Azerbaijan is a country not often heard of, or spoken of, here in California. It is no doubt a mystery land to many of us. While its location holds a degree of mystery, it is a part of Europe and there is one thing that is certain about the country: its culture is profoundly musical.
It’s for this reason that Azerbaijani music became such a part of Michelle Kaphar’s life. As a Azerbijani herself, it was at her encouragement that the Sacramento Youth Symphony, for which she is director, should bring her homeland’s music to Sacramento.
And that is exactly what is happening this Sunday, Nov. 5 in a rare American concert at the Crest Theatre that features classical Azerbaijani music. The Building Bridges concert and cultural event will feature the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s Premiere Orchestra for an evening that will include special Azerbaijani musical guests.
The fact that her country’s music will play in the States is monumental to Kaphar, who grew up in Azerbaijan under poverty conditions. Because Azerbaijan, which borders Russia and the Caspian Sea, has a politically controversial history, Kaphar asserts that it’s for this reason that music became so central to her culture. Music provided a freeing outlet that fulfilled her people’s need to express themselves in a once-oppressive society.
Kaphar tells of a piano given to her single mother when Michelle was ten years old. She became enamored with it, but her family forbade her from touching the piano since expensive luxuries were few and far between in her small apartment. Kaphar remembers listening to her neighbor play piano and she dreamed of a day she would be able to play the instrument.
While Kaphar never learned to play, she moved to America where she eventually saw her musical dream fulfilled. Today, her dream lives on in her daughter who plays violin.
“She happened to be very gifted in music,” said Kaphar. “She’s been a concert master and this year she joined the Premiere Orchestra, which is the top out of all five orchestras within the Sacramento Youth Symphony.”
Michelle’s enthusiastic support of her daughter’s musical pursuits is essentially what gave birth to the idea for Building Bridges.
“It’s like my dreams are fulfilled in my child’s life,” said Kaphar. “I was thinking one day that no one listens to music from my own country. Most people don’t even know where Azerbaijan is let alone that it is a country at all. One day I gave Michael Neumann [SYS Artistic Director] some music from my home country. [After he listened to it] he called me and said ‘Michelle, this music is so beautiful. I can’t believe we’ve never heard about it.”
It was at that moment that Neumann was inspired to create the event.
The song that inspired him most will, not surprisingly, be one of the concert’s prominent pieces. It’s a piece that Kaphar describes as the “passport of our country, in music.” Written by late classical Azerbaijan composer Fikrat Amirov, “Azerbaijan Capriccio” was the soundtrack for a movie made during the Russian occupation. In it, a hero attempts to liberate the people, and the song not only was the movie’s glorious anthem, but would also essentially become the country’s unofficial national anthem in the 1960s.
For Kaphar, the piece represents the culmination of the struggles she has overcome that brings her to a meaningful moment in which she is able to share her culture with America.
“It makes you think of living happily ever after,” said Kaphar. “When you listen to it, it’s so deep and so rich. It touches your soul.”
Building Bridges will not only present beautiful and moving music; Michelle has also organized Azerbaijani food, art, folk music, and dancing for entertainment after the concert. She and Neumann have arranged for 25 year-old Azerbaijani conductor Mustafa Mehmandarov to guest conduct the concert, Marziya Guseynova to sing soprano, and the general consul from Azerbaijan to be in attendance.
Michelle hopes that the audience will take as much from the experience as she has in sharing it.
“I can give something to my country,” said Kaphar. “But at the same time I can bring something beautiful to America with this event.”
Building Bridges is a culturally significant and unique concert that will only be able to bring disappointment to the ones who miss it.
The concert starts at 5:00 pm, with doors opening at 4:00 pm. Crest Theatre is located at 1013 K St. Tickets cost $20 and are available at the box office and online at Ticketfly.