Heritage & Modernity

Location: Cairo, Utrecht, Zagreb, Vilnius

Time frame: April - December 2016

In cooperation with: European-Egyptian Contemporary Music Society Music Biennale Zagreb Lithuanian Ensemble Network Gaudeamus Muziekweek

Heritage & Modernity brings composers, historical musicologists and ethnomusicologists from Europe and the Arab World together to probe the relationship between the Arab music tradition and contemporary European music. The project asks whether holding on to traditions has to put a halt to development.
Heritage & Modernity stands for overcoming the mutual fear of contact that exists between Arab and European cultures, a crucially important step considering the current state of world politics. Setting the stage for cooperation between musicians, humanities scholars and composers from a mix of European backgrounds and Arabic-speaking lands  means setting the stage for a lived example of intercultural interaction and a lively debate on the relationship between tradition and modernity in their respective cultures.
Supporting the young generation of artists is also a key priority at the Heritage & Modernity events. A group of emerging composers has been invited to explore how Arab music traditions can be incorporated into contemporary work. In a series of working phases, they will each produce one piece that connects both Arab and European musical achievements and will be performed in the cities of each of the project partners. Throughout the whole process, the group is being mentored by acclaimed composers and has access to support from the different partner institutions.

Main Phase: Cairo, April 2016
The international Heritage & Modernity Forum was held at the Center for the Arts at the American University in Cairo from 11 to 14 April 2016. The four days of ten-to-twelve-hour programs included intensive seminars, master classes, round tables and lectures. While the forum focused on musical traditions of the Arab World, topics like globalization and Eurocentrism in contemporary music were also very present, as were discussions on different turning points within recent music history. On three evenings, the program wrapped up with an ambitious concert program carefully tuned to the themes of the day.

The forum in Cairo offered any and all interested locals the chance to experience international composers and sound artists up close and sink their teeth into contemporary music discourse. At the same time, international experts were able to meet and interact in a professional environment where they could acquaint themselves with and ultimately shape the still virtually unexplored terrain in contemporary music production that actively integrates Arabic elements. That contact expanded both regional and worldwide networks and brought Egypt into a broader fold of international musicians.

26 young composers from various countries were invited to participate in the Cairo events as part of the forum's integrated “Generation of Tomorrow” platform, which gave them the opportunity to briefly present their work and their relationship to a given musical tradition. The composers were chosen on the basis of recommendations by highly respected institutions and figures working in new music in over 30 countries,  including the London Sinfonietta, the Paris Conservatory, Gaudeamus Muziekweek and the ISCM Sections of Latvia, Lituania, Iceland, the Netherlands and Sweden. This both opened up access to Heritage & Modernity's complex program for a larger group of international artists, and strengthened the bonds between a network of partners interested in long-term cooperation.

Concert and Conversations: Utrecht and The Hague, September 2016
The Netherlands was Heritage & Modernity's first European station. The world-renowned Gaudeamus Muziekweek in Utrecht (07 – 11 September), featured a concert showcasing works either created in the context of Heritage & Modernity or thematically associated with the project. The program included works by Bahaa El Ansary (Egypt), Wilbert Bulsink (The Netherlands), Zaid Jabri (Syria), Bart de Vrees (the Netherlands) and Willem Eths, who became the first Dutch composer named “Componist des Vaderlands” in 2014. On 08 September, a conversation on music featuring project participants from Utrecht took place at Donemus Publishing, a musical publishing company in the Hague.

Going Deeper: Vilnius, November/December 2016
The events planned for Vilnius will introduce the musical heritage of the Arab World to Lithuanian audiences that include but are not limited to students and specialists. The Vilnius program should also provoke more general reflection on the relationship between tradition and contemporary art, while sending an unequivocal message about bridging cultural barriers. This latter appears crucial in light of the current state of world politics. Vilnius continues the project of building up an international network of specialists working on the relationship between traditional music and contemporary European composing, and especially on understanding how sociopolitical developments in participating regions affect their respective relationships to modernity.

Preview: Cairo, April/May 2017
For the 2017 Cairo Contemporary Music Days, larger-scale collaborations between the musicians of the Egyptian Contemporary Music Ensemble and the LEN are in the making. The program will include several premieres by established Latvian and Egyptian composers, as well as by emerging composers who already participated in the Heritage & Modernity Forum in 2016. In addition to the incorporation of traditional Arab instruments in contemporary music, 2017 is set to spotlight the music of Scandinavia and the Baltic.