political climate.”

UNIS Vienna Director Martin Nesirky remarked that the concert highlighted how the benefits of migration can outweigh the challenges. Quoting UN Secretary-General António Guterres, he said we must all engage in a discourse on migration that is respectful and places our collective humanity at the centre of the debate – a debate in which facts are not prejudice and are used as the basis for addressing its challenges.

Nugent, the Director of Chamber Music of the Juilliard School in New York City, hopes to continue working with this group of musicians as well as to discover others, and to organize similar performances in other parts of the world. There are many more stories to tell to change today’s toxic narrative of migration, and this is just the beginning. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 June 2018]

Photo: Young talented composers and musicians from Afghanistan, Turkey, the United States, Austria, and Japan with IOM Regional Director Argentina Szabados and Bärli Nugent, Assistant Dean and Director of Chamber Music of the Juilliard School, and UNIS Vienna Director Martin Nesirky. Credit: Lanna Walsh / IOM

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