Remembering Ziad Bakir

Works by Beethoven and Rageh Daoud pay fitting tribute to the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution

Published on 24 March 2011 in Al Ahram Weekly

20 March was marked by a concert dedicated to Ziad Mohamed Saleh Bakir, a graphic designer working at the Cairo Opera House who was shot during the January revolution. The programme included a composition by Rageh Daoud, an Egyptian composer, entitled To the Martyrs of the January 25th Revolution, as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, “Choral”.

It was definitely a particularly important evening for several reasons. In the composition by Rageh Daoud, the orchestra paid tribute to all the martyrs of the January revolution, and its dedication to Ziad Bakir reminded us of one of the martyrs who was especially close to all the artists, management and administrative personnel working at the Cairo Opera House.

On 28 January, in a sign of solidarity with the pro- democratic youth, Bakir left his home to join the demonstrations. Bakir neither led and nor was he involved in any opposition movement prior to the revolution. He died as an innocent victim of the injustice and brutality exercised by the old regime. Today, the name of this 37-year-old man, the father of three children, is listed among those of the martyrs. To his family, friends and work colleagues, his loss will never be forgotten.

The evening prepared by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nader Abbassi addressed all the martyrs of the revolution, with a special dedication to Ziad Bakir. The evening also began with a minute of silence in remembrance of Bakir.

The opening work was Rageh Daoud’s To the Martyrs of the January 25th Revolution. Through his work, Daoud captures emotions and symbols generated during the 18 days of the revolution, the composition talking to the heart of Egyptian people and Egyptian culture. As it begins, a striking lyrical theme is repeated by several woodwind instruments and is soon taken up by the strings.

It reminds us of the longings of the Egyptian people prior to and at the beginning of the revolution. This beautiful, poetic music then moves forward to stronger rhythmic accents, as the percussion joins with more power and repetitive drum rolls add military flavour.

A piccolo situated within the audience then plays a melody from a patriotic song composed by Sayed Darwish in 1919, Oum ya Masri (Rise, Egyptian). Daoud’s composition concludes with an arrangement of Eslami ya Misr (Be safe, O Egypt), which was the national anthem of Egypt between 1923 and 1936 with music by Safar Ali.

To the Martyrs of the January 25th Revolution is a very touching composition poignantly expressing the sentiments of all the people of Egypt on their journey towards a new country where freedom and democracy prevail.

Following it, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 was an interesting choice aiming to express grandeur and sentiments of unity. Beethoven’s genius is strongly connected to the specific historical moment in which he was born, and not only did Beethoven compose on the threshold of two centuries, but he also stood between two great musical eras: classicism and romanticism.

On the one hand, he became a voice of the classical ideals asserting the importance of life, and on the other hand what made him very different to his classical fathers was his strong involvement in the social changes of the era, events monitoring and then following the French Revolution.

Many of Beethoven’s compositions are strong testimonies to his beliefs and his almost personal accounts of the events surrounding him. His Symphony No. 3, “Eroica “, in particular responds strongly to the historical changes then taking place in Europe. Initially written to praise the heroic deeds of General Bonaparte, the ” Eroica” was first performed after Napoleon had crowned himself as French emperor, a fact which shook the legacy of the French Revolution and enraged the composer.

As a result, the Symphony No. 3 carries a lot of revolutionary emotions in all of its many aspects. Musically speaking, the ” Eroica” is a cornerstone in the shift between two musical eras, while the historic aspect of its creation points to Beethoven’s strong individuality and his direct connection with crucial historical changes.

Many of Beethoven’s compositions are soaked in the spirit of resistance, while the call to freedom was something new — if not foreign — to the musical expressions proposed by Beethoven’s predecessors. The Symphony No. 3 is the symbol of a change in history and music, while the Symphony No. 9 is the culmination of Beethoven’s genius and carries connotations of unity and freedom.

The Cairo Symphony Orchestra still seems to be warming up after the weeks of inactivity due to the revolution, followed by the series of internal protests and demonstrations that froze activities at the Opera House for some time. However, let’s not forget that the Orchestra has performed Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 on many occasions, and it is already well known to the musicians. This time round, the Symphony suffered from a number of coordination problems between the choir, the orchestra and the soloists and between the musicians themselves, in addition to a number of details that deserved better polishing.

Of course, such flaws could not undermine the greatness of Beethoven’s composition, as there is no doubt that the work is the conclusion of the composer’s artistry and expressive powers. The Symphony also proves that among the many great composers, Beethoven is definitely one of the biggest individualists. Beethoven’s music is a synthesis of many human emotions, emerging and subsiding and triggered by the world that inspires the artist.

The voice of Beethoven is clear in each of his compositions, while the language he uses is understood both by music specialists as well as by regular music lovers.

Both works performed during the evening address the January revolution and pay tribute to its martyrs, among them Ziad Bakir. However, knowing that it was Tchaikovsky that would have touched Bakir in particular, the upcoming concert of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nayer Nagui and scheduled for March 26 is entitled “A Tchaikovsky Evening”, and it would have been particularly enjoyed by Bakir himself.

Bakir’s interests in classical music were no surprise to anyone working at the Cairo Opera House. He used to attend many concerts, ballets and operas, and he looked for inspiration in the works of classical music for which he created posters. It is for his depth and unparalleled creativity that all the artists at the Cairo Opera House recall Bakir with warm and loving feelings.

He was known to be calm, well-mannered, very well- educated and passionate about design, as well as very interested in classical music and other art forms. His strong intellectual background was noticed by many people who knew him closely. He was respected and admired by his supervisors, as well as by the colleagues whom he supervised.

For almost the whole of the last decade, Bakir worked in the design office at the Opera, and he was responsible for all the printed materials created by the Opera House. This work on designs was a perfect intersection of all his major interests: computers and design and classical music.

Above all, Ziad Bakir was a true artist. His calm attitude affected the most dynamic spirits. His profound sensitivity was expressed with shyness, but its strength was immediately apparent in his designs. He created designs mainly for the Cairo Symphony Orchestra concerts, though he also worked on posters for ballets, operas and other events taking place at the Opera.

Bakir always worked a lot, often staying in the office until very late. I used to pass by his office during the day and sometimes also in the evenings when heading to a concert. He was always there, and we would exchange a few words or hold a short conversation. Sometimes, he would show me some designs he was working on, showing three or four versions of a poster for the same event and asking which was better. All of them were exceptional, for all of them carried Ziad’s artistic sensitivity and captured the essence of the event they represented. All of them gave visual expression to the music they portrayed.

Sometimes, I would just enjoy sitting in the design office watching the process of design being born. It seemed so easy, as Bakir’s artistic talent slowly appeared on the screen. It was a talent that complemented the music perfectly.

Ziad used to say that power lies in simplicity. He paid great attention to details. “Sometimes a small detail can make a huge difference,” he’d explain. And indeed a line, or a slight change in colour tone, could make a huge difference. It seemed that he generated ideas effortlessly.

At the time he died, he was growing and flourishing as an artist. Apart from the posters we know from the Opera House events, he also created tens of designs that did not reach the public. He humbly considered them as samples not chosen for the finished poster, while in fact they are great works of art.

In Bakir’s designs there is an obvious artistic progression, and full creative maturity dominates his works from the past three or four years. He created unforgettable designs that make one stop and think: the Pharaonic face on his poster for Aida (2010), for example, is distanced and mysterious, as if it wants to tell us something, while the woman on his Carmen poster (2010) hides enormous passion expressed in a sharp combination of tones of red and black.

His posters for the Christmas concerts go beyond the traditional red colour, as for Ziad the beauty of Christmas could be expressed in blue, or be touched by tones of orange. His symphony concert posters are a combination of composers and instruments, their backgrounds incorporating the emotions carried by the music.

Many of Bakir’s designs seem very simple, but the messages they carry reflect the profound soul of the one who created them. Ziad Bakir gave years of perfection and beauty to the Cairo Opera House, and he held his first poster exhibition in October 2010. He was extremely happy about this exhibition. Around the same time, I wrote a short note about Ziad’s work in one of the publications. I mentioned to him that I planned to write a fuller work in a few months’ time. I never wanted it to be an elegy.

Ziad Bakir’s art will be cherished forever, keeping the memory of this talented graphic designer alive and vibrant.

Rageh Daoud, To the Martyrs of the January 25th Revolution, Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Choral”; Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Iman Mustafa (soprano), Jolie Faizy (mezzo-soprano), Hisham El-Guindy (tenor), Reda El-Wakil (bass), A Cappella Choir, choir master, Maya Gvineria, conductor, Nader Abbassi. Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 20 March.

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