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Cornelius Dufallo, Jennifer Choi, violins; Ljova Zhurbin, viola; Yves Dharamraj, cello; with John King, oud*
Even before you've heard a single note of Free Palestine by the composer and instrumentalist John King (b. 1953), the work may well have made an impact for its title alone: a seeming reference to one of the more daunting, divisive sociopolitical conditions in modern global history.
For King - who became politically active during his late teenage years in Minneapolis during the Vietnam War era, participating in labor actions and protests, and later wrote music inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa - the question of Palestine has been an issue of particular interest. It follows, then, that Free Palestine, a unified sequence of relatively brief string quartet pieces composed from May 2013 to August 2014, is to some extent politically motivated.
Crucially, though, the work - wholly instrumental and essentially abstract in nature - does not convey a specific agenda. It is neither overt protest, nor a rallying cry. Instead, what Free Palestine ultimately represents is a kind of personal idealism, expressed in the action of a North American composer in the twenty-first century negotiating a new personal relationship with traditional Arabic music: experimenting with melodic modes (maqam'at) and rhythmic cycles (iqa'at), and transforming those elements for conventional Western instruments - personalizing the music, in a very real sense, in order to embed it within his own cultural milieu.
The work's lesson is not a blunt statement urging some particular form of action, but rather a simple acknowledgement of the invisible strands binding us in common humanity and intrinsic dignity, couched in a musical idiom invented not just to accommodate that commonality but to celebrate it.