written by Lianna Portnoy
I moved to New York City just over five years ago. Moving to the biggest city in the country at the height of the recession with no job was not the ideal situation I foresaw myself in after graduating with a music degree. Lost, lonely, and afraid, I searched earnestly for something to make me feel connected to this new life.
I stumbled upon an ad on Craigslist late one night from a non-profit searching for intern. The organization was called Music For Life International.
Described as an organization that promotes global social transformation through music, they were looking for a candidate who would be interested in coordinating their large-scale humanitarian benefit concerts held at Carnegie Hall. This was the position that gave me hope for my future; an organization that combined passions for music and social change. After a 10pm Skype interview, I secured this new journey.
Five years later I am equally inspired by the projects put forth by Music For Life International. The concert that has resonated with me most however, was just over a year and a half ago, in January 2014.
Shostakovich for the Children of Syria was a benefit concert at Carnegie hall to help the efforts in aiding the refugee children of Syria. While this refugee crisis is currently at the center of the news, it was much more difficult at the time, almost two years ago, to create movement behind this cause. After several journeys through the snow to deliver postcards to spread the word about the event, the concert was a success. Musicians from the nation’s leading orchestras came together for the cause and performed Shostakovich’s symphony no. 7 “Leningrad”. This large-scale work was written during a similar historical situation, the 900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazi army. The performance was inspiring, and the energy on stage and in the audience was invigorating.
It was the introductory piece, however, that moved me more than any other piece to this day. Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh opened the concert by walking through the audience to the stage and performing his own work “Sabah Hazeen, Kul Sabah” which translates as “A Sad Morning, Every Morning”. The piece is written for solo clarinet and the emotions evoked will stay with me forever.
Standing backstage, watching the over 2,800 seat Isaac Stern Auditorium become silent as the utterance of the clarinet emerging from far away, the audience held its breath. As someone born and raised in the US, I could not directly understand the gravity of the refugees in Syria, but my empathy, along with nearly 3000 others, soared during this work. A brief five minute work captured the audience more than any other performance. The silence after this performance guaranteed that every single person left that night changed.
This experience was the single largest affirmation of the power of music, and the effects it can have on society.
Our next humanitarian concert is on Monday, October 19th at 8pm at Carnegie Hall, featuring the great Scheherazade-inspired works – to help end violence against women. I already feel empowered simply by the anticipation of the movement of energy for this cause that I know will result from this performance. Music for Life International continues to inspire my belief of the power of social change through music.
Lianna is a clarinetist, renaissance singer, and has dabbled in every area of arts administration. She enjoys building community and creating joy in all aspects of her life.