Syrian Musician Kinan Azmeh Visits Campus

During a visit to campus sponsored in part by the Robbins Memorial Symposium Fund, musician Kinan Azmeh treated Exonians to a taste of contemporary Syrian music and shared his thoughts on the importance of art in times of turbulence. 

Genny Beckman Moriarty
April 20, 2017
Kinan talking with students around a Harkness table in the Human Rights class.

Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh speaks with students in Human Rights class about music, politics and the human condition.

In an airy, sunlit room in the Academy Building, against a backdrop of old-fashioned blackboards and pull-down maps of the world, Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh converses with seniors in Religion Instructor Tom Simpson’s Human Rights class. Azmeh is thoughtful and generous with his interviewers, who hail from places as far apart as Morocco, Italy, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin and Atlanta, as he contemplates the personal and the political —  describing how he got into music, his changing definition of home, and his efforts to share with young refugees around the globe his belief that making music can be an act of protest.

“When you play with these kids, when they feel empowered by making noise,” he says, “it changes the whole discussion.”

A graduate of the Juilliard School in New York and the Damascus High Institute of Music, Azmeh has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other renowned orchestras and played in concert halls around the world. He performed with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, with whom he was awarded a Grammy in 2017, and his Kinan Azmeh City Band has toured the United States, France, England, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey to critical acclaim. He is the director of the pan-Arabic chamber music ensemble Damascus Festival Chamber Players, and he was named the composer-in-residence with Classical Movements for the 2017-2018 season.

“Artists have a vehicle that can be quite powerful. We need to practice it, in the hopes that it is contagious.”

The City Band’s visit was hosted by the PEA Music Department and co-sponsored by the Academy’s Robbins Memorial Symposium Fund and We the People, a local church-run organization that promotes discussions about religion and current events within the community of Exeter. Their collaborative sponsorship yielded a daytime concert for Exonians in Assembly Hall and an evening concert in The Bowld that was open to the public and gave students the chance to engage with the musicians in more intimate settings: In addition to the conversation in Simpson’s class — where students plied Azmeh with thoughtful questions about the relationship between art and politics, the role of governments in protecting human rights, and the conditions necessary for bringing about peace in his native country — he and his City Band led a workshop for members of PEA’s Symphony Orchestra.


Tune in to Exeter Live to watch a live recording of the Kinan Azmeh City Band as they perform in the Assmbly Hall.

Visit NHPR to listen to a 2013 “Word of Mouth” interview with Azmeh.