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New York Composer Writes Requiem For Victims Of Zhanaozen Massacre

  • Courtney Brooks

Composer David Fulmer and cellist Jay Campbell rehearse Fulmer's requiem for the victims of the 2011 Zhanaozen massacre in Kazakhstan.

Composer David Fulmer and cellist Jay Campbell rehearse Fulmer's requiem for the victims of the 2011 Zhanaozen massacre in Kazakhstan.

NEW YORK -- A requiem written for the victims of the deadly 2011 clashes in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan is set to premiere February 10 in Los Angeles, with performances in the coming months slated for Texas, New York, and Vermont.

The piece was written by 31-year-old New York-based composer David Fulmer for acclaimed U.S. cellist Jay Campbell.

Fulmer says he was struck by the tragedy when he heard about it on the news. In Zhanaozen, after months of strikes and protests by oil workers demanding higher wages and better working conditions, police and riot troops fired on protesters during a December 16 Independence Day gathering. At least 16 people died.

David Fulmer

David Fulmer

Fulmer says he wrote the haunting 7 1/2-minute requiem, titled "Star of the North," with the aim of providing "freedom and relief" from the emotional burden of the tragedy.

"There's the ability for a single piece of music, a single architectural design -- sonic design -- [to] penetrate through cultures and religions and ethnicities," Fulmer says. "All that is auxiliary when you think of what we are and what we do together and why we're here. And so, that's where my interest comes in this compositional process."

Fulmer, who is a staff member of the Columbia University Department of Music, reached out to his friend Thor Halvorssen, the director of the New York-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Foundation, and offered to compose a piece for solo cello to reflect on the Zhanaozen bloodshed.

Halvorssen says he commissioned the requiem to draw attention to the human rights situation in Kazakhstan, which is ruled by longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Rights groups like Human Rights Watch say the vast majority of prosecutions related to the unrest have targeted protesters as well as journalists and opposition politicians with only slight connections to Zhanaozen.

Of the requiem's impact, "It's a grain of sand, but it's an important one," Halvorssen says, adding, "It's also accessible to everyone. People can be moved by music in ways that [they can't by] words and press releases."

For his part, Fulmer hopes some might find peace through the unifying power of art.

"We don't have to spar with words or with our fists," Fulmer says. "Instead, we put that all away and we can just hear music."

BACKGROUND: A Year After Deadly Riots, Zhanaozen Is Quiet But Angry

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