Nabil Azzam Leads 40 Piece Orchestra to Michigan for One Night Only
BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer
Every Tuesday evening, some of California’s most seasoned musicians join together not to master the works of Western classics, but rather to perfect the nuances of Arabic greats such as Muhammad Abdel Wahab, Farid El-Atrache, and Muhammad Abdo. While they certainly learn about the intricacies of Middle-Eastern music, they are far from Middle-Eastern in make-up. All but two of the orchestra’s forty musicians are of Arab descent. This diverse ensemble, representing nationalities and ages from across the board, is known as MESTO, the Multi-Ethnic Star Orchestra.
Established just a decade ago, the orchestra is the brainchild of Palestinian-American Nabil Azzam, who now serves as both a composer and conductor of the group. Azzam began to explore the world of music at the tender age of 8 under the direction and encouragement of his parents, fellow performers. “I was bread to be a musician all my life” said Azzam recalling his childhood days. “Each of my family members played a separate instrument, and together we formed a mini-orchestra that would play concerts for our community” he continued.
While Azzam credits his parents for exposing him to a wonderful repertoire of Arabic classical music, he admits that one of his most notable influences has been his study and personal relationship with the late Muhammad Abdel Wahab. “It was the greatest experience of my life” said Azzam who became acquainted with the composer during his PhD at UCLA. “Abdel Wahab was a combination of Beethoven and Frank Sinatra. He had a way of merging musical attributes of the East and the West, and I was certainly inspired by his novel ideas,” he continued.
Moved by Abdel Wahab’s ability to shape the landscape of Arabic music, Azzam founded MESTO with the hopes of continuing that great tradition. “People need to know how wonderful our music is. It has a great depth and charm that can be revered by anyone if it is communicated the right way” Azzam said. It is for that reason MESTO has spent countless hours practicing new arrangements and modifications to the original pieces. The orchestra seeks to expand its appeal by mixing traditional and modern genres of music— using diverse instruments such as the qanun, bazouki, and mandolin.
Since its conception, Azzam has conducted MESTO in over 27 concerts, some of which include the Cairo and Alexandria Opera House in Egypt, and the International Jerash Festival in Jordan. Now, Azzam will bring the exquisite ensemble to Dearborn, along with Moroccan guest vocalist Karima Skalli. On October 17th MESTO will light up the stage in honor of the Arab American National Museum’s Annual Concert Gala. For one night, and one night only, patrons will have the opportunity to become lost in the riveting sounds of a true Middle Eastern escapade.