Claude Chalhoub


Born in 1974 in Lebanon, into a family of musicians, Claude was first introduced to the violin by his father, who played the rebeck. When he was eight, his brother gave him his first violin, and he began to play at home with his family, mostly improvising to Arabic music. He then joined the Beirut Conservatory, but as the war in Lebanon led to its closure, Claude was forced to continue his musical studies by himself.

Seemingly, his self-taught technique was good enough to meet academical standards, because at the age of eighteen he was awarded the prestigious Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Scholarship, which enabled him to pursue his studies at the Royal College of Music in London, under the tutorship of Professor Grigory Zhislin and later Rodney Friend. There he was introduced to an extensive repertoire of classical music, not only during classes, but also by listening to symphonic orchestras whenever possible. It wasn’t just classical repertoire he absorbed at the time: living in London, where there is music from every corner of the planet, Claude was exposed to an array of musical cultures. He listened to Indian music, African music, Chinese music, looking for sounds to fuse together.

During his fourth year of studies at the Royal College of Music, this search led to the first recording session of his own music, “Red Desert”, which combined Arabic improvisations with the sound of an Indian tabla and a string octet.

In 1997, for his final recital, he also chose a self-penned composition, “Oriental Images”, which won him the First Prize for Best Performance, and his debut concert on the stage of St. John’s in London’s Smith Square paved the way for a series of live dates in London and abroad.

In 1999, Claude was invited to Weimar in Germany to join the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The aim of this “West Eastern Divan” was to give young musicians from the Middle East and Germany an opportunity to study and play together. Barenboim chose Claude as musical director of the orchestra.

Claude’s improvisation attracted so much attention that he was offered a recording contract with Warner Brothers. In the summer of 2000 he began to record his debut, self-titled album with producer Michael Brook at the Sound Factory in Los Angeles. This record features Pakistani singer Forroukh Fateh Ali Khan, the brother of the legendary Nusrat.



Label: Warner Bros
Release date: January 27, 2001

Produced by, and featuring some performances from, experimental guitarist Michael Brook, Claude Chalhoub’s self-titled album charts exotic musical territory by meshing Western and Indian classical and Arabic music, occasionally peppering the mix with modern influences such as rock and ambient. Lebanese composer/violinist Chalhoub also plays other instruments (piano, harmonium, and viola), and his approach here is to find parallel elements in the diverse styles he embraces. He is unafraid to unite Western strings and Eastern percussion, or electric instruments with organic ones. Throughout the album, genre lines become blurry. The sweeping Arabic strings of “Red Desert” are accompanied rhythmically by Indian tabla and propulsive rock drumming; flute, guitars, bass, and keyboards also figure into the composition. “Don’t Wake Me Up” effortlessly traverses Arabic and classical string orchestrations, and it integrates Spanish guitar and lively tabla playing in the right spots. “Two Angels” highlights the album’s omnipresent string octet by exploring an Eastern mode while the piano accompaniment delves into a Western one. Then “Kaa” and the epic “Melancholia” find Chalhoub and Brook in a mesmerizing ambient mood. (Incidentally, “Baddour” features guest Pakistani singer Farroukh Fateh Ali Khan, brother of the late Nusrat.) Chalhoub’s sensual synthesis of styles is truly enchanting. —Bryan Reesman

Claude Chalhoub - Eponyme