Gilgamesh-inspired contest draws composers from around the world

The Gilgamesh International Composition challenges composers from around the world to create music inspired by the "Epic of Gilgamesh." (Photo courtesy Gilgamesh International Award Celebration/YouTube)

June 2021 | By Christina Salem

DETROIT — Composers from China, France, Iran, Russia, Spain, Scotland, the United States and more faced off with musical scores in an annual competition inspired by the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The Gilgamesh International Composition Competition, launched in 2020 by the Gilgamesh Art and Culture Foundation based out of Orange County, California, collected 90 submissions from around the world. The foundation’s vision is to use the power of art to bring together people from different cultural backgrounds and learn more about the Assyrian heritage.

“Representation of our rich cultural history in this community benefits everyone when we share new perspectives and the joy of the arts and music,” said Honiball Joseph, founder and CEO of the foundation. 

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient poem in Akkadian text from around 1200 BCE. It is one of the earliest written stories on earth. It was found in Nineveh in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 668 to 627 BCE. 

The second annual Gilgamesh competition challenged composers to produce chamber musical scores, a form of classical music made for small groups of instruments. Scores were due on Jan. 1 and winners announced April 11. 

The winning composition came from Tomasz Skweres of Regensburg, Germany. Here is a list of the top ten awardees:

10. Payman Mansouri of Tehran, Iran
9. Mischat Tangian of Berlin, Germany
8. Andrew Lovett of Princeton, NJ, USA
7. David Roche of Cambridge, UK
6. Emir Can Pehlivan of Istanbul, Turkey
5. Mate Bologh of Budapest, Hungary
4. Myrto Nizami of Den Haag, Netherlands
3. Mohammad H. Javaheri of Tehran, Iran
2. Rojin Monibi of Tehran, Iran
1. Tomasz Skweres of Regensburg, Germany

A separate award for the best composition written for the duduk, an ancient Armenian double reed woodwind instrument made of apricot wood, was by Henrik Hoffman of Cape Town, South Africa.

Following the awards ceremony was a performance of the finalist’s pieces.

The judges team included 2017 Pulitizer Prize winner for Music and 2018 Guggenheim fellow Du Yun, Los Angeles-based composer and pianist Thomas Kotcheff, and Iranian contemporary musician and PhD Canidate at Aristotle University, Arshia Samsaminia.

“Many educated individuals have studied Gilgamesh because of this competition, and composers have created music based on this epic,” Joseph said.

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