Founded in 2014 as New England Conservatory’s “Wild Card” Honors Ensemble, the award-winning Alfaia Ensemble explores the meeting points between Middle Eastern, North and South American music. Drawing on international musical influences, the ensemble works together to create musical diplomacy through traditional performance practices, original compositions, and contemporary approaches to instrumental techniques and improvisation. These five diverse musicians represent Syria, Palestine, Brazil, and the United States and have each performed extensively all over the globe.

Alfaia initially began as a collaboration between Syrian oud virtuoso Kenan Adnawi and Brazilian pianist Henrique Eisenmann. Eisenmann was drawn to Adnawi’s expressive performance of traditional Arabic music and together they began experimenting with a fusion between Adnawi’s compositions and Eisenmann’s roots in Brazilian jazz. The duo quickly recruited the versatile double bass player Kirsten Lamb (USA) and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Gustavo D’Amico (Brazil) to fill out the ensemble’s sound.

As a quartet, Alfaia worked closely with Ted Reichman, of the Claudia Quintet, at the New England Conservatory to develop a varied repertoire ranging from Baroque melodies to jazz standards, contemporary Brazilian music to original compositions. Together they created a unique voice that quickly gained an audience in Boston and New York City.

In 2015, the ensemble had the opportunity to work with John Zorn to prepare a program of his original music for performance at the Stone (NYC). This led to the inclusion of several Zorn Bagatelles into Alfaia’s performance repertoire. Additionally, Adnawi was invited to join Zorn on several international tours.

Following a successful first year, Alfaia invited Palestinian percussionist Tareq Rantisi to join the ensemble. This addition deepened the rhythmic possibilities already inherent in Alfaia’s musical influences.

In 2016, Alfaia was invited to participate in the inaugural M-Prize Competition hosted at the University of Michigan, the largest chamber music competition in the world. Competing in the contest’s Open Division, Alfaia quickly established themselves as an audience favorite and was awarded the third place prize. Following their success in Michigan, Alfaia has plans to record a debut album and tour internationally.

The Musicians:

Kenan Adnawi is a well-established oud virtuoso from Syria. He started playing oud at the age of 7. Since then, his performances have earned him a long list of awards, including first place at the International Oud Competition in 2009, and an impeccable reputation at an international level. A 2008 graduate of the High Music Institute of Damascus, Syria, he is currently a Masters student in the Contemporary Improvisation department at the New England Conservatory.

Acclaimed as “a truly impressive Brazilian pianist” by Latin Beat Magazine, Henrique Eisenmann is one of the most provocative musicians in Boston, having already made his mark on the contemporary Brazilian jazz scene since moving from São Paulo to the United States in 2010. He has collaborated with dancers, actors, and musicians in performance all over the world and is currently a Doctoral student at the New England Conservatory in jazz performance.

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Gustavo D’Amico began playing saxophone at age 9. While studying music composition at Universidade de São Paulo, he earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree. He additionally holds a Master’s Degree in jazz saxophone performance from the New England Conservatory.

Kirsten Lamb is a double bassist and vocalist originally hailing from New Jersey, USA. Praised by the Huffington Post as a “brilliant young musician” and by the Boston Globe for her “versatility and assurance,” she has performed extensively throughout the United States and internationally. Kirsten graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory in 2009 with a BM in double bass and Ethnomusicology and from the New England Conservatory in 2015 with a MM in Contemporary Improvisation.

Tareq Rantisi was born in Jerusalem, Palestine and started his career playing Middle Eastern percussion at age 12. He received the Al-Qattan Foundation Music Scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, receiving a degree in Percussion Performance and graduating with highest honors in 2012. Tareq’s studies brought him into a deep dialogue with styles from jazz to Afro-Cuban to Carnatic Indian to Brazilian, which has allowed him to play virtually any percussion instrument and musical style with ease and incomparable musicality.