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Three Poetic Traditions Inspire A Mideast Symphony

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For his third symphony, the 26-year-old American composer Mohammed Fairouz decided to incorporate text in three languages. Poems and Prayers, which had its debut Thursday in New York, features passages in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic.

The symphony was commissioned by Northeastern University, where Fairouz teaches. The idea was to write something exploring the conflicts in the Middle East, so for inspiration, Fairouz delved into the region's poetry — both ancient and modern.

"In reading the poetry, I started to develop an idea of synthesizing these poems, as well as some of the ancient liturgies of the Middle East, to form what the title of the symphony implies: poems and prayers," Fairouz says. "And the symphony is scored for chorus, orchestra, solo vocalists, solo instrumentalists — so there's a variety of ways in which these texts can be articulated."

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Fairouz about assembling the symphony and the stories behind some of the movements.

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