Syrian Music Preservation Initiative – Home

Love and Loss: Traditional Music of Syria

12–3AM May 20, 2023 | Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall


    Maqam Kurd
    مقام كرد

  • - Longa Kurd, composer: Khalil Haj Hussein
    خليل حاج حسين
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  • Wasla (Suite) in Maqam Huzam/Rahat al-Arwah
    وصلة مقام راحة الأرواح - هزام

  • - Sama'i Rahat al-Arwah, composer: Mahmoud Ajjan
    سماعي راحة الأرواح, لحن: محمود عجّان
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  • - Muwashah Ghazalon , composer: Khalil Haj Hussein
    موشح غزالٌ زارني, لحن: خليل حاج حسين
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  • - Muwashah Ayyuha al-Saqi, composer: Majdi al-'Aqili
    مجدي العقيلي
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  • - Muwashah Jadaka al-Ghaithu, composer: Majdi al-'Aqili
    مجدي العقيلي
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  • Maqam Nahwanand
    مقام نهوند

  • - Ornamentum (Zakhrafa), composer: Samer Ali
    سامر علي
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  • Intermission

    Wasla (Suite) in Maqam Bayati
    وصلة مقام بياتي

  • - Sama'i Bayati Qadim, composer: Unknown composer
    مجهول المؤلف
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  • - Bayati Dance, Darij Khaliji, composer: Samer Ali
    سامر علي
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  • - Qadd Awwal Ishrit Mahboubi, composer: Unknown composer
    مجهول المؤلف
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  • Maqam Hijazkar
    مقام حجازكار

  • - Longa Hijaz Kar (A), composer: Wanees Wartanian
    وانيس وارتنيان
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  • - Muwashah Murra al-Tajanni, composer: Unknown composer
    مجهول المؤلف
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  • Maqam Bayati/Nahoft
    مقام بياتي - نهوفت

  • - Sama'i Nahoft, composer: Ramez Khaskiyyah
    رامز خاسكية
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  • - Muwashah Badat Mina al-Khidri, composer: Unknown composer
    مجهول المؤلف
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  • - Muwashah Billazi Askar, composer: Unknown composer
    مجهول المؤلف
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  • Maqam Hijaz
    مقام حجاز

  • - Muwashah Ya Ghazali, composer: Amin Junaid
    امين جنيد
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Khalil Haj Hussein

1961–Present, Latakia

Born in al-Haffa, Latakia, Khalil Haj Hussein started learning music (oud) and composing on his own at the age of seven. He was a part of the Nahawand Ensemble from 1981 until 1990 and he studied Arabic Literature at Tishreen University and worked as an Arabic teacher for 10 years in the 1990s. After this, he began teaching music and was responsible for the school’s theatrical ensembles and choir which received numerous awards under his tutelage. Hussein has worked with numerous musicians as a vocal coach and theory teacher.

He has written over 70 compositions (21 of which are muwashah) and tonight we perform two of them.

Mahmoud Ajjan

1916–2006, Latakia

Mahmoud Ajjan was a scholar, oudist, violinist and composer who was primarily self-taught through extensive study and practice. He began composing at the age of 15 and continued throughout his lifetime, becoming one of Syria’s hidden gems.

In 1945, he established the Musical Club of Latakia which became the institution responsible for the musical education of the youth in the region. This aided many to pursue music professionally as adults. In 1957, he was one of the Syrian delegates to the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow. Here he performed one of his compositions for violin at a celebration of the prominent Arab poet and philosopher Abu al-’Alaa al-Ma’arri (973-1057). His performance was so well received that he was later honored at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies. After his subsequent return, Ajjan received two awards from the Syrian Ministry of Culture, in 1959 and then again in 1969. 

In addition to performing, composing and teaching, he was dedicated to research, archiving and transcribing numerous Adwar (pleural of Dawr) and Muwashahat and published two books, Study of the Dawr (1990) and Leil & ‘Ayn in music and poetry traditions (2001). While not widely known outside of his region, his impact on composition, musicology and his students was immense.

Majdi al-'Aqili

1917–1983, Aleppo

Majdi al-’Aqili started becoming interested in music in secondary school and despite his father’s objections, he studied oud with Bakri Kurdi and traditional music with Ali Darwish and Omar al-Batsh.  His musical life in the 1930s varied widely. In 1935, he created a seven-stringed instrument called gankaran which was similar to the oud and could also be bowed. A year later, he traveled to Italy to study Western classical music theory and in 1939, he returned to Aleppo to start teaching music in schools.  

In 1942, al-’Aqili was invited to Jordan to train the army band where he remained for two years after which he returned to his native Aleppo to resume teaching.  Always an educator, he was also the director of the Oriental Music Institute in Damascus from 1956 until they closed in 1959. 

1947 heralded the start of his career in radio.  He moved to Damascus and was pivotal in the establishment of the Syrian Radio. He was also the director of Aleppo Radio in 1955 and was an advisory member for The General Organization of Radio and Television in 1962.  

Also a prolific author and composer, he wrote many books on music, including: The Language of String (1940), The Language of Music (1950), Arab National Songs (1951), Music and Songs of Childhood (1952), Al-Kindi (1964), Arab Listening (1969)He composed 25 muwashahat, three of which are presented at today’s concert: “Ayyuha al-Saqi”, “Lao Kunta Tadri”, and “Jadaka al-Ghaithu”, all written in 1948.


Dr. Samer Ali

Violinist, Founder and Artistic Director

A native of Syria, Samer Ali is a physician, violinist, oudist, composer, and founder and artistic director of the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative.

He has led Takht al-Nagham, SMPI's Arab chamber music ensemble, in New York at Roulette Intermedium; Florida at Miami Beach Bandshell; and Washington, DC at Kennedy Center.

Samer began studying western classical violin at the age of eight with Fawaz al-Ali and Ali Farran and later pursued intensive conservatory studies with Ali Mukhtar Babayev.

An apprentice of musicologist and prolific scholar of Arab maqam musical system Muhammad Qadri Dalal, Samer also studied the Arab classical violin with Simon Shaheen and Anwar Hariri.

He co-founded Awj ensemble in Damascus, and has continued to perform in the US with groups like the Orchestra of the Bronx and the National Arab Orchestra.

In medicine, Samer received his M.D. from Syria and is currently an Attending Pathologist and Assistant Professor at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, New York.

Marissa Arciola Ali

Bassist, President

Marissa completed her undergraduate degree in double bass performance at the Eastman School of Music under the tutelage of renowned soloist, James VanDemark and Curtis Buris. Marissa continued with music while completing her MBA and MA in Arts Administration at SMU.

After her studies, Marissa has worked with a number of nonprofit organizations while playing with groups ranging from classical, rock, and Middle Eastern music.

Lubana al-Quntar

Mutriba (Lead Vocalist)

Lubana al-Quntar is regarded as one of the leading opera singers of the Arab world, with a repertoire that also includes traditional Arabic, folk and pop music. Born in Damascus, she completed her academic studies at the Royal College of Music in London and the Damascus Conservatory of Music, and studied operatic performance at the Maastricht Academy of Music in Holland.

She has appeared globally as an opera soloist and as a traditional Arab singer, astonishing audiences with her mastery of the two different musical traditions. Notable appearances include Opera Bastille (Paris); Flemish Radio Orchestra Musica Viva (Bremen); Avincenna (Doha), the world’s first Arabic opera; and the Silk Road Festival (Tokyo). She headed the opera department at the Damascus Conservatory (2003-2011) where she taught opera and Arabic singing. She has dedicated her voice and efforts to raise awareness of Syrian culture and aid world refugees through fundraising concerts.

Brian Prunka


Dubbed "one of New York’s most eclectic, interesting oudists” (NY Music Daily), Brian Prunka composes and performs jazz and middle-eastern influenced music with his own projects (such as Nashaz and Sharq Attack). In addition, he currently performs with the Bil Afrah Project, Zikrayat, Matt Darriau, the New York Arabic Orchestra and others, as well performing on Broadway and writing for film and dance. His many diverse compositions and distinct improvisational style express his personal musical journey and passion for both Arabic and American musical forms. He has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally with such artists as Simon Shaheen, Wajde Ayoub, Nano Raies, Michael Bates, Ravish Momin, and The Vancouver International Orchestra.

John Murchison


John Murchison is a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist who performs in the worlds of pop and musical theater, jazz and avant-garde, and traditional musics from the Middle East and Africa. John is one of the most in-demand bassists for traditional Arabic music in the United States, and also performs regularly on qanun, gimbri, oud, and percussion. He is cofounder of Brooklyn Maqam, an organization dedicated to presenting, promoting, and building community around Arabic music in the NYC area.

Gideon Forbes


Gideon Forbes is a saxophonist, nay player, composer, and improviser in Brooklyn. He co-leads the chordless quartet Nortonk, and performs regularly with the New York Arabic Orchestra, the Brooklyn Nomads, and Zikrayat, among others. Most recently Gideon organized an ensemble performing the music of Egyptian organist Hany Mehanna. As a student of Arabic music, he has studied with Bassam Saba, Layth Sidiq, Sami Abu Shumays, Johnny Farraj, and Michael Ibrahim.

Nezih Antakli

Percussionist (Riq)

Nezih Antakli is a New York City-based percussionist who has performed nationally in numerous venues like the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, as well as internationally on a variety of festivals around the world as well as on the Broadway Show "The Band's Visit". A graduate of the University for the Arts in Rotterdam, Netherlands (CODARTS), he moved to the United States in 2007 and has been involved in the Middle Eastern and Balkan music scene in the wider New York City and Philadelphia area.

Zahra Al Zubaidi


Zahra Al Zubaidi is a New York-based Iraqi vocalist with a focus on performing various Arabic styles, especially Iraqi music. She has performed as a featured artist across the US, with renowned artists such as Muhammad Qadri Dalal and Lubana AlQuntar, and with ensembles such as Safaafir, Hamid AlSaadi, and Takht ElNagham. Zahra was awarded the City Artist Corps grant in 2021 to showcase women’s voices and Iraqi Maqam and recently performed at the 2022 Habibi Festival at NYC’s historic Joe’s Pub.

Marwa Morgan


Marwa Morgan, a journalist and singer from Egypt, grew up surrounded by classical Egyptian music and started singing at an early age. Since moving to the United States in 2015, music has been a way for her to stay connected to her home country. She has performed with several ensembles in the US, including Takht Al-Nagham and The Middle East Music Orchestra at Rutgers University.

Erik Jönsson


Erik Jönsson is a Brooklyn-based vocalist who began singing at a young age in his church's choir in the Hudson Valley. Decades later, he is still singing in church as a member of Trinity Church Wall Street's Downtown Voices, and has sung as a member of that choir at Carnegie Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) as part of the Mark Morris Dance Group's production of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and Madison Square Garden in concert with Andrea Bocelli.

Erik received a B.M. from Ithaca College, where he studied clarinet performance. He remains an active clarinetist around New York City and frequently performs with orchestras like the Chelsea Symphony.

Outside of music, Erik is a software engineer at New York Times Cooking, and has worked with the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative to both build and launch their website and sing with its performing ensemble, Takht al-Nagham.

Stefan Paolini


Stefan Paolini is a NYC-based singer, pianist, arranger, and educator who has taught and performed professionally for over 20 years. His influences include Western classical, rock, metal, pop, jazz, Latin, Hindustani, and West African musical traditions. He has performed at such venues as Le Poisson Rouge, Joe’s Pub, Webster Hall, Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and Minton’s Playhouse, as well as across the United States and Canada. Stefan believes in and upholds truth, love, and beauty as virtues to be cherished in this world in all their various manifestations.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to our audition winners who will join SMPI on stage for the Sama'i Bayati Qadim:

- Kyla Manja, violin

- Chris Manja, qanun

- Makayl Manja, violin

- Amirah Ismail, violin

- Laith al-Attar, oud

- Dr. Homam Ibrahim, violin

- Hanna Madbak, oud