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Words and music with meaning: Mohammed Fairouz and Alain Badiou

December can seem the driest month for music. Holiday music gradually, and more often than not artificially, worms its way into just about everything. And soon even that cheap entertainment will be gone. Come the last two weeks of the year and this space will turn to books and recordings for recommendations.

December 2013 began with real issues. This week at UCLA two unrelated but extremely serious approaches to thinking about art, music and the state of the world have been taking place and will reach their culmination on Sunday and Monday. 

One, “Listening to the Other,” has included a dialogue between Arab and Israeli composers and performers that will culminate in the West Coast premiere at Royce Hall of the astonishingly prolific 28-year-old composer Mohammed Fairouz’s epic, hour-long Third Symphony, “Symphonic Prayers and Poems.” It features a UCLA orchestra and chorus of more than 300 performers along with the two terrific soloists – mezzo-soprano Sasha Cook and avant-garde klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, conducted by Neal Stulberg. 

The other is the final of three lectures, Monday, also at Royce, by the celebrated 76-year French philosopher Alain Badiou, perhaps the last in line of the great late-20th and early 21st century French extra-deep thinkers that included Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

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In a timely talk Wednesday on the meaning of what he called the “real,” Badiou warned of a materialistic society in which “life is reduced to entertainment, keeping us as far as possible from what is real.” Moreover, he said politics must -- if we want a society that values equality -- emulate poetry, which is the art not of the possible but the impossible. 

An hour later that night on a panel at the Hammer Museum, Fairouz echoed the same theme in discussing the situation in the Middle East. Don’t turn to politicians, the composer said, most have had to sell their souls to obtain power, but to poets, noting the inspiration he’s taken from the Palestinian poet Mohammed Darwish, Jordanian poet Fadwa Touqan and Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

Meanwhile, Badiou turns to theater and philosophy on Monday as his subject matter at a 5 p.m. talk, and for anyone willing to brave rush traffic, the Monday Evening Concerts begins its new season in the Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School downtown with a rare performance of Morton Feldman’s setting of Samuel Beckett’s radio play, appropriately titled in this context, “Words and Music.” 

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