Layale Chaker and Sarafand Ensemble perform relaxed virtual concert

In a performance recorded specifically for Hancher Auditorium, violinist and composer Layale Chaker and her quintet performed last night from her album ‘Inner Rhyme’ and upcoming project ‘Bards’ with clarinet player Kinan Azmeh.


Anna Rakhvalova

Photo of Layale Chaker. Contributed by Anna Rakhvalova.

Abby McCusker, Arts Reporter

Violinist and composer Layale Chaker performed for Hancher Auditorium from an unlikely location last night — a recording studio almost 1000 miles away in New York City, where the performance was originally recorded alongside her fellow musicians last week.

Throughout this past year, Hancher has been reaching out to performers they have relationships with to produce virtual programming for audiences. On Thursday night, they hosted the award-winning violinist and composer Layale Chaker, who performed new and old compositions with her quintet and special guest clarinet player Kinan Azmeh in a virtual concert.

Chaker’s musical style blends contemporary classical music, jazz, Arabic music, and improvisation to create her sound. She was the winner of the Silkroad Seed inaugural award in 2020 and the Nadia et. Lili Boulanger 2019 laureate.

Her debut album, Inner Rhyme, with Sarafand was released in 2019 and the recipient of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture 2018 Grant. The album is organized into a suite that delves into the sounds, rhythms, shapes, and forms of Arabic poetry. The album explores the 12 classical Arabic poetic meters. The ensemble on the album includes cello, piano, bass, and percussion, along with Chaker on violin.

Kinan Azmeh, the husband of Layale Chaker, is an award-winning soloist, composer, and improviser who has also performed at Hancher in the past. He is the artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Players and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble. He has multiple albums with an ensemble, a duo album, a quintet album, and several soundtracks for film and dance.

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The virtual performance featured pieces from Chaker’s album Inner Rhyme and new music from her forthcoming Bards project. Last night was the first time the Bards project was performed in concert. The performance was recorded about a week ago in New York City specifically for Hancher.

Chaker’s quintet featured Jake Charkey on cello, Phillip Golub on piano, Sam Minaie on bass, and Jeremy Smith playing percussion. Every piece they played was composed by Chaker, who played violin in the group.

The performance opened with an introduction from Chaker. She welcomed the audience to the performance and gave the audience background about the poet that inspired the first piece of the concert, “Return to Jaykur.”

Chaker’s quintet performed seven songs: “Return to Jaykur,” “Southern Sky,” “Khab Nisan,” “Ushaq,”  “Frah al Donniye,” “Hawwel ya Ghannam,” and “Ya Fajr.” Azmeh joined the group on clarinet for the last two pieces. Before each song was performed, Chaker took a moment to provide the audience with the cultural context for the piece.

Even though the concert was recorded in a studio, each performer still dressed in all black, emulating a style that is casual but professional. The recording studio setting gave the audience an intimate feel and up-close look at how the musicians play their instruments.

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“Southern Sky” and “Khab Nisan” come from Chaker’s upcoming project Bards. Chaker explained the project to the audience as expressing the joy that musicians bring to people.

“This project came about during the last year when I was thinking of how musicians were deemed unessential workers. But at the same time, they were among the people, along with artists, bringing much joy in every home in a hard time,” Chaker said during the performance. “And so, this project that I’m thinking of and it’s still very much in the making, celebrates that, that we are Bards.”

The compositions are an intricate mix of Arabic music, jazz, and classical music that created a fascinating groove. Introducing the clarinet into the last two pieces provided a new sound for the audience without changing the overall tone of the performance. The compositions were all a similar musical genre, which established cohesiveness for the concert as a whole. Chaker’s performance wrapped up with goodbyes from the group and hopes that they will be back to Hancher in person soon.