Imagined memories

The musical centerpiece of the  interdisciplinary Boston College symposium “The Kurdish Question: Ethnicity, Identity and Integration” was “Imagined Memories” (“Bîraninen Xeyalî”), a composition by Associate Professor of Music Ralf Yusuf Gawlick, inspired by the biological mother he never knew.

The piece premiered on campus, performed by the internationally noted Hugo Wolf Quartet of Vienna—artists-in-residence at Boston College—on April 28 in St. Mary’s Chapel, at a concert that also included Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 13, D. 804, op. 29 ‘Rosamunde.’”

Gawlick was born to a young Kurdish woman, Naciye Zeren, who put herself at risk to ensure his life, and placed him in an orphanage in Germany. His new, autobiographical composition “probes into the realms of a relationship that never was, a bond with my biological mother whom I never met,” says Gawlick.

“The intimate relationship that exists between the creative and recreative processes in music is particularly poignant and electric in a world premiere—in the calling to life of a new work.” 

Gawlick believes that the preservation of our identities “depends upon the active presence and cultivation of memory, real or imagined,” and this is the aim of his piece.

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Ralf Yusuf Gawlick


'Absolute Music': Associate Professor of Music Ralf Yusuf Gawlick has composed 'Imagined Memories,' a 40-minute “musical memoir” for string quartet that conceives of shared experiences between Gawlick and his biological mother, whom he has never met. The Hugo Wolf Quartet rehearsed the score for three months in Vienna, but Gawlick waited to listen until they were in the same room. @BC interviewed Gawlick in his office on April 21, three days before the musicians flew in, and then filmed a rehearsal at BC's O’Connell House, where Gawlick heard his composition for the first time, some 15 years after he first thought of it. (Video by Boston College Magazine's @BC Studio; producer: Ravi Jain; Video: Britt Boughner, Paul Dagnello, Ravi Jain. Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Gawlick describes “Imagined Memories” as “my musical archive: intimate musical reflections based on imagined memories of a distant, severed past.” It brings the audience through a series of musical memories, from Gawlick imagining his own, to him imagining those of Naciye, and finally to Naciye’s.

“I am profoundly grateful that ‘Imagined Memories’ is in the hands of an ensemble so renowned and dedicated to new music as the Hugo Wolf Quartet, and for all the support the University has provided so that I can share this performance with the Boston College community.”

The Hugo Wolf string quartet, founded in Vienna in 1993, has won such coveted awards as the Special Prize of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the European Chamber Music Prize. A major name in the international chamber music scene, the quartet performs a concert series in Vienna’s Wiener Konzerthaus Concert Hall.

Other performances of "Imagined Memories will take place at Carnegie Hall and in the town of Gawlick’s birth.

Hosted by the Institute for Liberal Arts, “The Kurdish Question” symposium involved a range of University departments. Events included a screening of the film “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains,” and a panel discussion with a keynote address by Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network, with Political Science Department panelists Professor Ali Banuazizi and Associate Professor of the Practice Kathleen Bailey, and Associate Professor of Slavic and Eastern Languages and Literatures Franck Salameh.   

–Office of News & Public Affairs