Singer, composer and one of the world’s most acclaimed oud players, Marcel Khalife has been, since the 1970s, a vital presence in the Arabic music world. His first appearance at Byblos Festival will be marked by an impressive production: accompanied by the Al Mayadine Ensemble, a choir of 60 singers, and 80 musicians of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Harout Fazlian, this legend with a rebel soul will sing the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, Ounsi El Hage and Joseph Harb among others, revisiting four decades of a brilliant repertoire.
Marcel Khalife 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 has been injecting a new life into it ever since.
From 1972 to 1975, Marcel Khalife 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 Khalife were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.
In 1972, Marcel Khalife 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. 1976 saw the birth of Marcel Khalife'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 Khalife began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.
Marcel Khalife has been invited several times to festivals of international fame such as: Baalbeck, Beiteddine (Lebanon), Carthage, El Hammamat (Tunisia), Jarash (Jordan), Arles (France), the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco and the Kennedy Center Arabesque Festival in Washington DC.
Khalife has performed in such prestigious halls as the "Palace of Arts" in Montreal, "Berklee Theatre" in Boston, "Royal Festival Hall", and "Queen Elizabeth Hall" in London, Cairo Opera House (Egypt), "House of the Cultures of the World", “The Champs Elysees Theater” and "UNESCO Hall" in Paris, Konzerthaus in Berlin, "Sydney Opera House" and the “Teatro Alla Scalla Milano” in Italy.
He has also composed several purely instrumental works like The Symphony of Return, Sharq, Concerto Al Andalus- Suite for oud and Orchestra, Arabian Concerto violin concerto, 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. One of his recent works, Sharq, a choral symphonic composition was performed by the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Piacenza Choir. His latest work, Arabian Concerto, premiered at the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra inaugural concert and was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and at the Champs Elysees Theater in Paris and at “Teatro Alla Scalla Milano” in Italy and at the Royal Albert Hall in London, all under the baton of Maestro Lorin Maazel. His latest composition, the concerto for Rababa and orchestra, premiered by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) at the Opera House in Doha/Qatar, under the baton of Maestro Thomas Kalb. Marcel Khalife’s symphonic compositions have been conducted by other world class conductors like James Gaffigan, Karl Heinz- Stephens, Vladimir Sirinko, Karl Martin, Nader Abbassi, Kristjan Jarvi, Amine Khouider, Misak Baghbodarian, Sian Edwards, Lorin Selest Fox, Evelinne Avillo, Cornelia Von Kersinbrook and Fernendaz Alverez.
Since 1982, Marcel Khalife 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 Khalife's lyrical and instrumental recordings add up to more than 20 albums and DVDs. Since 1974, Marcel Khalife 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 Summer Night's Dream (1992), Alissar, Queen Of Carthage (1997) and Andalusia (2000).
Marcel Khalife has also been composing soundracks for film documentaries produced by Maroun Baghdadi like 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 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 Hollywood produced films like 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 Khalife's works has 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 tens of awards in the Arab World and Internationally. Upon his receipt of the National Palestine Medal for Arts and Culture in 2001, Khalife 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 Khalife National Music Competition that grants young gifted musicians financial support for their continued music education. He has received numerous awards throughout the years, most notably the Lebanese Cedar Medal (Presidential Award) in 2005. That same year, he was also named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his artistic achievement and humanitarian contributions.
From historic muwashshah to oriental-meets-electronic projects, Marcel Khalife doesn’t follow Arab tradition — he reinvents it. On his journey, he has created original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. And it's with a new take on his repertoire that he will be gracing the Byblos Festival stage: a historical evening in the making!