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Program Notes

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Benjamin Attahir: Jawb, for String Octet

Born in Toulouse, France in 1989, Benjamin Attahir began his musical training as a violinist before becoming passion- ate about composing. He studied composition with Édith Canat de Chizy, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Pierre Boulez, and violin with Ami Flammer. As a violinist he has per- formed in ensembles such as the Jersey Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble intercontemporain, and LSO Soundhub.
Attahir’s works have been performed by various ensembles and orchestras in his native France, including Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Ensemble intercontemporain, Les Éléments, as well as the Helsinki Philharmonic. Attahir was previously composer-in-residence at the Gstaad Festival in 2018 and Orchestre National de Lille from 2017 to 2019. His most recent projects include a concerto for soprano and violin, Je / suis / Ju / dith, for Raquel Camarinha and Renaud Capuçon, and an opera, Le Silence des ombres, which the composer conducted at La Monnaie in Brussels.
In an interview, Attahir states that the score to Jawb “was born from a desire to extend a musical and human friendship. When Michael Barenboim suggested that I write for a group that would consist of musicians from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, it immediately echoed a number of issues that are close to my heart.”
The work is scored for string octet, a tantalizing arrangement that combines the intimacy of a string quartet with the power of a string orchestra. Rather than deploying the octet’s typical double quartet formation, Attahir affords the first violinist a role that goes beyond just musical leadership. Attahir notes, “We imagined the position of the main violin, which Michael [Barenboim] already embodies within the orchestra, [as] a funda- mental position in the internal organization of the work            I placed the first violin at the front of the stage, like a character who in turn leads and comments on the action.”
Like Attahir’s companion poem of the same name (see following page), Jawb portrays a physical and mental journey. The composer observes, “This piece, unlike my usual creations, does not resort to formal structures. It is a question here of creating a long musical crossing based on restricted material always presenting itself under a different aspect. Thus, the music advances from one place to another, without the possibility of returning, places secretly linked by their essence.”
Jawb received its world premiere last month by Michael Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble at Chicago’s Harris Theater.