World premiere for Ashburn composer

By Shannon Sollinger
Times Community Newspapers

Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Abigail Pheiffer TAKE A BOW: David Gaines, of Ashburn, composed his second symphony, 'The Lion of Panjshir,' to honor Afghan hero Ahmad Shah Massoud."The Lion of Panjshir (Symphony No. 2) for Narrator and Symphonic Band" was born in David Gaines' sense of outrage.

Partly at the assassination of the Afghan resistance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States. But more because his name was virtually unknown.

"I was angry that I had not heard about him. If I hadn't heard of him – I don't know anyone who follows this stuff more than I do – the media are not doing their job. I was angry and upset. I decided to find out about him."

That was more than two years ago. "The Lion of Panjshir" sees its world premiere tonight at 7:30 p.m., performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Gaines lives in Ashburn, and works at Computer Associates in Herndon. 

He is no Charles Ives, dashing off compositions and throwing the score in the closet. He wants to see his work performed. He called a colleague, Harlan Parker, who happens to be the conductor of the Peabody Wind Ensemble. Gaines played with the ensemble while he was working on his doctorate in composition at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins.

"I'm not well connected with orchestras," said Gaines. "He said yes. I wrote for band because I knew the wind ensemble would perform it."

His next question was, how many percussionists do you have? "How many do you want?" was the answer.

Gaines likes percussion, and "The Lion" has a lot of it – six percussionists, one xylophone, vibraphone, chimes, bells, finger cymbals, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, tom toms, crotales (suspended metal disks). And a brake drum.

"That's now a standard percussion instrument. No other instrument can produce that sound," said Gaines.

It's a real brake drum. From a junk yard.

One of the six percussionists brought a doumbek, a Middle Eastern instrument, to rehearsal last week, and substituted it for the bongo. "It sounded better. It adds a really authentic touch," said Gaines.

Massoud's story deserves to be an opera, said Gaines, "but I don't write opera."

The piece includes narration in the style of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." Massoud, who fought the Russians to a standstill and then returned to the mountains of the Panjshir north of Kabul to battle the Taliban, left no writings. The narrative elements include text fragments from Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm); a film, Massoud, The Afghan, by Christophe de Ponfilly; the book Lion by MaryAnn T. Beverly; and excerpts from a Massoud press conference.

Haron Amin was Massoud's comrade in arms, and is now the Afghan ambassador to Japan. His father-in-law is one of Afghanistan's vice presidents. Amin spent several days with Gaines, talking about Massoud, backing the project. And Junger will be there for the premiere. 

"If it weren't for him," said Gaines, "no one would know about Massoud."

Composing is not the glamor people will see tonight, said Gaines. It's hard work. "I'm still dealing with the nuts and bolts of bringing this thing to life, which is not glamor."

Next, a vacation from music is in order. He'll wait for the next idea to hit him between the eyes and insist on musical form. He'll get an "epiphanic moment," and the next project will take root.

For now, a performance in Tokyo, where Amin is posted, might happen. A performance in Kabul would be a triumph. There's no orchestra in Kabul right now, but Gaines heard there's a military band.

And a Loudoun performance, in the composer's home county? 

"If someone can find me six percussionists, a narrator and a contrabass clarinet, we can go right ahead."

© Times Community Newspapers 2004