Syrian Music Preservation Initiative to Present Love and Loss: Traditional Music of Syria at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall

Article Contributed by Anat | Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2023

On Friday, May 19, 2023, the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative (SMPI) will present an evening featuring works by Syrian composers, Love and Loss: Classical Music of Syria to mark its fifth anniversary at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

The celebration begins at 8:00 PM and features SMPI’s Takht al-Nagham (an Arab chamber music ensemble), led by Artistic Director Samer Ali. The group includes instruments traditional to the takht including the oud (Arab lute), qanun (Arab zither) and riq (tambourine).

“The theme of love and loss is common throughout the classical Syrian repertoire and remains relevant to their reality today,” Samer Ali said. “We are dedicated to preserving and invigorating the diverse regional music traditions of Syria, and this performance will promote the musical heritage through both older, lesser-known works and contemporary pieces. In this way, we celebrate the past, present and future of Syrian music.”

The one-night only event will feature works by Mahmood Aijan, Wanees Wartanian, Majdi al-’Aqili, Ramez Khaskiyya, Khalil Haj Hussein, and Samer Ali, as well as traditional works by other Syrian composers. Joining Samer Ali (violin) on stage will be Marissa Arciola Ali (bass), Brian Prunka (oud), John Murchison (qanun), Nezih Antakli (riq), Gideon Forbes (nay), Lubana Al Quntar (vocals), and in the choir, Zahra al-Zubaidi, Erik Jönsson, Marwa Morgan, and Stefan Paolini.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.

Tickets can be purchased at…. Masks are not required though they are encouraged. Doors open a half hour before the event. For directions, visit

You can view a previous performance here:

Founded in 2018, SMPI promotes and celebrates the diverse ethnic and regional musical traditions of Syria through preservation, innovation, research, and education. Its activities include music and dance performances, classes, workshops, and seminars, as well as digital resources and recordings.

Samer Ali, a native of Syria, is a physician, violinist, oudist, composer, and founder and artistic director of SMPI. An apprentice of Muhammad Qadri Dalal, the oud virtuoso, musicologist and prolific scholar of Arab maqam musical system, Samer has led Takht al-Nagham, SMPI's Arab chamber music ensemble, in New York at Roulette Intermedium; Florida at Miami Beach Bandshell; and Washington, DC at Kennedy Center.

Marissa Arciola Ali is a bassist, strategist and leader with a unique combination of artistic and business experience. She has worked with a number of nonprofit organizations while playing with groups ranging from classical, rock, and Middle Eastern music. As President of the SMPI board, and member of Takht al-Nagham, Marissa helps to move the organization forward both programmatically and financially, by putting a focus on the digital initiatives, prioritizing projects, and growing donation and fundraising prospects.

Lubana al-Quntar is regarded as one of the leading opera singers of the Arab world, with a repertoire that also includes traditional Arabic, folk and pop music. Born in Damascus, she completed her academic studies at the Royal College of Music in London and the Damascus Conservatory of Music, and studied operatic performance at the Maastricht Academy of Music in Holland She has appeared globally as an opera soloist and as a traditional Arab singer, and headed the opera department at the Damascus Conservatory where she taught opera and Arabic singing. Lubana has performed with Takht al-Nagham as a featured vocalist at Kennedy Center in DC and at Roulette in New York.

John Murchison is a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist who performs in the worlds of pop and musical theater,  jazz and avant-garde, and traditional music from the Middle East and Africa. John is one of the most in-demand bassists for traditional Arabic music in the United States, and also performs regularly on qanun, gimbri, oud, and percussion. He is cofounder of Brooklyn Maqam, an organization dedicated to presenting, promoting, and building community around Arabic music in the NYC area.

Zahra al-Zubaidi is a New York-based Iraqi vocalist who performs a wide range of Arabic styles, with a focus on Iraqi music. She has performed as a featured artist around the US, and as a guest/chorus with  several internationally renowned artists such as Muhammad Qadri Dalal, Lubana AlQuntar, with Takht al-Nagham and other ensembles like Safaafir and Hamid AlSaadi. In 2021, she was awarded the City Artist Corps grant to showcase women’s voices & the Iraqi Maqam, and recently performed at NYC’s historic Joe’s Pub for the 2022 Habibi Festival.

Nezih Antakli is a New York City-based percussionist who has performed nationally in numerous venues like the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, as well as internationally on a variety of festivals around the world as well as on the Broadway Show "The Band's Visit". A graduate of the University for the Arts in Rotterdam, Netherlands (CODARTS), he moved to the United States in 2007 and has been involved in the Middle Eastern and Balkan music scene in the wider New York City and Philadelphia area.

Marwa Morgan is a New York City-based Egyptian singer and journalist. She grew up in Cairo, where she was always surrounded by classical Egyptian music and started singing at an early age. Since she moved to the United States in 2015, music became a way to connect Marwa to her home despite the distance. She performed with several ensembles in the U.S., including Takht al-Nagham, The Middle East Music Orchestra at Rutgers university among others.

Erik Jönsson is a Brooklyn-based vocalist who began singing at a young age in his church's choir in the Hudson Valley. Decades later, he is still singing in church as a member of Trinity Church Wall Street's Downtown Voices and has sung as a member of that choir at Carnegie Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) as part of the Mark Morris Dance Group's production of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and Madison Square Garden in concert with Andrea Bocelli. An active clarinetist who frequently performs with orchestras like the Chelsea Symphony, he is a software engineer at The New York Times Cooking and has worked with the SMPI to build and launch their website and perform with its ensemble, Takht al-Nagham.

The performance also features several musicians who were selected after an audition process, which was open to anyone from the community who wanted to perform with SMPI; the musicians include three siblings of Syrian descent from Pennsylvania: Kyla (violin), Chris (qanun), and Makayl Manja (violin); as well, as Amirah Ismail (violin), who is of Egyptian descent and from Washington, D.C., and Laith al-Attar (oud), who is of Iraqi descent and also from the DC area.  

Said Arciola Ali, “Arabic Music is under-represented in main stage concerts in the United States, and Syrian music is even more obscure. We are dedicated to elevating works by Syrian composers in the public eye, offering an opportunity to represent part of the Arab-American community on stage and fostering a cultural understanding for non-Arabs.”

Added Samer Ali, "We perform this music because we love it, because it is important, and because music itself is the language which breeds understanding and community.”