Bushra El-Turk

Department of Music
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD Title: Compositional processes of integration of elements of Middle-Eastern and Western art music within theatre based platforms 
Supervisor: Professor Michael Zev Gordon
PhD Musical Composition


My music straddles Eastern and Western idioms and seeks to question Eastern cultural principles in contemporary Western contexts, all the while leaning towards the absurd and the theatrical. The area of study under in which my research falls is the compositional processes of the integration of elements of Middle-Eastern and Western art music within theatre based platforms.

As a British-born Lebanese composer who grew up in London, I have found myself questioning and challenging the means through which music can be communicated to both Eastern and Western audiences. I have worked closely as composer in residence with major orchestras - including the BBC Symphony and Opera Holland Park -, and with ensembles of a multi-ethnic nature - the renowned Atlas Ensemble in the Netherlands amongst others -, on projects to do with the Middle-East. Recent commissions include London Symphony Orchestra (LSO Panufnik Scheme 2012), London Sinfonietta, Latvian Radio Choir/Saraband Ensemble and Birds Eye View Film Festival (Southbank and Barbican performances) These projects have allowed me to combine sounds from Eastern and Western traditions. I have had to delve deeply into ancient song and dramatic forms to explore realms where improvisation and notation blur. Having set up an organisation called the Chelsea Music Academy, which specialises in Middle-Eastern and Western music as a platform for research and inter-cultural collaborations, I am constantly intrigued by the aspects of music and other art forms that raise awareness of socio-political and socio-cultural issues. This is something I am investigating further by creating a portfolio of original compositions in which traditional Middle-Eastern and contemporary classical trends interact, either in writing music for the stage or writing music which can be considered as theatrical due to the gestures they incorporate.

My main focus will be to compose original music that encompasses the Arabic sound world, working with both classically-trained musicians, Arabic and other non-Western traditional musicians. This is being done by having established an eclectic ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists, Ensemble Zar, to experiment with musical and theatrical techniques. In addition to this practice-based research, my aim will be to discover and interpret a wide variety of Arabic music matters such as the use and function of Eastern maqams, improvisation, and the influence of the Arabic language as a sound in Arabic vocal music. Furthermore, through pursuing general historical study in opera, from ancient to modern forms as well as the Theatre of the Absurd, and in the works of composers such as Aperghis and Birtwistle who have integrated theatrical elements in their works, I intend to create: either a large-scale work for music theatre or opera or a collection of small-scale works which deal with notions of theatricality in ways that will be analysed thoroughly.

My PhD research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.