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The Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. She studied the piano and composition at the Baku Conservatory, from which she graduated as a pianist in 1970, and as a composer in 1972. From 1973-1976 she was Kara Karaev’s research assistant, and in 1989 completed her doctoral thesis, ‘Orchestration in Works by Azerbaijani Composers’. In 1976 she began to teach musicology at the Baku Conservatory, where she has been Professor of Contemporary Music and the History of Orchestral Styles since 1990. From 1993 to 1996 she conducted the choir of the opera house in Mersin, Turkey, and subsequently taught the piano and music theory for two years at the Mersin Conservatory. In 1998/1999 Ali-Zade worked again in Baku. Since then she has lived primarily in Germany.

In 1980 Ali-Zadeh received the annual award of the Azerbaijani Composers’ Union, and in 1990 was accorded the title of ‘Outstanding Artist’ by the Azerbaijan SSR. In 1989 she became a member of the Friends of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles, and in November 2000 she received the honorary title ‘People’s Artist of the Republic of Azerbaijan’.

As a pianist Ali-Zadeh has performed numerous works by contemporary composers from the former Soviet Union, and has given the Baku first performances of music by the Second Viennese School, and of works by composers such as Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, and George Crumb.

In 1976 Franghiz Ali-Zadeh first introduced one of her pieces, the Piano Sonata In Memoriam Alban Berg (1970), to a western audience at the Pesaro music festival. Thereafter her music was played at the Swedish Spring festival in Stockholm (1982), the Warsaw Autumn festival (1983), the Berlin Festival Weeks (1986), the Almeida Festival in London (1987), the International Festival for New Music in Heidelberg (1989), the Holland Festival in Amsterdam (1989), at concerts in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Buffalo (1989), at the International Forum for Contemporary Music in Mexico (1989), and at the 1989 Frankfurt Festival. It was also heard in Zurich, Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, at the Hamburg Women’s Festival (1990), and at the Prokofiev Festival in Duisburg (1991) and at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1993). Since then there have been numerous performances, composer portrait concerts, broadcasts and CD recordings in the U.S., Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Denmark, France, Italy, Australia, Spain, Israel, Estonia, and Turkey. Numerous works of Ali-Zadeh have served as ballet music (in Helsinki, New York and Berlin).

In August 1999 she was the first woman-composer in residence to be invited to the Internationale Musikwochen in Lucerne. In 1999/2000 she received a fellowship from the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service] and has been working in Berlin for a year. During this time she was honoured with a composer portrait concert from the Berlin broadcasting station SFB and a workshop and concert took place at the Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule. In February 2000 a composer portrait concert with the Ensemble ‘Continuum’ took place in New York and in April 2000 the Seattle Chamber Players invited her to Seattle for concerts, workshops and interviews. Franghiz Ali-Zadeh also participates in Yo Yo Ma’s ‘Silk Road Project’ with her composition Dervish.The Kronos Quartet (San Francisco) is currently producing a CD devoted exclusively to Ali-Zade’s works on which the composer participates as pianist. During the autumn 2000 she has been a guest at the Künstlerhaus of Schloss Wiepersdorf in Brandenburg. In 2002 she received a stipend in order to work in the artist’s colony Schreyahn (Lower Saxony).

Ali-Zadeh wrote a Concerto for Cello and Orchestra commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; it was given its world premiere in June 2002 in Lisbon by Ivan Monighetti (cello) and the Gulbenkian Orchestra conducted by Muhai Tang. On the same day in Stuttgart, the Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra was launched by the soloist Tsuey-Jing Tai and the Bartholdy Ensemble Rheinfelden under the direction of Christian Sikorski. For the 2002 Lucerne Festival (under the motto of ‘Sheherazade – Oriental Night’), where Ali-Zadeh was a guest during the month of August, she composed ‘Nagillar’ for large orchestra (premiered in August 2002 by the Orchestre Philharmonique Suisse under the direction of Susanna Mälkki). In October 2002 the twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic celebrated their thirtieth jubilee with a grand cello festival at the Berlin Philharmonie. On this occasion, Ali-Zadeh wrote the commissioned work Shyshtar (Metamorphoses for Twelve Cellos).

In March 2003 Alexander Ivashkin performed the British premiere of Ask havasi for cello solo at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The version of the same composition for flute and prepared piano was first performed by Rose-Marie Soncini (flute) and Esther Flückiger (piano) in April of the same year at the Korean Music Festival in Seoul. In May 2003 a concert took place at the Philharmonie in Baku in honour of the composer, where her concerto for cello and orchestra, Crossing II, and Journey to Immortality were performed by Ivan Monighetti, the Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir of Baku under the direction of Rauf Abdulayev. The composition commissioned by Cho-Liang Lin, Sabah for violin, cello, pipa and prepared piano, was premiered at the Aspen Festival in June 2003 by the work‘s commissioner (violin), Felix Fan (cello), Wu Man (pipa) and Aleck Karis (piano). Ivan Monighetti and his ensemble ‘Celli Monighetti’ initiated a version for eight cellos of the work Shyshtar, which was played at the International Music Days ‘Vivo Cello’ in Liestal, Switzerland in August 2003. Elsbeth Moser (bayan) and Nicolas Altstaedt (cello) premiered Yanar dag [Counteractions] at the Riffelalp Festival in Zermatt in September. A portrait dedicated to Ali-Zadeh took place at the ‘Jeunesse Festival Orient-Occident’ in Vienna in October 2003 with the Austrian Ensemble for New Music and the composer at the piano. Another performance of her Cello Concerto at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn with the orchestra in residence there and Ivan Monighetti under the direction of Leos Swarovsky rounded up the artistic activities of the year 2003.

On the occasion of the re-opening of the Philharmony in Baku, Mstislav Rostropovich conducted the orchestral work Hommage, written especially for this occasion, in January 2004; the performers were the Baku Philharmonic Orchestra. In June 2004 there took place three world premieres. The Camerata Bern performed the version for chamber orchestra of Shyshtar, commissioned by them, in Muri, Switzerland, the Atlas Ensemble played Zikr, an ensemble piece for 30 musicians, half of whom perform on European instruments and the other half on non-European instruments, at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam and the Altenberg Trio Vienna performed the premiere of the piano trio Impromptus in Bantry (Ireland); this work was commissioned by the Trio together with the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. In November 2004 the Festival ‘Klanghorizonte’ in Augsburg organised a composer-portrait in the form of several concerts and a workshop held by the composer together with students at the Music Academy there.

The Kronos Quartet was on a worldwide tour in January and February 2005; among the works they performed in numerous places was Oasis for string quartet and tape. Besides this composition, Apsheron Quintet, Music for Piano and Mugam Sayagi appear on a CD recently issued by Nonesuch, recorded by the Kronos Quartet together with the composer at the piano. From 2-10 April Ali-Zadeh will lead three master courses as composer-in-residence at ‘Present Music’ in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and will be represented by several portrait concerts there. On 19 May a new String Quartet will be premiered by the Minguet Quartet at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and a work for wind quintet and cello will receive its first performance on 19 June by members of the Bavarian State Orchestra in Munich.

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