Cecilia McDowall: The Girl from Aleppo (CR054)
Review by Philip Greenfield, American Record Guide
Convivium 54 – 19 minutes
The girl from Aleppo is Nujeen Mustafa, a physically handicapped Kurdish refugee of the Syria Civil War who was pushed in her wheelchair out of Syria into Turkey and across Eastern Europe to Germany. Now 21 and attending school there, she tells us that she escaped ISIS and cluster bombs only to be interrogated, fenced in, and reviled as yet another “threatening number” in the “ongoing nightmare” of Mid Eastern emigration to Western Europe. Well it goes without saying that Nujeen is not a threat, not a number, and decidedly not a nightmare. She is, instead, an enlightened soul who has shown eloquence and grace while teaching the world what it’s like to be young, stateless, powerless, and in the grip of cerebral palsy.
The brief 5 movement cantata by Cecilia McDowall tells the story using a text written by Christina Lamb, who chronicled the 3500 mile trek Nujeen made with her older sister, Nasrine who pushed the wheelchair much of the way. The music makes its point with intense ostinatos from the piano and pangs of guilt and grief from the violin. But it also sends a message of hope sung tenderly, child to child, by this wonderful choir.
That isn’t a typo up there in the heading: The Girl from Aleppo is only 19 minutes along. I suppose it would be easy to look away from such a short programme, even though I’ve seen it on sale for only $7. Frankly, though, I think we have done enough looking away lately, as individuals and a country. It might be a good time to pay attention, and this labor of love, faith, and moral urgency could help us do it.
Philip Greenfield, American Record Guide, September 2020