MEET THE COMPOSER: KARIM AL-ZAND

At the centre of Pushback are the composers who are writing for us. Over the next few days, we’d like to introduce you to these fabulous people who are creating the music we are so excited to perform!

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Up first is Houston based composer, Karim Al-Zand!

Karim’s music has been called “strong and startlingly lovely” (Boston Globe). His compositions are wide-ranging, from settings of classical Arabic poetry to scores for dance and pieces for young audiences. His works explore connections between music and other arts, and draw inspiration from diverse sources such as 19th century graphic art, fables of the world, folksong and jazz.

Ben and I first met Karim through our time at Rice University. We are so grateful he took the time to answer some questions for all of you!

Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from?

I grew up and went to college in Canada, but have lived in the US since 1993. I arrived at Rice University in 2000 and have been a    faculty member at the Shepherd School of Music since then.

How did you meet Ally and Ben?
We met when they were grad students at Shepherd a few years ago (though I don't think either of them took a class with me). They were really active leaders in the new music scene at Rice, and among the cofounders of our student new music series "Hear & Now."

Pushback’s mission is to commission music that engages beyond the concert hall. How did you envision your piece connecting to that mission?

Well, my piece is pretty clearly influenced by "our current political climate" (as they say), a euphemism for the toxic mix of racism, fear-mongering and duplicity which now dominates our political culture. It's called "Songs from the Post Truth Era." I take a text from a didactic children's book, a poem about always telling the truth, then distort and rearrange the text until the words are meaningless and the result is sheer nonsense. I joked with Ally that it's like a Sarah Sanders press conference.

Out of all the cities Pushback is touring to, which one will we catch you at?
I'm going to try to attend the Houston one!

Favourite food?
I approve of the Canadian spelling, by the way. My family subscribes to a weekly CSA basket from "Plant it Forward," and it's fun to try to cook, Iron Chef style, with whatever happens to be harvested that week. Though I have discovered there is a limit to how much arugula I can consume.

Most mind-boggling concert you’ve been to lately?
There are concerts pretty much every day here at Rice and the students are terrific, so my mind is regularly boggled by the level of musicianship on display. This weekend I attended a concert our of contemporary music ensemble conducted by Jerry Hou, that played major works by Gubaidalina and Hartke, which was really impressive.

What’s something people might not know about you?
I was born in North Africa (in Tunisia).

Besides the obvious choice of bassoon and soprano, what are some of your ~dream~ instrumentations to write for in the future?
I liked the challenge of writing for bassoon and voice, a rather unorthodox, (but beautiful!) pairing. In terms of chamber music, I find it's nice to alternate between standard ensembles and combinations that are somewhat less common.

What would like you to see change the most in our industry?
Well, this is a familiar lament, but it's sad that new music isn't a bigger part of the repertoire of major presenters, ensembles and orchestras. There are plenty of reasons for that (and that's a whole other conversation), but it's a pity that the adventure of discovering new work isn't as much a part of musical culture as it is, for instance, in the world of theater or art or literature.


Thank you so much to Karim for taking to time to talk to us. Come hear Karim’s piece “Songs from a Post Truth Era” on our inaugural concert tour in March and April 2019! Up first is:

PHILLY - March 23rd @ Temple University @ 7:30PM (with Departure Duo)

NEW YORK - March 24th @ Scholes Studio @ 7PM (with Departure Duo)

BOSTON - March 25th @ New School of Music @ 8PM (with Departure Duo)

Alexandra Smither