Zaid Jabri


Southern Crux, a chamber opera in one act

Southern Crux is a chamber opera set in Cape Town two years after Charles Darwin and John Herschel crossed paths there in the turbulent nineteenth Century, the “Century of Scientific Discovery.” Darwin looked to the earth and Herschel to the sky to understand time—against the backdrop of slavery’s end in the far reaches of empire. Margaret Herschel, a skilled botanical illustrator, is packing for the Herschel’s return to England and writes to John’s aunt, the famed astronomer Caroline Herschel, about their arrival. Margaret and Philomena, a former slave, reminisce as they pack alongside other servants whom the Herschels, firm Abolitionists, have freed. They speculate about the approaching end of slavery while the men converse about universal questions. The opera thus interweaves the time of the universe (the infinite future), the time of evolution (the primordial past), and the time of freedom (imminence but also deferral). With tempo structured to reflect these three perspectives, the opera combines lyricism with landscape acoustics. The instrumentation for a string quartet includes a double bass, accordion, waterphone, and percussion to evoke the sounds of a port city and the Cape Colony’s slave musical tradition.

Zaid Jabri is a Syrian composer who works at the intersection of Western and Middle Eastern musical traditions. While still an undergraduate student, Jabri won the 1997 Adam Didur Composers’ Competition for his “Two Songs for Soprano and String Orchestra.” Other awards include a George Evans memorial fellowship at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts, a residency at the Tactus Young Composers Forum in Belgium, a residential fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, and, most recently, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute. Zaid Jabri’s work has been performed in over fifteen countries across Europe, the Middle East, Canada, and the United States. He has collaborated with Gideon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica, the English Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Zerafin, the Orchestra of the Teatro Communale, Bologna, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Neue Vocalsolisten in Stuttgart, the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra.

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