Salman Rushdie and friends perform with the American String Quartet at WAMFEST

The American String Quartet performs at WAMFEST 2014. (Photos by Dan Landau)

By Kenna Caprio and Dan Landau

Rounding out the eighth annual Words and Music Festival, acclaimed author Salman Rushdie came to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus to perform with poet J. Mae Barizo, composer Paul Cantelon and the American String Quartet. Together, they blended their poetry and prose with chamber music, composed by Cantelon, Ludwig van Beethoven and more, to create a meditative listening experience called, “Memory Place: Music Meets the Page.”

“The entire project is an exploration of geography and memory, and how memory is triggered,” said poet Barizo.

In front of a large and appreciative audience in Lenfell Hall, Hennessy Hall, the performers created a dialogue and a harmony of sorts among the poetry, prose and music. Rushdie, reading from “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” early in the evening, asked, “Wherein lies the power of songs?” The musicians and writers alternately took the lead during the performance, contributing soaring compositions full of emotion and potent words referencing music, blood, loneliness, death and love.

As a “sneak preview,” the American String Quartet played an excerpt from the forthcoming “Suite in Homage,” which composer Cantelon wrote as a companion piece to Rushdie’s “The Enchantress of Florence.” Rushdie accompanied the quartet, reading selections from that novel.

Author Salman Rushdie reads from his works "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" and "The Enchantress of Florence." Below, poet J. Mae Barizo and composer Paul Cantelon collaborate on "The Killing Time."

Barizo read from her poems “The Killing Time,” “Deception” and “Own Me.” The American String Quartet also played compositions by Maurice Ravel and Dmitri Shostakovich, closing the show with Beethoven’s “String Quartet Opus 130.”

At the end of the evening, all the performers received several ovations from the crowd full of students, faculty, alumni, staff and guests. WAMFEST artist-in-residence Wesley Stace moderated audience questions following the ovations.

About the performers:

The target of international death threats stemming from his novel, “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie is a prize-winning novelist and essayist, knighted by the Queen of England. Beyond “Verses,” “The Enchantress of Florence” and “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” his other works include “Midnight’s Children” and “The Moor’s Last Sigh.”

The American String Quartet is one of the world’s foremost quartets and is known for its performances of Beethoven, Franz Shubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Known for her performance poetry, Barizo has won several awards for her work and has had her poems published in various literary journals.

Cantelon composes contemporary classical music and is a virtuoso musician who plays several instruments and an actor. He has written the scores for a variety of recent films including “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Other Boylen Girl,” and “W.”

Stace is a critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter and novelist. He has released 15 music albums, ranging in style from folk to pop, most under the stage name John Wesley Harding. He has also published three novels under the name of Wesley Stace.

WAMFEST is an annual series of unique conversations, collaborations and performances hosted by FDU that attempts to break down barriers between different genres in the arts, particularly between what are considered “high” and “low” arts, and to celebrate what is shared among all artists and all audiences. Guests have included, among many others, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Pinsky, Rosanne Cash, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Demme and Talib Kweli.