The first week of February has not been a quiet week for the American University of Beirut. President Fadlo R. Khuri was of the first to break the silence on the Muslim Ban by sending a thorough email to the AUB community on Monday, January 30. His words were backed by action following the launch of the #AUB4Refugees campaign on Friday, January 27.
A tribute concert to Adeeb Hourani was held in AUB’s Assembly Hall on Wednesday, February 1. Engulfed in a political and cultural context, the concert broke the silence in the more literal sense of the word.
Hourani was both a professor and writer, author of the book “Sublime Thoughts Lessen The Hardships of Life,” son of both Lebanon and Palestine – born in the former, spent a part of his life in the latter.
He escaped the Arab-Israeli war to find himself haunted by the Lebanese Civil War decades later, experiencing its horrors and the loss of his wife throughout. Hourani wrote about tragedy, love, justice, and revolution.
The concert, “Music del Tempo,” was just that. Conducted by a Syrian of Muslim heritage playing the clarinet in an old, refurbished church in memory of an author who fought for love challenged the rising tide of intolerance that’s actively trying to consume the globe.
Kinan Azmeh, Ph.D. in music, took center stage, surrounded by members of the Belarusian State Philharmonic, and played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: a Clarinet concerto in A major. The Philharmonic then played the Waltz and Polka without the clarinetist-composer, who had gone backstage. The performance received a loud round of applause.
Founded in the first half of the twentieth century, the Philharmonic has a history. It had, just like Hourani during Lebanon’s violent years, also lived through challenges serving The Red Army; a legacy that might explain its current members’ readiness to perform in a troubled Middle East. Just as the Belarusian State Philharmonic performed during the Second World War, it performed on Wednesday under different, yet familiar circumstances. Their sound, mixed with Azmeh’s clarinet, transcended prejudice, welcoming any and all ears willing to take in their music.
The concert then shifted once more as Azmeh and the Philharmonic jointly brought to life music he’s composed. Each piece from there on out was met with a standing ovation that went on for quite some time. The songs were titled 139th Street, Wedding, and November 22.
The symbolic value of that last title was the closest thing present to a resounding statement of intent. That day in 1943, Lebanon gained its independence from the French mandate after a fruitful revolt. Also like Hourani, Azmeh seems to believe in the power of rebellion. This concert was indeed a subtle one against a shift in international politics following the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.
The silence was broken without the need to address the issue in condemning words. The message was sent and received. Kinan Azmeh, the author and translator of a message expressed in Adeeb Hourani’s “love your neighbor like you love yourself,” was already carrying those ideals back to America – less than four hours later – on a plane he was unsure he could actually get off. His was a more personal revolt against an executive order that might’ve denied him entry.
The concert was met with praise. It looked like AUB acknowledged it had some sort of responsibility towards Hourani, “the great educator,” a professor and writer who lectured on love and the importance of proper education, proper facts. The responsibility was met with action. From a small building within the confines of the American University of Beirut’s campus, a sound resonated, resisted, and temporarily silenced a narrative that clearly contradicts Hourani’s.