Jubran’s silent approach to music

Versatile musician Wassim Jubran will hit stage with only his instrument for company as part of International Oud Festival.

Wassim Jubran 370 (photo credit: Martina Zanicotti)
Wassim Jubran 370
(photo credit: Martina Zanicotti)
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 bring off.
“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 oud.”
It must be said that Jubran brings an impressive musical arsenal to the endeavor.
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 artist.
“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 find.”
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 feel.”
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.
“You 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 the music.”
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 betwixt.
“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 take together.”
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 do.”
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