This music came as a surprise. I had expected the traditional Assyrian music I grew up with, but what I found instead was traditional Assyrian melodies framed in the classical music tradition of Western Europe, with little splashes of Latin America. It is a pleasant surprise, indeed.
Mr. Bet-Yonan’s musical signature here is obviously influenced by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Gershwin, and to some degree, the Cuban Lecuona and the Brazilian Nazareth. Yet, his originality is unmistakable as he weaves the east and the west together into seamless variations on Assyrians folk melodies.
Each movement is based on a different Assyrian melody; “Gol Sheiny,” “Goodi,” “Ziepta d’Khetna,” and “Sheikhany” respectively. The music is densely written, with heavy base lines and clustered chords. Harmonies float between driving and serene, the mood swinging from lyrical to martial to yearning. Pianist Adam Chlastawa performs the music as if he and the composer were of the same mind.
This is not background music. It requires an attentive ear. In the end, there isno doubt left of Mr. Bet-Yonan’s talent as a composer. That he is an Assyrian who holds on to his roots while looking ahead is to be admired.