Kyrgyz American Foundation co-founder Jonathan Levin performs at Nichols Concert Hall in Chicago on November 5, 2016. The performance, titled “Sounds of Kyrgyzstan in Chicago,” was the Kyrgyz American Foundation’s debut event in the United States. (Photo courtesy of the Kyrgyz American Foundation)
The Kyrgyz American Foundation is staging a concert in New York on March 16, driven by the belief that music, rather than words, can often be more effective in building connections among people.
For the foundation’s co-founders, Azamat Sydykov and Jonathan Levin, the March 16 event, titled “Sounds of Kyrgyzstan in New York,” is not so much a one-time performance as it is the beginning of a long-term endeavor. “Music unites, and art makes us better. Music knows no borders,” Sydykov said.
The concert will bring a colorful celebration of Kyrgyz music to New York’s Merkin Concert Hall; the program features classical and traditional Kyrgyz and American music composed and performed by artists from the two countries. In addition to Sydykov and Levin, both experienced concert pianists, scheduled performers include soprano Nikoleta Rallis, pianists Joel A. Martin and Kairy Koshoeva, cellist Numira Greenberg, as well as Elvira Abdilova and Perizat Kopobaeva on the national instrument of Kyrgyzstan, the komuz.
The Kyrgyz American Foundation aims to build strong and enduring ties between Kyrgyzstan and the United States, Sydykov and Levin told EurasiaNet.org. All too often, the connections between nations are only strategic and political, Sydykov explained, adding that the foundation intends to move Kyrgyz-American relations beyond “temporary things such as Manas Air Base.” While others are focused on building walls, the foundation hopes to use music and culture to show that there are better ways to understand each other, he said.
A native of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Sydykov studied as a concert pianist in Moscow before pursuing a master’s degree in New York. After Levin finished school in New York, he used his music education to found an annual piano festival in his hometown in North Carolina. The two met at a festival a few years ago in Reno, Nevada. They quickly realized that they shared a similar interest in using art and music to bridge differences between communities.
The duo established the Kyrgyz American Foundation in the summer of 2016. “[We] wanted to create this platform where people from Kyrgyzstan can have a voice, display their culture, and also promote unique collaborations and friendship … between Americans and Kyrgyz,” said Levin.
Sydykov and Levin honed their concept by staging a concert in November 2016 in Chicago, home to the largest Kyrgyz community in the United States. The concert was accompanied by education programs at local schools, as well as art and music-focused outreach programs. The response to their Chicago activities showed them they were on the right track, Sydykov and Levin said.
Based in New York, the foundation offers Kyrgyz music and language classes, in addition to cultural programs, such as the March 16 concert. Sydykov and Levin are planning to expand their programs beyond the art and culture spheres to include other disciplines, such as science. They also hold hopes of one day opening an office in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, to facilitate exchanges.
Sydykov stressed that the Kyrgyz American Foundation is not a community organization, but rather an opportunity for the Kyrgyz community to promote its culture within American society. “We are not an organization which isolates itself in everything Kyrgyz,” he said. “We want to open Kyrgyzstan to the world and open the world to Kyrgyzstan.”
Editor’s Note: Sounds of Kyrgyzstan in New York will be held at Merkin Concert Hall on March 16 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available for $25.