Composer focus: Bushra El-Turk

I was born and raised in London to Lebanese parents who fled the civil war. They encouraged me to take up musical instruments at school. All I wanted to do was improvise and write my own music. One day, on 2 January 2000, a little black bird twittered a rhythm repeatedly on my balcony, which dictated the rest of my life - as a composer… and other things.

I studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for five years. After I finished my studies, I applied to different composition competitions and became finalist in the Aberdeen Music Prize in association with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for my string quartet,Eating Clouds. Things took off from there - I started being invited around Europe to masterclasses and festivals.

During my Guildhall years, I was encouraged to follow my roots; to incorporate this idea of home in my music, but my idea of home was in a constant state of flux. I have always felt like I was a mosaic of identities, completely reactionary against the idea of borders and categorisation imposed upon me, either as nations or as an artist. I did other things too… there was so much more I wanted to explore. I found it difficult to be defined, to accept my definition, or to define one single thing, so I became interested in the blurring of things - where one tries to find the line where one thing dissolves into another, whether it is in styles of music, or other art forms. This kind of thinking led me to work with musicians of different cultural traditions in one piece, where notating music blurs into improvisation, as well as the blurring of the musical gesture into movement and dance and theatre. No one art form is clear cut, and I don’t think it ever has been.

With the new music theatre piece I’m working on, Woman at Point Zero, based on the seminal novel by Nawal El Saadawi, we are enquiring into the nature and interconnectedness of sound, breath and gesture which form the basis of questioning the very style and nature of story telling in opera, working with the choreographer/director Maria Koripas and soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos and writer Sabrina Mahfouz. Our ensemble on stage, Ensemble Zar, is made up of wind musicians from different ancient traditions. Selected scenes of Woman at Point Zero was presented with the Royal Opera House as part of the Shubbak Festival in July 2017.

As a musician, and other things, there is no one pathway. Success has many identities. If you cannot fit in, you create your own routes, and create your own rules. The world is small as it is big. Just stay inquisitive, open, try things out, and fail. Keep creating.

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