Apple Hill Middle East Tour 2018

Lenny’s Travelogue

Cyprus and Jerusalem
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Cyprus and Jerusalem

Today is Friday, February 23, we just finished our residency in Jerusalem, our tour is over now, and we are at the start of a long 20-hour journey back home to NH. It has been a terrific trip…but we are ready after three weeks on the road to be back home.

Cyprus and Jerusalem were great places for us to visit at the end of our tour because we met so many current and former students, many who are now professional musicians, due to Apple Hill’s long history of visiting both countries–30 years to be exact, since 1988.

Presidential Symphony of Cyprus 2018Our Cyprus visit consisted of teaching students from both the North and South communities of Cyprus, and rehearsing and performing with the Presidential Orchestra–a new orchestra in Northern Cyprus where two of the founding members, Sinem and Nihat, are alumni of Apple Hill. Sinem was our host for our stay in Cyprus. What does a host do you might ask? Well, for each country they arrange and fund our in-country transportation, our hotels, meals, and plan/schedule our musical activities. Reem in Jordan and Seba in Beirut were fantastic and Sinem was no exception. We were busy but found time to explore the area and sample some delicious food in amazing restaurants.

The quartet had a whole new set of repertoire for this leg of the tour, Shostakovich Octet and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, and Kinan performed his own work for clarinet and orchestra. Our bi-communal master class took place in the old city of Nicosia and our longtime friend and alumnus, clarinetist George Georgiou, and many other teachers Apple Hill has worked with for the past 20 years brought their students to play for us–a new generation of musicians for us to reach. We each took turns teaching in front of a packed audience. The students were terrific and once again I was thinking of how to get them all to Apple Hill this summer!

After lunch in the old city, the quartet and Kinan started their rehearsals with the orchestra. This is a fairly new orchestra supported by the President of Northern Cyprus, who had been a violinist as a young boy. They are serious musicians, motivated to play high quality concerts, and eventually travel. Nihat is the concertmaster and the high-energy presence of the orchestra. It was great to see him in action. We were surprised to see so many in the orchestra who had been to Apple Hill over the years–surprised and delighted to reconnect with everyone. Over the course of the next few days, we rehearsed, had coffee with the President to thank him for everything (including getting students to Apple Hill this summer!), went to some amazing restaurants, had a pre-concert dinner at the home of Sinem cooked by Sinem’s mom and grandmother, got a tie from Sinem’s father after I complimented him on it (it had camels on it!), and throughout our stay we met so many wonderful new friends. The final concert for a full house was exciting and the quartet and Kinan stayed for many photos with audience attendees afterwards. We ended the night at a great little club for a post-concert hang with many in the orchestra that lasted until the wee hours of the night where Kinan improvised a set for the crowd and another set featured one of the orchestra violinists singing some ‘40s tunes with the band. We left the next day tired, but full of admiration and respect for everyone and what they are accomplishing in Cyprus, but we especially give a love shout out to Sinem who is not only a wonderful violist and musician, but a most excellent host.

We arrived in Jerusalem that evening. Our three-day stay featured a residency at the Hassadna Conservatory with Apple Hill alumna and conservatory director Lena Nemirovsky as our host. We spent our days there coaching chamber groups and the quartet rehearsed Mozart’s D Major Viola Quintet, with guest violist Yoni Gertner, for our public concert Friday afternoon. Yoni attended Apple Hill back in the 90s as a young musician and now plays with the Israeli Philharmonic. He’ll join us this summer as faculty violist at the 5th session in August.

Students at Hassadna Conservatory Jerusalem 2018

Students at Hassadna Conservatory, Jerusalem

The young students who played for us were great–prepared, excellent players, and open to all of our comments. They shared our public concert the next day for a full and lively audience of families, friends, and many alumni. It was great to see Harriet Feinberg, a presence at Apple Hill for many years, in the audience–she made the trip from the states to Jerusalem to visit us at the Conservatory. I loved Lena’s introduction to the concert where she shared what she learned at Apple Hill–a supportive, inclusive, and loving environment where all performers were enthusiastically cheered–she encouraged the audience to do just that and the cheering commenced!

A recurring theme of the entire tour was reconnecting with so many Apple Hill alums we knew as young students and now are either adult professionals performing or teaching music, serving as directors or founders of music programs, or in school getting advanced degrees in music. It has been the best part of the tour–being with everyone again, answering their questions about the current Apple Hill (everyone’s first question is “How is the Concert Barn?”), hearing them reminisce about their time at Apple Hill, and catching us up on how they are doing–we have loved all of it.

Elise did an outstanding job planning and working on the many details for this tour; we were on tour from February 4–24; performed 16 events: 6 concerts, 6 educational events, and 4 outreach events; we reached 2,200 audience and students; we performed over 30 different pieces of music; and the hosts were all Apple Hill alum: Reem in Jordan, Seba in Beirut, Sinem in Cyprus, and Lena in Jerusalem…all women!

Much of our travel expenses not covered by our hosts—flights, overhead—was covered by the Putnam Foundation and Jan and Rick Cohen. Without their generosity, none of this would be happening.

I loved every single thing I ate. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious every meal was–but I ate everything I could. I did go crazy this time for baklava–the many different kinds were outstanding. The visits to refugee camps were beyond any kind of experience I’ve ever had. Of course we have heard about these and seen photos and news reports, but actually going there, meeting the children, seeing where people live, and watching everyone listen to music is still taking time for me to process–these visits were important for us to do.

I loved traveling with the quartet. We have been all over the world together, and appreciate and enjoy each other but also respect when we need to be on our own. As the Director of Apple Hill, it is wonderful for me to see the Quartet serve as the public representatives for Apple Hill–and I can say without hesitation that they are kind, supportive, authentic, true to themselves, they are great musicians and performers, they take a stand publicly for the Apple Hill values, and they are admired by everyone. I love them.

I have to say that we were fortunate to travel with Kinan, who was a spectacular presence and a beautiful performer and colleague throughout. I’ll never forget the looks on every orchestra person’s face in Cyprus when they were performing with Kinan–psyched to be on the stage with him.

These trips remind me of how much I love to travel and how lucky I am to be doing so as a musician. Touring is a heightened, concentrated, and intense time, and I love that. Everything is constant–always in touch with music, listening and being with the Quartet, Kinan, our hosts, soaking up the Middle East, and meeting the young musicians together with my love for everything Apple Hill—and all those “constant” elements together can be overwhelming, but for me, they are reassuring and life-affirming. After experiencing so much on tour, I have gained perspective, I’m thankful, and I see the world in a new and different way with many possibilities.
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Today is Sunday, February 18, and we are in beautiful sunny Cyprus after an incredible week in Beirut. We were hosted in Beirut by two alumni of Apple Hill, Amr Selim and Seba Ali, who attended Apple Hill in 2008 as a young engaged couple from Egypt. They stayed in the States after Apple Hill to get their masters and doctorate degrees in music and are now settled in Beirut–married and the parents of a lively daughter, 2-year-old Laila–and both are faculty professors at the Lebanese-American University (LAU) in Beirut. We were invited along with Kinan Azmeh to LAU to take part in the Imagine Workshop and Concert Series, a multi-disciplinary series of concerts, workshops, lectures, panel discussions, exhibitions, outreach, and educational programs. Seba serves as the director of the entire series.

AHSQ with Seba Ali at Lebanese American University 2018

Apple Hill String Quartet with pianist and AH alumna Seba Ali at Lebanese American University.

Upon our arrival in Beirut, we were struck by the cosmopolitan feel and energy of the city. I suppose it is due to its reputation as one of the oldest cities in the world (5,000 years old) and the fact that it has Phoenician, Roman, Ottoman, Greek, and French influences (it is nicknamed the Paris of the Middle East). We wanted to investigate and sample it all.

However, the quartet and Kinan were busy – rehearsing new repertoire for performances with Seba (piano) and Amr (French horn); performing in Byblos (said to be the oldest city in the world) and Beirut; rehearsing and performing original compositions by LAU students; performing a concert for children with autism and their families; being interviewed and photographed; visiting two refugee camps; teaching LAU and Beirut Conservatory students; and taking part in a pre-concert panel discussion that touched on the many aspects of chamber music. The quartet and Kinan were nothing short of spectacular in everything they did. Here is a note from Seba that gives you an idea of how they did:

Dear Apple Hill and Kinan, On behalf of the Department of Communication Arts at LAU and IWCS, I would like to thank you for your spectacular residency of seven life-changing events at LAU and beyond. Salaam was able to reach out and work with more than 900 people in just 5 days. Diverse communities from Ketermaya, Nabaa, Byblos, Beirut, and all over Lebanon are going to remember Salaam as a powerful act to promote peace, harmony, and justice. Yesterday was the very first classical performance for individuals with autism in Lebanon, and the feedback from them and their parents is truly overwhelming! Our LAU students and the students of the conservatory are forever grateful to be part of Salaam.

Thank you for everything. We cannot wait to welcome you again at LAU.

-Seba Ali

I, on the other hand, had a great time discovering Beirut. I met a film crew and actors from the UK making a film about refugees (lots of great conversations); met and spent time with Kinan’s parents and family friends visiting from Syria and Saudi Arabia; met volunteers from the US that are helping refugees in one of the camps we visited (; went to a Palestinian Women’s Collective and admired many incredibly beautiful Palestinian embroidery designs–the sales support the culture and the women (who do the embroidery) of Palestinian camps –  (; sampled Turkish coffee, many different kinds of hummus, and baklava in cafes, etc. etc.

I did spend time teaching in a master class along with Elise and Colleen. We heard violinists from LAU and the Beirut Conservatory. The students were wonderful – slightly nervous to play for us but full of music and responsive to our comments. One of our alumni from 17 years ago, Gilbert Kandalaft, now teaching violin at the conservatory, was at the class to support one of his students playing for us. Colleen and Elise were so great with everyone–positive, gentle, and encouraging while giving the exact right amount of feedback to push everyone to their next steps. I of course want every student to be with us at Apple Hill this summer!

Amr and Seba are on a mission at LAU to stress the importance of the arts, live concert performance, and collaboration. They work hard and are constantly in touch with their goals and what they want to accomplish. We were thrilled to have some part in supporting their efforts. I admired the enthusiasm of the LAU students; I was humbled by our performances at the refugee camps–the contrast between the conditions of the camps versus the open and positive enthusiasm of the children was striking; once again Kinan’s new piece received rave reviews; and we were extremely happy that we performed for full houses everywhere.

Two years ago the quartet and I talked to Kinan about traveling with us to the Middle East and I wanted to include Beirut on the trip. I’m glad we did because Beirut is a great place–complex, rich, intense, mysterious, and full of so much. I can say without hesitation that it was a fulfilling time for us. I hope we can go back. Congratulations and many thanks to Amr and Seba for their hospitality and for all the good they are doing in Lebanon.

See below for photos.
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Today is Sunday, February 11, the final day of our week-long residency at King’s Academy, outside of Amman, in Jordan. This is the first part of our tour to the Middle East with clarinetist, composer, Apple Hill alumnus, and Apple Hill faculty member Kinan Azmeh. Since we like to perform a work by a composer from the area we are visiting–e.g. two years ago we performed Turkish composer Ahmed Saygun’s String Quartet No. 1 in Istanbul, and for last year’s trip to Peru we performed Peruvian composer Garrido-Lecca’s String Quartet No. 2–for this trip Apple Hill commissioned Kinan to write a quintet, In the Element, which we are performing with him in every country, along with many other works, throughout our tour.

Mike and Syrian refugee children at an elementary school in Zarqa 2018

AH violist Mike Kelley with an enthusiastic student. Outreach concert for Syrian refugee children at an elementary school in Zarqa, Jordan.

This morning, the Quartet and Kinan have been asked to perform for a group of Syrian refugee children by Terre des Hommes Italy, part of the Terre des Hommes International Federation, an organization that is actively responding to the Middle Eastern crisis by providing humanitarian relief, educational programs, and community development projects for thousands of children and their families without racial, religious, political, cultural, or gender-based discrimination.

They have just returned from what sounds like an amazing experience. Elise wrote the following:

Had a wonderful morning performing excerpts from Brahms and Azmeh Clarinet Quintets for Syrian refugee children at an elementary school in Zarqa. One of my favorite moments was all of the kids shouting ‘VIOLA!’ at the top of their lungs. The school also collaborates with a women’s farm collective outside Amman. We played and drank fresh sage tea from the farm. A good morning.

In fact, most of what has happened this past week has been amazing…and even miraculous.

Our first activity at the start of our residency was to listen to the King’s Academy school orchestra, conducted by Nadine Cunningham, who spent a summer at Apple Hill a few years back. On the stage was her sister, violist Carolyn Cunningham, who has spent many summers at Apple Hill and now teaches strings at King’s Academy, as well as King’s students who had been to Apple Hill at various different summers as a result of our scholarship partnership with King’s. They performed a beautiful Brahms motet for us. The next day we played for the entire King’s lower and upper school student body and faculty, and that evening performed our public concert of Haydn, Azmeh, and Brahms for a full house–many of them Apple Hill alumni and friends from past tours to Jordan–in the gallery at King’s under a stunning chandelier that we have loved since coming to King’s in 2009. It was a beautiful and compelling concert–much appreciated by everyone present, especially Kinan’s incredible quintet!

Jordan concert with Kinan, pic with AH alum Mona Alkhalaileh 2018

After a concert at King’s Academy in Jordan, Lenny, Elise, Mike, and Rupert with Kinan Azmeh and AH alumna Mona Alkhalaileh.

Our chamber music workshop started the next day, attended by 20 students, ages 11-25, from a variety of countries: Jordan, Germany, USA, Australia, Spain, Palestine, China, and Korea. These “on the road” workshops on our tours are like mini-Apple Hill summer sessions, shorter, 3 or 4 days in length, but like the summer, they are intensive, challenging, productive, and everyone is encouraged to do their best. The Quartet, Kinan, and I each had one group to coach and mentor for the workshop. Their final concert was thrilling. We witnessed 20 musicians attentive to the music and each other while using the five skills of chamber music throughout their performance–watching, listening, being sensitive, being flexible, and then adapting. Definitely miraculous to witness when one considers that some were new to chamber music and others had never met until the workshop.

Throughout our stay I have been struck by the enthusiastic and welcoming atmosphere of King’s, a private school founded by the King of Jordan ten years ago based on his experience as a high school student at Deerfield Academy. Our host, Reem Abu Rahmeh, an Apple Hill alumna of many years, is dean of the middle school. She is a most capable, responsible, thoughtful, intelligent, and gracious host, much admired and appreciated by everyone. I loved seeing Reem in HER element! I remember our first visit to King’s in 2009. Reem was the music teacher back then, and one of her goals was to have all students learn to play an instrument. Now as the dean of the middle school, her dream has been realized – every middle school students plays an instrument. Many thanks to her for all she did for us, including taking us to some amazing (that word again) restaurants to sample the delicious cuisine of the region–definitely another of the many highlights of our stay in Jordan.

Our next stop is Beirut, Lebanon, a weeklong residency at the Lebanese-American University hosted by Apple Hill alumni Seba Ali and Amr Selim, both on the faculty of the University.

-Apple Hill Director Lenny Matczynski
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