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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 9, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 21
Peabody World Premiere Celebrates Afghan Hero Massoud

Ahmad Shah Massoud

By Anne Garside
Peabody Institute

The Peabody Wind Ensemble, conducted by Harlan Parker, will give the world premiere of The Lion of Panshjir (Symphony No. 2) for Narrator and Symphonic Band by David Gaines. The narrator will be Haron Amin, Afghanistan's ambassador to Japan and previously acting ambassador at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C.

Amin served for several years as the representative of Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Northern Alliance to the United States. The performance is taking place with the support, assistance and cooperation of the Embassy of Afghanistan, author Sebastian Junger, photographer Reza and the prominent Afghan-American musician Ehsan Aman.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 11, in Peabody's Friedberg Hall.

The Lion of Panshjir came about following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, two days after Massoud was assassinated.

"That was when I first heard about Ahmad Shah Massoud, the remarkable leader of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then the resistance to the Taliban in the 1990s," composer David Gaines said. "I remember watching Sebastian Junger's reports on television for National Geographic Explorer, as well as reading newspaper reports of Massoud's assassination at the hands of agents of Osama bin Laden. I wanted to know about his role not just as the military leader of the Afghan resistance but as a humanitarian, a man of compassion, a lover of poetry and literature, and a supporter of equal rights for all Afghans."

Ahmad Shah Massoud became known as the Lion of Panshjir because of his ability to turn back the Soviet Red Army from his home base in the Panshjir Valley north of Kabul. He and his band of mujahedeen did this nine times, wearing down the Soviet Union until it decided to leave Afghanistan. In 2002, Massoud was nominated posthumously for both the Nobel Peace Prize and the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.

Massoud left no significant writings behind. So, "as part of this symphony," Gaines said, "I've included text describing Massoud to bring him to life, in the manner of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait.

Text comes from writings on Massoud by Sebastian Junger, speeches and a press conference given by Massoud, the documentary film Massoud, the Afghan by Christophe de Ponfilly and the book Lion by MaryAnn T. Beverley. The images of Massoud to be displayed during the performance were taken by Reza, best known for his award-winning work for National Geographic. Reza enjoyed a 20-year relationship with the Afghan leader.

Ahmad Shah Massoud was born in 1953. Following his legendary resistance to the Soviet Army in the early 1980s, Massoud became defense minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Following the collapse of Rabbani's government and the rise of the Taliban, he became the military leader of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of various Afghan opposition groups, in a prolonged civil war. As the Taliban established control over most of Afghanistan, Massoud's forces were increasingly forced into the mountainous area of the north. On Sept. 9, 2001, Massoud was killed by suicide attackers who had posed as television journalists, setting off a bomb packed inside their video camera.

The narrator for the premiere has an almost equally dramatic life story. Haron Amin was born in Kabul in 1969 and fled with his family when the Soviets invaded in 1980, heading to Pakistan, Germany and finally the Los Angeles area. Amin returned to Afghanistan in 1988 to fight under Massoud, enduring 18-hour treks through the mountains in freezing weather, with little food.

In 1990, Massoud assigned Amin to represent Afghan interests before the U.S. government. Amin returned to Afghanistan in 1995, working again under Massoud to battle the Taliban. In 1996, Massoud appointed him to the United Nations, but Kabul fell to the Taliban on the day Amin left to take up the post. Amin spent the next five years working at Afghanistan's permanent mission to the United Nations, helping prevent the country's U.N. seat from sitting vacant or falling into the hands of the Taliban, which the U.N. never officially recognized.

Abdul Rahim Ghafoorza, who became prime minister of the government in exile, named Amin director general in 1997. From his new base in Mazar-e-Sharif, Amin and his new boss began to travel constantly together. That summer, Amin missed a flight. The plane crashed, killing Ghafoorza and four cabinet members. Amin stayed on in New York as part of the government in exile until the tide turned again and the government of Hamid Karzai was established.

With such a storied genesis, the world premiere of The Lion of Panshjir is a major political as well as musical event.

David Gaines, who received his doctorate from Peabody, has had two previous compositions premiered by the Peabody Wind Ensemble. His works have been performed in workshops, recitals and concerts by the Tokyo String Quartet, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic and the Bulgarian Esperanto Choir. Gaines' Elegy for string orchestra will be performed this season by the Orquestra de Camara Municipal de Rosario in Rosario, Argentina.

Critics have praised Gaines' colorful and imaginative orchestrations as well as the uniquely international flavor of his music. Gaines is a past guest composer at the University of York in England, the Reykjavik Conservatory in Iceland and the International Music Seminar in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. He is currently an adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland University College.

The Feb. 11 program also includes Martin Dalby's A Plain Man's Hammer; Samuel Adler's Snow Tracks for High Soprano and Wind Ensemble, featuring soprano Alyssa Bowlby; and Hindemith's March from Symphonic Metamorphosis in the arrangement by Keith Wilson.

Tickets are $18, $10 for senior citizens and $8 for students with ID. For more information, call the Peabody box office at 410-659-8100, ext. 1190.


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