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Concert Review: “Music and Migration” – A Night with Kinan Azmeh and Aizuri Quartet

How do you play a feeling? True artists use skill and ability to create something that penetrates and touches us within, in ways we didn’t expect, and on levels we didn’t realize were reachable. Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art” and these musicians delivered that sentiment in this regard. From the moment bow touched string and reed touched lips, beautiful musical phrases exposed us to emotions deep and reaching. The viola’s razor sharp cries were piercing to the soul like the pleas of an infant seeking nourishment from a dutiful parent. The violins’ singing both anthem and dirge, triumph and loss, joy and pain. The cello was strong and deep, stirring and menacing like waves breaking on rocky shorelines, or distant thunder rolling. The clarinet rich and entrancing, warning of what’s to come, but enticing us to continue on the journey. What we found in our travel was that 5 talented people, 1 clarinet, 1 viola, 2 violins and a cello can take happy listeners on a voyage of beauty created, of music and migration.

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Kinan Azmeh and Aizuri Quartet

Kinan Azmeh is an award winning clarinetist and composer. Described as a “virtuoso” by the New York Times, Azmeh has been playing his instrument all over the world to the delight of enthused music lovers. Azmeh composed and played “The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea” with the Aizuri Quartet. As Azmeh explained, he wrote this work while living in Beirut with his in laws. Azmeh stated that being so close to his home Damascus and not being able to visit vexed and inspired him. The piece is about missing home and how being away causes one to forget. As memories fade it is useful to find reminders, in this case imagery of home. Fences, rooftops and the sea in the distance gave him comfort. He took us on a tour of emotion in 5 movements, each soulful note expressing the heartache of loss and the joy of reconnecting with days gone by. The haunting sound of the clarinet in the hands of this master thrilled and excited the audience leaving them muted between movements as if missing a precious single note were like losing a gold coin.

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Aizuri Quartet

Arianna Kim, Miho Saegusa, Ayane Kozasa and Karen Ouzounian make up Aizuri Quartet. Formed in 2012, the quartet’s name comes from Aizuri-e, or Japanese woodblock printing. It is usually done completely in blue and according to the group’s website, it reflects them because of “its vibrancy and incredible detail.” They are the MetLiveArts String Quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. This award winning group has traveled the globe playing their own style of chamber music. The Philadelphia Inquirer raves they have found “the balance between charisma of the individual and the cohesion of the collective.” These talented musicians used every technique to extract every note with grace and precision. Their flawless execution stunned and electrified, extracting audible gasps of amazement, and shouts of joy from the audience. They used unorthodox techniques like plucking and even tapping the sides of their instruments to produce sound and percussion with flair and fire, leaving only frayed strings and elated listeners in their wake. Starting with Armenian folk songs and ending with “Lullaby to the Transient,” Aizuri Quartet played our hearts out as bows danced on string. The cello told stories heavy with grief, the violins sang of love and life, the viola wept and energized. The show’s title was “Music and Migration” and with every brilliant note we moved to and fro in a whirlwind, leaving us full and satisfied in the end. The Aizuri Quartet was dynamic, bold, refined, and glorious.

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The downstairs stage and restaurant area of World Cafe Live

The event was presented by Live Connections, an organization that provides “students from under resourced schools with sustained, in-depth music making experiences.” Over the course of their 10 years, they have raised tens of thousands of dollars for music education programs in Philadelphia and touch the lives of thousands of young people in the community. The venue was World Cafe Live, a modern mix of concert hall, radio station and restaurant. Located at 30th and Walnut St. in the University City section of West Philadelphia, the establishment has two concert areas (upstairs and downstairs), two well stocked bars and a courteous, enthusiastic wait staff. The food was excellent and very reasonably priced. This is an excellent place for a night out with friends, impressing in-laws or romancing your significant other. World Cafe Live has a very full season of acts coming soon so there will be plenty of opportunities to plan a visit.

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