Damascus-Berlin Ensemble. An encounter between Arabic and classical Western music The Berliner cellist Maria Magdalena Wiesmaier and the Oud player from Damascus, Nabil Hilaneh come together to explore the interaction between their two musical worlds: the Arabic tradition that is based on melody and improvisation and the classical Western tradition that praises harmony as well and is thoroughly written. One system tempered the other not, as the Arabic music also makes use of 1/4 and 3/4 tones. The tension between these two worlds is the playing field where Maria and Nabil engage in the search for a novel common language. Their pieces frame improvisations into composed structures. They are the result first of all of an investigation into the peculiar acoustic features of their instruments, This also includes some experimentations, like with a cello with sympathetic strings. The ensemble’s work comes about as a dialogue between the musician peculiar backgrounds. Inspiration for Nabil is the oud master Munir Bashir (1930-1997), who studied in Hungary and condensed the Arabic traditional music in an intense, meditative way, avoiding quarter tones but for colouring, and making savvy use of silence. Maria, who as a classical interpreter always missed the opportunity to improvise, embraces the Western tradition – from Baroque (which has an inclination for variations and ornaments that is as well a typical feature of the Arabic tradition) to contemporary music, like the Hungarian composer György Kurtág (1926). Together Maria and Nabil are moving from the maqamat (the Arabic melodic modes) towards contemporary music, in an adventurous work-in-progress.

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