Amir ElSaffar and the Rivers of Sound Orchestra
Amir ElSaffar

Rivers of Sound Orchestra

April 26, 2022

This event occurred as part of the 21/22 Hop Presents season. This is an archived view.

Enter a state of transcendent musical ecstasy where pitches, rhythms and cultural boundaries become fluid. Featuring "Emergence:" a spatialized, immersive work co-commissioned by the Hop.

21/22 Hop Presents

Since their inception in 2015, the 17-member strong ensemble has incorporated elements from a variety of traditions to create a unique musical environment. Middle Eastern, Indian and Western instruments come together, moving beyond the notions of style and tradition into a realm of uninhibited musical communication. At the Hop, they perform selections from their 2021 release, The Other Shore

The new piece, Emergence, is a site-specific work in which members of the Rivers of Sound Orchestra will perform throughout the auditorium, interspersed within and surrounding the audience. The work is simultaneously about isolation and interconnectedness, and was inspired by my meditations on the experiences shared globally during the pandemic.

Generously supported by the Bob Gatzert 1951 Jazz Series Fund and the Lewis Pace Poag 1972 Fund

Photo: Alice Gebura, courtesy of Walker Art Center

Amir ElSaffar
Composer, trumpeter, santur player and vocalist Amir ElSaffar is a recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2018 US Artist Fellow. He is an expert trumpeter with a classical background, conversant not only in the language of contemporary jazz, but has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the subtle microtones found in Iraqi maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, and has received commissions to compose for large and small jazz ensembles, traditional Middle Eastern ensembles, chamber orchestras, string quartets, and contemporary music ensembles, as well as dance troupes.

Rivers of Sound
An expansion of Two Rivers, a six piece ensemble started by ElSaffar in 2006, Rivers of Sound presents 17 musicians from a broad spectrum of traditions playing on a range of instruments, including the Middle Eastern oud, buzuq, santur (hammered dulcimer), jowza (spike fiddle) and percussion, arrayed with the piano, bass and drums of the American jazz tradition, along with trumpet, saxophones, oboe, strings and voice. The modal language of the maqam combines with the aesthetics of contemporary music and jazz to create a new musical vocabulary. The unifying principle of this composition, exploration of pure resonance, allows the assembled musicians to explore and experiment together along a continuum of sound encompassing timbre, harmony, pitch and rhythm.

“Amir ElSaffar is uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music without doing either harm.” 

The Wire

“one of the most promising figures in jazz today”

Chicago Tribune
Angelique Kidjo
2021/22 Season

Live works bloom this spring Music by global artists including Edgar Meyer, Angélique Kidjo and Amir Elsaffar awaken our senses and expand our imaginations. Bold works, including The Medium and THE...

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