"Composer Gara Garayev's Portrait," created by T.Salahov

"Composer Gara Garayev's Portrait," created by T.Salahov

Courtesy of the Azerbaijan State Museum of Musical Culture/

Composer Gara Garayev wrote nearly 110 musical pieces during his 64 years, so choosing which ones best sum up his work and influence could be a challenge. Collaborators between the University of North Texas and the Azerbaijan-American Music Foundation are up to the task.

On Feb. 12, local musicians -- pianists, cellists, vocalists and more -- will converge upon UNT's Paul Voertman Concert Hall to celebrate the centennial of Garayev's birth. The concert is part of an ongoing effort to use music to bridge the gap between Azerbaijan and America -- a trail first blazed by Garayev himself.

A product of the Soviet Union, Gara Garayev (also spelled Kara Karayev) was the first Azerbaijani composer to gain international recognition. According to Jamila Javadova, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas and organizer of the concert, Garayev was an innovator known for his powerful, harmonic orchestral language.

"His melodies are very rich, and his music touches a wide range of human emotions," she says. "Love, joy, humor and sadness: It's all there with Garayev."

In addition to two major ballets, Garayev composed a symphony based on Don Quixote, multiple sonatas and waltzes, and even forayed into jazz.

"Believe it or not, jazz is huge in Azerbaijan," Javadova says. "Garayev loved jazz and was certainly inspired by it."

The composer came to America in 1961, where his ballet The Path of Thunder was performed at the First International Los Angeles Music Festival under the baton of Franz Waxman. At the festival, Garayev met influential composer Igor Stravinsky.

The Music of Gara Garayev: 100th Anniversary Celebration

A year later, it was celebrated American composer Samuel Barber's turn to cross the Atlantic. Barber became the first American composer to attend the Congress of Soviet Composers in Moscow, and there, he worked with Garayev and others to brainstorm solutions to the problems facing 20th-century composers. UNT and the Azerbaijan-American Music Foundation are hoping to keep that conversation going with this concert honoring the trailblazing Garayev.

"The goal of the foundation is to use music as a tool to build understanding," says Javadova, who is a member of the foundation. "As an Azerbaijani-American, my goal is to promote other Azerbaijani music."

Javadova holds a doctorate in music theory and organ performance and has recorded a CD of Garayev's work. When she started approaching others at UNT to gauge their interest in an event like this, she was delighted to see how excited they were to celebrate Garayev and Azerbaijan.

"This is the country that was home to the first opera in the Middle East," she notes, "and Garayev is the perfect introduction to all that Azerbaijan has to offer."

"If people can come away with more knowledge about his music and his ideas, then we've done our job."

The Music of Gara Garayev (1918-1982) -- 100th Anniversary Celebration will take place Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. at Voertman Concert Hall. Free. calendar.music.unt.edu.

What's Happening on GuideLive