Peace and reconciliation is the theme of a new classical musical composition premiered in Brussels. The piece was penned by the leading French composer Romain Zante and received a rapturous reception from a 600-strong audience when it was given its first airing at Brussels’ Royal Conservatory on Wednesday.
The piece, called “In Memory of Khojaly Victims”, is also included on a new album of compositions which has just been released and distributed to music markets around the world. It will soon be available on itunes.
The concert was timed to coincide with the 23rd anniversary of the Khojaly ‘massacre’ on 25-26 February in 1992 when 613 civilians were killed and 487 injured in Azerbaijan.
The overall aim of the composition, however, is not to convey any political message but, rather, to highlight how music may be used to help break down barriers between communities and promote peace.
As the U.S-based Zante explained, “We believe that music is a universal language which can be an important means to reunite our world.”
The 90-minute concert was organized by CLAME, an NGO promoting classical music, and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
It included the 19-minute “In Memory of Khojaly Victims” piece performed for the first time by the Brussels-based Amenti Quartet, founded in 2010 by former students at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
The quartet comprises Turkish pianist Merve Mersinligil, Belgian violinist Vincent Hepp, German-American violist Neil Leiter and Belgian cellist Sarah Dupriez.
Mersinligil teaches at Centre Académie de Musique et Arts de la Scène Watermael Boitsfort and is also president of CLAME.
Leiter has spent the past ten years as a professional musician in Belgium appearing with the Brussels Chamber Orchestra; Brussels-born Dupriez studied and performed at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels while Hepp teaches at Royal Conservatories of Brussels and Liège.
The piece is dedicated to those killed by Armenian armed forces in the town of Khojaly in the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. They included 106 women and 83 children.
According to Memorial Human Rights Centre, Human Rights Watch and other international observers,the massacre was committed by the ethnic Armenian armed forces, reportedly with help of the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment. The event became the largest massacre in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Zante, who travelled from his home in California for the premier, studied under Simon Diricq at the Royal Brussels Conservatory and a growing vocation led him to be introduced to the Belgian fashion designer Bernard Depoorter.
Several of his new works were premiered last year, among them “Waltz Overture”, commissioned by the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra.
His comments about the link between music and reconciliation are echoed by Merve Mersinligil who said,”We are proud that Brussels has hosted the CD release concert of this exciting new work.
“CLAME was founded with the aim of widening the audience of classical music through projects and events in Belgium and abroad.
“I believe that remembering our tragic past can protect our future. I, as the president of CLAME, have seen the pain in the eyes of my Azerbaijani professors during my high school studies in conservatory which was my first encounter with such suffering.”
She added, “The Khojaly massacre will always be remembered for the deaths of innocent people, including elders, women and children. Families of survivors and still missing civilians carry the scar of that night in their hearts and souls eternally.”
“This was the reason why the tragedy of Khojaly massacre was chosen by the team of CLAME, as an unfortunate and less known example, especially in Western Europe.”
The 31-year-old went on, “We wanted to use this concert and CD to call for peace and understanding in our world and fight against massacres based on all forms of racial, ethnic or religious discrimination and other atrocities against human beings around the globe.
“We ask the world to remember, in order to prevent future tragedies.”
In a short speech before the start of the sell-out concert, Zante said he felt “honoured” to “have a chance to provide, through my music, a message of peace.”
“Art and especially music has many virtues among them the ability to rally, unify and pacify.”
The composition was, he said, a tribute to “those who died and keep dying in the countless conflicts that mark humanity.”
“No matter the conflicts, the pain of human loss remains the same.”
“I could have chosen to compose an abstract piece that would have simply and distantly described the horror of the events. But, instead, I have chosen to put ‘human’ and his suffering at the centre of my work, my modelling it as a commemoration soundtrack.”
The 26-year-old Zante, who lives in Los Angeles where he works with renowned studio musicians and famous professional orchestras, said his composition seeks to highlight the loss of life in other massacres elsewhere in the world.
Zante also explained the thinking behind the piece, saying, “As artists we hope that our interpretation invites reflection and calls for peace, while remembering that all wars cost human lives.”
The first movement of the piece, “Memories of a Tragic Moment”, opens with an expressive calm that “evokes the Azerbaijani people in a silent procession.”
“This march of remembrance reveals a theme that comes back throughout the work. Little by little, the music becomes more animated marked by recurring dissonances that portray the terrible event,” he says.
The second movement, called “Conflict”, has a “strong and vigorous” martial theme. Then, the intensity mounts, the height of the horror is reached, and, in the third movement, “For the Dead, violence gives way to sadness at the loss of human lives, which is slowly and heavily expressed by the solo piano.
The fourth part of the work, entitled “Epilogue: Funeral March,” brings back the first theme but in a major key, with, says Zante, “hope for a better future.”
The piece ends in a plagal cadence, signalling both peace and remembrance.
Dupriez, who was born to a family of Brussels musicians, summed up the consensus of the concert attendees, saying, “As artists we hope that our interpretation invites reflection and calls for peace, while remembering that all wars cost human lives.”
By Martin Banks