Atlantan Malek Jandali, a Syrian-American composer and pianist, had special reason to celebrate over the July 4th holiday weekend. Though he’s been so busy, he mostly took it easy.
Jandali was one of 38 individuals selected by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in its 2015 “Great Immigrants: The Pride of America” honor roll. The company founded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie has recognized accomplished naturalized U.S. citizens annually for a decade for their contributions to society, culture and the economy.
The honorees, who included Atlanta Braves coach Eddie Perez (Venezuela), “Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara (Colombia) and Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Thomas Sudhof (Germany), were touted in a full-page New York Times ad on July 4 celebrating the contributions of immigrants immersed in the American experience.
It’s been a year of major developments for Jandali, who made his debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in February, performing new chamber works for piano, cello and oud. The Weill Recital Hall concert showcased the release of his album “Syrian Symphony,” which includes the 47-minute composition “Phoenix in Exile,” reflecting the musician’s feelings for his war-torn homeland.
In June, Jandali released “The Moonlight,” an original symphonic work for piano and orchestra based on one of the oldest songs in Islamic culture, “Tala Al Badru Alayna.” It was recorded with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in Moscow.
Jandali‘s compositions integrate Middle Eastern modes into Western classical forms and harmony. In “Phoenix in Exile” and other compositions, he responded to Syria’s civil war with what he calls “the soft power of art.”
In 2011, after Jandali performed his controversial song “Watani Ana: I Am My Homeland” at a protest in Washington, his parents, who still lived in Syria, were beaten and their home ransacked, according to a Carnegie Corporation biographical sketch. Jandali blamed Syrian security forces for the attack, and promptly moved his parents to the U.S.
Born in Germany and raised in Syria, the musician dedicated the “Great Immigrants” honor to Syrian children. He posted this quote by Andrew Carnegie on his Twitter account: “There is no class so intensely patriotic … as the naturalized citizen and his child, for little does the native-born citizen know of the value of rights which have never been denied.”
After returning from New York, where he recorded works for his trio and filmed a music video (with Atlanta filmmaker Eric Haviv) in the streets, Jandali recharged over the Independence Day weekend.
Soon he’ll begin preparations for an international tour that launches in Toronto at the end of the month that will also take him to China, Qatar and Croatia. He’s busy with several composing projects, as well.
As in prior years of the “Great Immigrants” awards, there is no cash prize, nor ceremony, just recognition. In addition to The New York Times ad, the foundation has a website, greatimmigrants.org, that details the achievements of honorees. Among them are Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria), Samantha Power (Ireland), Rupert Murdoch (Australia), Henry Kissinger (Germany), Martina Navratilova (Czech Republic) and Albert Einstein (Germany).