Oud, nay, composer (Lebanon) Bassam Saba is one of the premier figures working in classical Arabic music today. A world-renowned instrumentalist, conductor, and composer, he is equally at home in jazz and European classical music.
Originally from Lebanon, Saba studied at the Lebanon National Conservatory on the oud, nay, and violin. In 1976, Saba moved to France where he received his BA in Western Classical music and Flute Performance at the Conservatoire Municipal des Gobelins in Paris. In 1979, he moved to Moscow where he received an MA in Western Flute Performance and Music Education (1985) at the Gnessin Musical Pedagogical Institute. After finishing his studies in Moscow, he moved back to Beirut, where he served as music director of the Beirut Symphonic Band and performed with singers such as Fairuz, Majida al-Roumi, and Wadi al-Safi and composers such as Ziyad Rahbani, Marcel Khalife and Toufic Farroukh. He has performed as a soloist on classical flute in concert settings in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, Paris, Japan, Beirut and the United States.
In 1990, Saba moved to New York and joined Simon Shaheens Near Eastern Music Ensemble, playing traditional classical Arab music. He also joined Shaheens group al-Qantara, where he demonstrates his unique ability to play the western flute in microtonal Arab music. As an ensemble player, Saba has become one of the leading figures of Arabic music in the United States, playing with such musicians as saxophonist Sonny Fortune, percussionists Jamey Haddad and Glen Velez, bassist Michael Richmond and other internationally renowned figures. At a memorial concert for September 11, 2001, called Musicians for Harmony, which was broadcast live on National Public Radio (2002), he shared the stage with the Guarneri String Quartet, the Julliard String Quartet, and the Shanghai String Quartet, representing his group Musique sans Frontières. He participated with al-Qantara opening for Stings concert at Jones Beach Theater (2001). He also played nay and flute in the We Are the Future benefit in Rome with Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Kazim al-Sahir, and Simon Shaheen (May, 2004). He has recently conducted orchestras for Kazim al-Sahir and Sarah Brightman.
As a soloist, Saba is considered one of the outstanding nay players in the world and has toured throughout the Middle East, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Africa and Japan. Most recently, he has performed the Silk Road Ensemble and as a guest artist with the Absolute Ensemble under the direction of Christian Jarvi, premiering a concerto for nay and orchestra composed for him by Daniel Schnyder that is a pioneering advance in the repertoire for the nay.
Saba’s recent discography includes performances on nay and flute on Simon Shaheen’s Blue Flame (2001); on ney, flute, oud, and buzuq (long-necked fretted lute) on Myriades Soukoun (2001); on nay with Toufic Farroukh on Little Secrets (1998) and Drab:Zeen (2002). Most recently, Saba recorded on Alicia Key's new album, and will also appear on nay with Carlos Santana on Cheb Khaleds forthcoming album.
As a teacher of oud, nay, and violin, Saba has been a faculty member of the annual Arabic Music Retreat since its inception in 1996 and serves annually as the conductor of its 70-piece orchestra and as a chamber ensemble coach. Since 2003, he has been coaching and conducting the Harvard Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. He has developed new instruction and performance methods and theory for oud, nay, and violin.
He appears on the Silk Road Ensemble's most recent album Off the Map.