Armagan Durdag remembers seeing the images of Syrian refugees fleeing the worn-torn country.
People whose sense of despair and resignation showed in their eyes.
“They are not some trash people that we have to forget,” he said. “I don’t care about who is right or wrong in those wars going on. I care about the peace.”
Peace is at the heart of the Turkish composer’s new work “The Refuge,” which will have its world premiere Sunday, Feb.19, with the University of Arizona’s Arizona Contemporary Ensemble. The Syrian refugee crisis inspired “The Refuge,” which was commissioned by Durdag’s former colleague saxophonist Allen Rippe, a professor at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis. But it is not about the Syrians.
It is about anyone seeking refuge who fled their war-torn or economically-suppressed countries for freedom, including Durdag, a 36-year-old doctoral student of UA composition professor Daniel Asia.
“This is not about the Muslims, it’s not about the Syrians. It’s about me. I have to leave my country because … I really want to continue my art,” he said, recalling the recent turmoil in his native Turkey.
“The Refuge” is “about finding a strong and safe place where we feel secure and tranquil, arriving there through our souls,” he explained.
Rippe will perform the work Sunday with Durdag’s wife, one of Turkey’s top cellists Rahsan Apay-Durdag. UA faculty member and saxophonist Edward Goodman and pianist Christian Martin, a doctoral student with Asia, also will perform.
This is the second piece Rippe has commissioned from Durdag. In 2010, Durdag penned “Bridges of Light,” a work centered on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Rippe is Jewish and wanted something that showed how music and artists can bridge the divide between hate and peace. When Durdag returned to the U.S. in summer 2015, Rippe asked him to write something for saxophone and cello that he could play with Durdag’s wife.
“The Refuge” is a 19-minute three-movement post-minimalist work with Turkish and Middle Eastern colors and melodies. Durdag described it as a spiritual work that’s not focused solely on ““pain or all the bad things in the world.”
“I think it’s an absolutely fabulous piece,” said Asia, whose “The Jane Set Duo” saxophone version also will get its world premiere on Sunday. “(‘The Refuge’) is going to become a repertoire piece for saxophonists. It’s that good.”
Durdag said he would be happy if its world premiere brought people together.
“I would really love people to sit together in the same audience and think that there are actually literally no boundaries in the world,” he said. “No borders, no boundaries between religions, no boundaries between ethnicities. I would love them to appreciate the music while thinking about that they are not the only ones who live on this planet.”
The Arizona Contemporary Ensemble is comprised of UA music students. Asia said the ensemble initially started 28 years ago when he first came to the UA. It took a respite a decade ago and resumed last spring. Asia said he plans to have the group perform every spring.