Welcome Remarks by Michael Raynor
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at Girma Yifrashewa’s “Bridging Cultures” Concert
Skylight Hotel, Addis Ababa
January 30, 2020
As Prepared for Delivery
Guests and friends,
It’s a great pleasure to join you for a wonderful night of music. Let me start by saying how pleased and grateful the United States Embassy is to be side-by-side with three wonderful co-sponsors in hosting tonight’s event. Ethiopian Airlines, the Skylight Hotel, and ArtsTV have all been fantastic partners, and this evening wouldn’t have been possible without their support.
And of course, this evening truly wouldn’t be possible without the star of the show, an exceptional pianist and composer and a wonderful friend, Mr. Girma Yifrashewa. Many of you are here tonight because you already know how captivating Girma’s music and performances always are. And if tonight’s your first opportunity to hear Girma play, you’re in for an extraordinary revelation.
What makes Girma such a compelling artist is not only that he’s a virtuoso pianist, but that he puts his virtuosity to the service of blending classical and Ethiopian music, and to building bridges between people through shared and transcendent musical experiences. Girma has performed and promoted Ethiopian and classical music, including his own compositions, throughout the African continent and worldwide, with recent tours to Egypt, Mozambique, South Africa, Italy, Germany, and the United States.
Tonight we’re thrilled that he’s here with all of us, in our shared home of Addis Ababa, to perform a program called “Bridging Cultures.” Girma will not only feature his own compositions this evening, but will generously share the spotlight with an important but somewhat forgotten American composer, whose work is undergoing a bit of a rediscovery thanks, in large part, to Girma.
I’m referring to the mid-19th-century American romantic composer and pianist, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Just like Girma, Gottschalk was a virtuoso musician. And just like Girma, Gottschalk was a composer who, as the title of tonight’s program suggests, “bridged cultures.” By blending classical European musical traditions with Caribbean, Creole, and African-American melodies and rhythms, Gottschalk created music that was groundbreaking during his time, and that remains captivating to this day.
And Gottschalk was, himself, a bridge of cultures: the son of a German Jewish father and a French Creole mother. As such, he was a quintessential American, and his music remains quintessentially American as well. But it’s music that we hope will also resonate with an audience from Ethiopia and around the world, and as you hear Girma play Gottschalk tonight, you’ll hear the extraordinary understanding that exists between performer and composer.
Recently, Girma spent an extended sojourn in the United States, in partnership with the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, recording the works of Gottschalk and helping to introduce him to modern-day audiences. We’re enormously grateful to Girma for his commitment to helping the world rediscover a fascinating American composer: a commitment that embodies the broader partnership and understanding that exists between Ethiopia and the United States, and that exemplifies the power of music to bring people together.
In conjunction with Girma’s project, we were pleased to support the production of a new CD entitled The Banjo, which features Girma performing some of Gottschalk’s most significant compositions. We invite each of you to take a complimentary copy of this wonderful CD home with you, as a memento of tonight’s performance. I’ve talked far too long, particularly given that none of you came here to hear me talk at all, but before I stop, I want to take a brief moment to thank and commend the three young musicians who’ll be kicking off our concert tonight.
Having studied piano myself as a kid, many years ago, I definitely didn’t have either the talent or the courage these young people are about to display. And it’s wonderful that each of their performances will be linked, one way or another, to Girma himself, and I’ll let you look at your programs to figure out how. Thank you all for being here this evening. And sincerest thanks, once again, to Girma and our co-sponsors – Ethiopian Airlines, the Skylight Hotel, and ArtsTV – for the wonderful experience we’re about to have. I wish you all a great evening of musical enjoyment.