2012-09-14 / Community


Violinist: music belongs to the ‘ordinary people’
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Aban Zirikly Aban Zirikly Classical music is supposed to be for an elevated class of people, the highly educated, highly intelligent and wealthy. At least that’s the prevailing myth around the United States and even around the rest of the world, but Aban Zirikly, a highly accomplished violinist from Damascus, Syria, says it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I think there are a lot of clichés and myths about classical music,” Zirikly said, including the myth that the music “doesn’t belong to us ordinary people.”

Zirikly, 60, who moved from his native Syria to Cape Elizabeth in May, was scheduled to lead an informal discussion on this topic Thursday, Sept. 13 at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth. He will also perform select pieces on the violin. Children’s Librarian Rachel Davis organized the discussion.

Even the composers with instantly recognizable names who are considered cultural titans, “half-gods” in Zirikly’s words, were human too. Beethoven, Mozart and Bach weren’t perfect, and their human characteristics and failures motivated their work.

Beethoven liked to drink a lot of wine, Zirikly noted, and the famous German composer could sometimes be lewd and vulgar.

“They speak about love, about failure, about sadness, because they didn’t reach their ambitions for example,” Zirikly said. “They speak about the things that we are occupied with. I think this idea is not clear enough in the minds of the people.”

Zirikly has performed all over the world both as a violin soloist and part of chamber orchestras, including performances in Damascus, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Washington, D.C. He also taught music in Damascus and Prague, but Zirikly recently enrolled in a class at the University of Southern Maine to continue learning more about the art of classical music.

“Even if you are not affiliated in a school, you have to study in a way. If you rehearse with your instrument, it’s a kind of research. It’s a kind of studying,” Zirikly said. “It’s very natural that people in the field of art spend all their life studying.”

His musical career began at the young age of 10. Zirikly said he father was an engineer, but had a dream to be a musician that he never achieved, and instead, passed to his sons. Aban’s brother also followed a musical path. He became a prestigious pianist and also performed frequently in Europe.

Zirikly said in the 1960s Syria made an effort to bring more musical culture when it established two schools of music in Damascus, its capital city, and Aleppo, its largest city. Years later, in the 1990s, Zirikly said he learned from many ex-Soviet musicians who had left their home countries to come to Syria. In that same decade, Syria’s political leaders decided to build the Damascus Opera House, which opened in 2004.

“The opera house became the center of ‘attractivity,’ a kind of cultural center. It kind of pushed people in a way because it opened horizons to concerts and to activity,” Zirikly said.

Unfortunately, today Syria is not in the news for its artistic reputation but for the violence that has fallen upon the country as rebels attempt to topple the increasingly bloody regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Zirikly said the center of Damascus, his home, is still relatively calm. He was able to leave the country peacefully when he moved to Maine, and said he was motivated more by the desire to study and be close to his family rather than a desire to leave the violence. But he did not wish to speak extensively about the political situation in Syria.

“Let’s stick to art,” Zirikly said.

Cape residents interested in art and classical music will have a chance to speak with Zirikly on Thursday, but he also offers private lessons for anyone interested in learning what he calls the “language” of classical music.

That’s a foreign language to many people, Zirikly admits, but because music is such an emotional and universal medium, it can appeal to everyone, not just an elite subset of the population. He cites the fact that Mozart wrote the melody to popular children’s song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as evidence. He also noted that when he plays Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” even children too young to recognize the popular notes respond with interest and happiness.

“(Music) is the closest thing to our inner selves,” Zirikly said. “Music is vibration. It’s close to the source of the soul.”

About Neighbors

Neighbors is a weekly profile that features a community member from South Portland or Cape Elizabeth. Know someone you would like to see featured in the Sentry? Contact Jack Flagler at news@inthesentry.com.

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