Millegan: A Night In Mesopotamia at Gallo

live_p0820_20e12azizstandaloneprod_affiliate111.jpgBy Lisa Millegan Renner
Some of the best of Assyrian classical and pop music combine in the fourth annual Mesopotamian Night concert Saturday at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

The two-hour concert is a major fund-raiser for the Assyrian Aid Society of America, which promotes the 5,000-year-old Assyrian culture and helps Assyrians around the world.

The event finishes with an art auction featuring works by Assyrian artists.

“Assyrian art during the days of the empire was emulated around the world,” said Obelit Yadgar, the master of ceremonies, who is flying in for the event from his home in Wisconsin. “Assyrians were glorious in their art, architecture, writing and literature.”

The first half of the program is devoted to classical music and features a 50-piece Mesopotamian Orchestra, specially put together for the event and directed by John Kendall Bailey, as well as two classically trained singers

— tenor Brian Thorsett and soprano Liisa Davila.

The orchestra will perform Assyryt Suite No. 2 by Assyrian-Iranian composer Paulus Khofri, who died in 2000. The work was written for piano but has been arranged for orchestra by French composer Michel Bosc.

Next up is “Elegy,” by Assyrian-Iranian composer William Daniel and Peter Blauvelt’s “On Assyrian Mountains,” based on themes by Daniel. Yadgar said Daniel was highly nationalistic, adding, “His heart and soul was Assyrian.”

The orchestra also will play the first two movements from George Somi’s eight-movement piece “The Assyrian Legacy” — one celebrates the beginning of the Assyrian Empire and the other celebrates the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

A highlight of the concert is Bosc’s cantata “Ninos & Semiramis — A Love Story,” based on folkloric poetry of an ancient Assyrian legend by poet Yosip Bet Yosip. The piece is about the first encounter of Ninos, an Assyrian prince from Nineveh, and the legendary queen of Assyria Semiramis.

“In a way, it’s shocking to hear these English-American singers sing in Assyrian,” said Yadgar about the two soloists Thorsett and Davila. “All you can do is scratch your head and go, ‘Wow.’ ”

A performance of Fred Elieh’s song “Nineveh” closes the classical portion of the evening.

After intermission, which will feature food and wine, Assyrian pop singer Walter Aziz will perform with the orchestra and dancers from San Francisco’s Presidio Dance Theatre. The dancers will perform a combination of ballet moves and Assyrian folk movements and will wear authentic Assyrian costumes made by the famed Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The art auction will close the evening. Yadgar said it is important to remember that while the Assyrian Empire fell in 612 B.C., Assyrians went on and preserved their culture no matter where they lived in the world.

It’s not surprising that Assyrians would celebrate their culture with a concert. “Assyrians have always had a great love for music and dance,” Yadgar said. “If you go to an Assyrian wedding, oh, goodness. Just looking at it tires you out because they love music and dancing.”

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