Wissam Jubran has hardly chosen the easiest of paths to entertain his audience
at Confederation house in Jerusalem at this year’s Oud Festival. For his
Chromatic Silence show, on November 11 (8:30 p.m.), Nazareth-resident Jubran
will take the stage with only his oud for company.
Any solo recital
presents challenges, as the artist has no other instrumentalists to hide behind,
or feed off, but a solo oud performance is probably one of the hardest things to
“That’s true,” admits Joubran. “For a start, traditionally,
the oud is not a concert instrument at all. You generally have a vocalist
performing with an oud player. And there is almost no repertoire
available for solo oud. The things people play on the oud are works that are
designed to be played on all sorts of instruments, but not specifically for the
It must be said that Jubran brings an impressive musical arsenal to
The 42-year-old studied western classical music in Moscow
with celebrated Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke, and also studied composition
and conducting in Berlin. In 2004 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s prize for
composition. With that background, perhaps it is not surprising that, despite
his Arabic roots, Jubran did not imbibe Arabic music as a fledgling
“I came to Arabic music through European classical music,”
declares Joubran. “I also played piano and violin, and I am also a classical
composer. So you could say I bring a lot of cultural and musical baggage to the
way I play oud.”
The title of Jubran’s Oud Festival concert is
intriguing. What is “chromatic silence”? True to his improvisational approach to
music, Jubran does not initially spell things out.
“I let my audience
work out what I mean by that,” he proffers, before shedding some more light on
his mindset. “Silence in music is very important, from a philosophical
standpoint. There is no absolute silence, either in physical terms or in an
esthetic or a philosophical sense, within the music. You could say that
chromatic silence has meaning and colors.”
There is also an exploratory
property to the intervals in music, he says, adding that “it is difficult to
express this in words, but if you compare silence with sound, sound is something
that has already been said or stated, and silence is what you haven’t yet said.
For me, silence is still in the future, it is something I still have to
Jubran also feels that leaving gaps in the music can also
encourage the listener to meet the artist half way.
“Silence stimulates a
desire to think and to use the imagination. It leaves space for interpretation.
That’s an inherent part of music. Music doesn’t say things, per se, and doesn’t
explain things. Music is only a trigger which permeates and makes you think and
Jubran says his checkered musical training comes across in his
readings of Arabic music.
“You can feel that, in terms of my technique,
and on a basic physical level, and also with regard to my mental approach to
what I play, and the socio-musical context.”
It is also very much a
matter of marrying the very different musical worlds he has studied.
lose something of each kind of music, but you also add to each one,” he muses.
“I am not a classical player in the strict European sense – particularly when I
play oud – but I am also not exactly a basic folk-oriented traditional oud
player either. So there is nothing pure here. The cultural ‘dirt’ – it is ‘dirt’
from the point of view of any culture that isolates itself from other cultures –
from the standpoint of a person who is open and has a multicultural way of
thinking, is beautiful dirt, it is part of the esthetic and the philosophy of
Mind you, when it comes to exploring different musical
domains, if you’re playing oud you’ve already got something of a head start. It
can sound like a pure traditional Arabic instrument, but it can also take on the
sounds, textures and energies of flamenco guitar, and several disciplines
“I combine two approaches in my music, but there is nothing
technical about that,” states Jubran. “But I don’t piece things together like a
jigsaw puzzle. I don’t think in terms of ‘let’s taking a work by Mozart and see
how I can make it sound Arabic on oud.’ That’s not my way. These things, these
worlds, flow through me naturally.
They are a part of me, as a person and
as an artist.”
Even so, there are probably a few purists out there who
prefer to hear European classical music played purely as such, and Arabic music
devotees who don’t like the idea of extramural cultural “dirt” finding its way
into oud playing. Jubran says he hasn’t had too many problems with his audiences
on that score.
“In my experience, the audience likes what I do, and the
way I present the music as it is. You could call it a kind of odyssey, which we
Jubran’s multilayered approach also leads him into all
sorts of professional spheres.
“I play everything with everyone,” he
declares. “I also work with non-musicians, like video artists and dancers. We
live in what they call a post-modern world and I go along with that. I don’t
confine myself to a concept of concert music, or what performing on a stage
means, or what it means to play for an audience. That helps to keep me fresh and
to maintain an interest in what I am doing. I think that comes across in what I
Jubran also spread his cultural wings as part of the multinational
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra youth ensemble based in Seville, Spain, under the
aegis of Daniel Barenboim, but says he prefers to ply his trade where – for him
– the heart is.
“My understanding of that mindset is that Jews and Arabs
don’t have to meet at Camp David, in very sterile conditions, and play
Beethoven. I think it should happen here, where we fight and where we live
together, in the actual sociopolitical environment. And we should play music
that comes from our culture and listens to its surroundings. That’s where I come
from.”For tickets and more information about the Oud Festival:
02-6245207 ext. 4 and www.confederationhouse.org