Albuquerque composer and virtuosic oudist Rahim Alhaj calls his newest composition, “Fly Away,” an unusual piece. Its instrumentation—oud and four guitars, including a six-string contrabass—isn’t exactly common on the chamber music scene.
What’s really unusual, though, is the piece’s tone. “Mainly, my compositions—sad, sad,” Alhaj says, laughing. “This composition has a liberating feeling—when you think you have wings and can fly.”
On Sunday afternoon, Chamber Music Albuquerque (CMA) will give Alhaj and Argentina’s Santa Fe Guitar Quartet (SFGQ)—Chris Dorsey, Mariano Fontana, Miguel Piva and Eric Slavin—a runway for the world premiere of “Fly Away.”
The project got started a couple of years ago when Slavin saw Alhaj in concert. The two hit it off, and that led to a commission from the quartet.
Alhaj decided he needed to explore a new direction. “The fun part of me, I need to express,” he says. “There is a wild, playful side of me.”
Playful or not, Alhaj focuses on making the music “more real,” he says. For him, music is not just entertainment; it’s a vehicle for understanding, engagement, meditation.
“What’s it mean when you’re happy?” he asks. “How do you express yourself when you are really playful? How do you express yourself when you’re in a state that your soul is really fresh and light and you need just to play—regardless of the sadness and the tragedy around the world?”
While structured much like a string quartet, Alhaj says “Fly Away” gives each instrument an individual and equal voice, which encourages a joyful interaction. The music challenges the players’ abilities but allows them to demonstrate their virtuosity and express themselves. “I’ve left room for improvisation,” he notes.
For CMA, the convergence of SFGQ’s scheduled appearance, the new composition and Alhaj’s availability was a happy accident, says Executive Director Joseph Franklin. Nonetheless, he says, this event falls in line with CMA’s desire to commission new work. What’s more, CMA is working to bring Alhaj, flutist Robert Mirabal and the chamber group Ethel into an artistic residency to develop a new composition. “All of this is about collaborative efforts. We’re really reaching out to develop collaborative relationships across the board,” Franklin says.
“Fly Away,” which be recorded shortly after the performance, will also figure in a much larger project envisioned by Alhaj, titled “It’s Possible—Voices for Peace.” He is working to record and perform a series of compositions with diverse musicians from every continent—and to bring these musicians together for a group performance with proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders.
“This is to make a statement that it’s one earth, it’s one voice,” says Alhaj. “It’s about making a difference.”