The Kennedy Center

Marcel Khalifé


Marcel Khalifé (composer) was born on June 10, 1950 in Amchit, Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1971, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the oud.

At a very young age Marcel Khalifé exhibited a strong passion and love for sound and music. He expressed it by banging on household items from pots and pans and playing the strings of handmade chairs. Sensing his talent and gift of music his mother talked his father into buying him a musical instrument. This is when the oud entered his life for the first time. The next day, his mother took him to a retired policeman by the name of Hanna Karam who had some music training from his work with the police marching band. Mr. Karam taught young Marcel Khalifé as much as he could, and then told his parents that they had a very talented son who needed to study music in a more serious and rigorous manner. Marcel Khalifé therefore entered the National Conservatory of Music in Beirut under the guidance of the renowned oud player and teacher Farid Ghosn.

From 1972 to 1975, Marcel Khalifé taught at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music, public universities and other local private music institutions. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the oud.

Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalifé were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints, thus greatly expanding its possibilities.

In 1972, Marcel Khalifé created a musical group in his native village, Amchit, with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. The year 1976 saw the birth of Marcel Khalifé's Al Mayadine Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble's musical experiences, Al Mayadine's notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalifé began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.

Marcel Khalifé has been invited several times to festivals of international renown, such as Baalbeck; Beit Eddine (Lebanon); Carthage, El Hammamat (Tunisia); Timgad (Algeria); Jarash (Jordan); Arles (France); Krems; Linz (Austria); Bremen (Germany); ReOrient (Sweden); Pavia (Italy); World Music Festivals in San Francisco, New York, Cleveland (USA); and Wellington Music Festival (New Zealand).

He has performed in such prestigious halls as the Palace of Arts in Montreal, Symphony Space and Merkin Concert in New York; Berklee Theatre and New England Conservatory in Boston; the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; Royal Festival Hall, and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London; UNESCO Palace of Beirut; Cairo Opera House (Egypt); Reciprocity, House of the Cultures of the World and UNESCO Hall in Paris; Central Dionysia in Rome; Yerba Buena in San Francisco; Sodra Teatern in Stockholm; Bozar in Brussels; Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam; Konzerthaus in Berlin; Detroit Symphony Hall in Detroit; Sydney Opera House and The Arts Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

He has also composed several purely instrumental works, among them The Symphony of Return, Sharq, Concerto Al Andalus- Suite for Oud and Orchestra, Mouda'aba (Caress), Diwan Al Oud, Jadal Oud duo, Oud Quartet, Al Samaa in the traditional Arabic forms and Taqasim, duo for oud and double bass which was awarded the Grand Prize of the prestigious Charles Cros Academy in France in November 2007. His most recent work is Sharq, a choral-symphonic composition which was performed by the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Piacenza Choir.

Marcel Khalifé's compositions have been performed by several orchestras, notably the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Boulogne Billancourt Orchestra, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of the City of Tunis, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Italian Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra and the Absolute Ensemble.

Since 1982, Marcel Khalifé has been writing books on music that reflect his avant-garde compositions and the maturity of his experience. He published Al Samaa, a collection of compositions for various traditional Arab musical instruments (1981), a six part methodology for the study of the oud (1982), and Arabic Music-Theory and Practice (French Edition, 1984), Jadal oud Duo (1996), OUD (1997), Andalusian Suite for Oud and Orchestra (2002).

His challenges, however, are not only musical in character. Interpreter of music and oud performer, he is also a composer who is deeply attached to the text on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestinian poet par excellence, Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of the Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it.

Marcel Khalifé's lyrical and instrumental recordings add up to more than 20 albums and DVDs, Promises of the Storm (1976), Rain Songs (1977), Wherefrom Do I Enter the Homeland? (1978), Weddings (1979), At the Borders (1979), Stripped Bare (1980), Happiness (1981), The Bridge (1983), Collections- 3 Albums (1984), Dreamy Sunrise (1984), Ahmad Al Arabi (1984), Peace Be With You (1989), Ode To A Homeland (1990), Arabic Coffeepot (1995), Jadal Oud Duo (1996), Magic Carpet (1998), Concerto Al Andalus (2002), Caress (2004), Voyageur DVD (2004), Taqasim (2007), Sharq CD & DVD (2007).

Since 1974, Marcel Khalifé has been composing music for dance which gave rise to a new genre of dance, the popular Near Eastern ballet (Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, and Popular Art Ensemble). His compositions for dance include The Marvels of the Prodigy (1974), The Black Tents (1978), A Shot of Glory (1980), The Taming of the Shrew (1981), Echoes (1981), Summer Night's Dream (1992), Alissar, Queen Of Carthage (1997) and Andalusia (2000).

Marcel Khalifé has also composed soundtracks for documentaries produced by Maroun Baghdadi, such as Kamal Jumblatt (1976), The Martyr (1977), All for the Homeland (1978), Whispers (1979), and Maarouf Saad (1979) by Samir Zaki. He also scored music for the fiction film The Half Meter Incident (1981) and The Box of the World (2003) by Ousama Mohammad. His published music has also been used in the Hollywood films East-West (2006) and Rendition (2007) and also used in independently produced films like Driving to ZigZigland (2006) by Nicole Ballivian and Me, the Other (2006) by Mohsen Melliti.

Marcel Khalifé's works have been critically acclaimed both in the Arab world and worldwide. His creativity, innovations and his educational and humanitarian concerns and contributions to the promotion of arts and culture in the Arab world have earned him many awards in the Arab world and internationally. Upon his receipt of the National Palestine Medal for Arts and Culture in 2001, Khalifé contributed the financial part of the Award to the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine. The Conservatory has since established in his name an annual music competition under the title of The Marcel Khalifé National Music Competition which grants young gifted musicians financial support for their continued music education.

Awards and other recognitions include: The Intellectual Merit and Achievement Medal (Fez, Morocco, 2008); Charles Cros Award (World Music category) (Paris, France, 2008); World Lebanese Cultural Union Award (Beirut, Lebanon, 2008); Cultural Movement Award (Antelias, Lebanon, 2008); Freemuse Ambassador (Copenhagen, Denmark, 2007); UNESCO Artist For Peace (Paris, France, 2005); The Lebanese Cedar Medal (Presidential Award, Lebanon, 2005); The National Palestine Medal (Palestine, 2001); Algerian Ministry of Youth Award (Algiers, Algeria, 1984); South Lebanon Cultural Council (Lebanon, 1984); Arab American University Graduates (United States, 1982); Arab American Community Center for Social and Economic Services (ACCESS) (Dearborn, United States, 1982); Lebanese Ministry of Tourism (Beirut, Lebanon, 1981); The Jerusalem Medal (Beirut, Lebanon, 1981); The Cultural Achievement Award (Tunis, Tunisia, 1980); The American Folkloric Festival Award (United States, 1975); The Arab Music Foundation Award (Tunis, Tunisia, 1974).

On his journeys, Marcel Khalifé creates original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. This language elevates him to the level of an ambassador of his own culture and to the vanguard of Arabic music in search of innovators.

In June 2005 Marcel Khalifé was named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his artistic achievement and humanitarian contributions.

In 2008, Marcel Khalifé was named the music director and the resident composer of the newly founded Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.
Marcel Khalifé