Samaa', which is Arabic for sky, was written after a trip to mainland Yemen in January 2022. Program note below:
Increasingly, my work is inspired by and connected to remote and neglected cultures around the globe. In these works, I am not striving to be the voice of people that live in circumstances much different from my own. I try to write music that reflects my own experiences in these places and my interpretation of what I often find to be beautiful and universal themes. In Samaa’ I had a specific image in mind. I recently traveled to Yemen, a place I found to be mysterious and beautiful and rich and almost mystical. But of course Yemen is in the midst of a decade-long conflict with devastating and long-term impact for Yemenis. I traveled with a man named Kais Alkalisi. Kais guides in Yemen to support 17 of his family members. On a long drive through the desert, he told me a story about how he once took a public bus through Houthi territory on the way to Sana’a, the capital, and how on the way he saw missiles falling from the sky. He told an elderly woman traveling next to him that the missiles were several kilometers away and that she should not worry. This image – of Kais and this woman traveling through a dangerous war zone, missiles raining down around them, is a sweeping, moving, epic image to me: a testament to the lengths people can go simply to live their lives. And while just an image to me, it is something very real to them. It is something I cannot personally describe or attempt to portray. The fear they must have felt, the urgency, the overwhelming basic need to see their loved ones. And yet I am moved by it, and what I can do is express how I feel about that image in the work that I can create. Samaa’ means “sky” in Arabic. This work is generally solemn and reflective, with outbursts of energy called and answered by several “incantations” which occur throughout the piece.