The Berklee Middle Eastern Festival is a celebrated annual event that brings together artists from the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean with students from all over the world to learn and experience the musical traditions of those regions.
The show features a collective of students, ensembles, performers from the Berklee and regional communities, visiting artists, dancers, and visual artists and focuses on a different region, theme, and tradition every year, aspiring to foster cultural exchange and understanding. Founded and directed by Christiane Karam, associate professor in the Voice Department, past festivals have focused on classical Arabic, Turkish Gypsy, Mediterranean, Balkan, and flamenco traditions and have included artists such as Pepe de Lucía, Javier Limón, Bassam Saba, Simon Shaheen, Binka Dobreva, Hüsnü Senlendiriçi, and Tigran Hamasyan.
The acclaimed Berklee Middle Eastern Festival, founded by Associate Professor Christiane Karam as a platform for multicultural exchange, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a stellar lineup of guest artists from around the globe, including the Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, Tigran Hamasyan, Amar Murkus, the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, Women of the World, the Berklee World Strings, directed by Grammy-winning professor Eugene Friesen, and more.
Watch past editions of the festival in the playlist below.
About festival founder and director Christiane Karam:
"Since meeting Christiane Karam, a new musical world has opened for me. She is one of the most important voices in Mediterranean music today. Not only is she a great vocalist and composer but she also has a very special artistic vision. Her unique approach to combining the many influences she incorporates in her music and projects will one day be a reference for young artists who strive to bridge different musical cultures in a meaningful way. " — Javier Limón, artistic director of the Mediterranean Music Institute.
On March 8, 2017, Karam will directed the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble as it explores the musical map of Armenia in a stunning collaboration with celebrated Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan. Known for melding jazz, folk, progressive rock, and classical forms, Hamasyan has established himself as one of the most innovative artists of his age, winning first place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition at the age of 19. The concert will also feature the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, led by Karam, and Berklee World Strings, led by Grammy-winning Berklee professor Eugene Friesen.
The 2016 edition celebrated the music and culture of Syria. At the First Church of Boston, the concert featured the hour-long multimedia project Home Within, an impressionistic reflection of the Syrian revolution in which art and music develop in counterpoint to each other. Created and performed by Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and Syrian-American visual artist Kevork Mourad, Home Within has toured the U.S. and Europe, raising awareness and funds for Syrian refugees. The event also featured performances by Syrian oud virtuoso Kenan Adnawi and his ensemble, and Limón. The concert opened with the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble, the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, and other guests. Watch the Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble perform "Sibylla" by Tigran Hamasyan.
In 2015, the Middle Eastern Festival highlighted the music of Persia as well as that of the Balkans and the Caucasus. Under the direction of Eugene Friesen, the concert features the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, Berklee World Strings, and the Berklee Middle Eastern Festival Band. It also featured visiting artists Sahba Motallebi (tar, setar) and Mehdi Bagheri (setar, kamancheh). Watch them perform Persian Suite.
In 2014, the festival was dedicated to the music of Armenia and featured special performances by acclaimed Armenian folk singer and Boston-based folklore dance ensemble Ludo Mlado. Other perfomances included the Sato Moughalian-directed Perspectives Ensemble, a cappella folk trio Zulal, and live painting by Kevork Mourad. Watch the festival here.
Fifth Edition, 2013: The Soaring Voices of the Balkans
This festival brought focus on the vocal traditions of the Balkans and the Caucasus, featuring world-renowned names from the folk and folk a cappella traditions, such as Juliana Svetlitchnaia from Juliana & Pava, the Zulal Armenian Folk A Capella Trio from New York City, gaida and accordion virtuoso Aleksandar Raichev from Bulgaria, and internationally acclaimed Mystère des Voix Bulgares sensation Binka Dobreva. Berklee's own Balkan Choir and Festival Band was featured, as were the folk dance group Ludo Mlado from Bulgaria. Watch the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir perform "Erghen Dedo."
In this edition, Karam joined forces with Limón to present a flamenco-themed festival called A Journey Through Andalusia. The event highlighted flamenco music from its Andalusian roots to current expressions and explored the connections between flamenco, Arabic, Mediterranean, and Balkan music. More than 50 students —representing Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Russia, Spain, India, Brazil, and South Korea, among other parts of the world—took part in the festival. It included performances by Berklee's flamenco and Balkan vocal ensembles—both primarily women's choruses—and the Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble, featuring student and alumni instrumentalists with appearances by internationally acclaimed flamenco artists Pepe de Lucía and Genára Cortes. Watch the Flamenco Today concert here.
International acclaimed as a virtuoso on the oud and violin, Simon Shaheen is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers, and composers of his generation. His work incorporates and reflects a legacy of Arabic music, while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process. For the third edition of the Middle Eastern Festival, Shaheen offered a workshop on Arabic music and performed at the Berklee Performance Center with the Berklee All-Star Middle Eastern Festival. Watch their performance of "Blue Flame" by Simon Shaheen.
he second edition of the festival featured world-renowned Turkish clarinet virtuoso Hüsnü Senlendirici, the New York Gypsy All-Stars, and the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble. The concert showcased a variety of Middle Eastern styles, including Lebanese folk, Arabic classical music, and Turkish Gypsy fusion, a style based on traditional Turkish music mixed with contemporary jazz and Western grooves and harmonies. Watch the performance of "Istanbul Istanbul Olali."
To inaugurate the Middle Eastern Festival, Lebanese oud and ney expert Bassam Saba offered a clinic titled Middle Eastern Modes and performed at the Berklee Performance Center with his own group and the Berklee All-Star Middle Eastern Ensemble. In the clinic, Saba, a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, outlined and demonstrated the key differences within Western classical music in an abbreviated yet detailed form. Watch the performance of "Fakkarouni" (M.A. Wahab) featuring Bassam Saba.