Teta: A World I Loved for Flute and String Quartet by Mohammed Fairouz (1985)
Score and parts; Duration: 21 minutes
II. On Leaving/The Journey
III. Putting It Together
Commissioned by Capitol City Concerts, Montpellier, VT for flutist Karen Kevra and the Borromeo String Quartetand dedicated to the memory of Mary Anne Kevra.
“Teta” is more than the Arabic word for “grandmother”. It has unique connotations of affection, respect and austerity. When I set out to compose a flute quintet for the Arab-American flutist Karen Kevra, she asked for something that would remember her mother. As she shared letters and memories of her mother with me, I ws struck by how familiar these were to my own memories of my grandmother who had a large part in raising me.
My initial thoughts of writing a work about elements of the Arab-American experience was to create a vibrant celebration of culture. As I delved deeper into the topic, visited the “Little Syria” exhibit in Manhattan, read Wadad Makdisi Cortas’ A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman and other books on the experience of exile and “the journey”, I began to imagine a much deeper (and in many ways darker) piece.
The work is in three movements without a break: a continuous narrative. The first movement Folktune/Flashback is a made up folk melody that remembers the Old Country. Like most memories of things lost, it’s overly nostalgic and positive (if slightly unrealistic): everything is lemon trees and scented with Jasmine. The movement is written entirely in maquam (Arabic mode) and uses the unisons characteristic of classical Arabic music. The piccolo embellishes and ornaments the lines resulting in a traditional heterophony.
This goes directly into the second movement. The tone of this music is much more plaintive and introspective. It is music about the pain of leaving everything you know and making the journey into the uncertain. There are anxious outbursts in the music but it quickly collects itself into a quiet (and even slightly hopeful) tone.
The final movement begins with an extended flute solo that echoes of Arabic maquam. Before long, we realize that this is actually the subject of a fugue: the most Teutonic and “Western” of musical techniques. This is music of the New World: we’ve made a long journey from the opening traditional heterophony and strict maquam and we’re now in a new, occidental-inflected world. The hope in this fugue is that the voices exist in a tapestry of counterpoint: each voice maintains its individual beauty but starts to fit in to the new whole.
Premiere Performance Review:
“Teta” (Arabic for grandmother), commissioned by Capital City Concerts, is a three-movement work intended to reflect the Arab-American immigrant experience. The opening “Folktune/Flashback” employs an Arabic maqam modal scale (with different intervals than the traditional Western scale) with the ensemble playing in octaves in a sing-song style. With piccolo substituted for flute, it sounded like a raucous but happy Arab party.
“On Leaving/The Journey” opens with a prolonged flute solo, modal and quietly rhythmic, and then is joined by the strings in a quiet journey mixing modal and Western harmonies. Suddenly there is an explosion of raw sounds from all, but this subsides to the quiet journey, only to happen all over again.
“Putting It Together” opens with another prolonged flute solo, this in a bright Western tonality, which proves to be the theme for a five-part fugue creating a “fabric” or “tapestry.” … its tonal quality was beautiful.
The performance itself was impassioned. Kevra used her expressive sound to ply the exotic lines, while the Borromeo – in a decidedly secondary role – complemented with rich sounds delivered sensitively. This is a work that would benefit from repeated listening.”
— Jim Lowe, Rutland Herald Newspaper