CD Review | Opus 961 (Dreyer Gaido, 2024)

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Opus 961
Noémie Chemali, viola
Dreyer Gaido, 2024

On Aug. 4, 2020, an explosion at the Port of Beirut shook half the city, destroying three hospitals and the homes of 300,000 people. Noémie Chemali, whose grandmother’s home was decimated in the blast, has dedicated her debut album, Opus 961, to the resilience of the people of Beirut.

The featured works are all composed by young Lebanese musicians. In Layale Chaker’s Cadenza from “The Brown Texts” (2018), Chemali explores the viola’s expressive possibilities as a percussive, tension-building instrument, as long moments of silence are broken by gradually intensifying bowing. There is a fragmented feeling to the melody—a reflection on the difficulties of maintaining Lebanese culture across 75 years of wars and disasters.

Chemali’s rendition of The Revolt of the Stars (2018) is brilliant. A low, constant buzz and a dramatic music-box tune set the stage for a journey Chemali seems hesitant to undertake, until a series of ghastly voices begin to guide the viola. Drums usher her into a dream-like environment with towering double bass, and as the composition comes to a close, only the drums and music box remain. The work, by Mary Kouyoumdjian, successfully questions how effective revolutionary groups are when they lack the spirit to resist injustice.

These pieces pair well with Chemali’s own Kadishat (2014), Arabic for the Trisagion hymn. It introduces distinct melodies between the percussive moments, and has an optimistic ending, as if to say that the strength of Beirut’s people and Lebanese culture is enough to overcome any obstacles.


This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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