It is always very exciting to hear classical music composed by artists outside of Western cultures and to hear what non-Western influences, folk melodies, and instruments they might use.
However, good music is good music anywhere, just as unexciting music is unexciting music.
This album, unfortunately, is not so exciting and does not live up to its potential.
The album was composed as a modern soundtrack to a 1922 classic film called Nathan the Wise, which would suggest that the music would tell the story of the film in a clear manner, perhaps with a more distinct sense of motifs than one hears here.
The CD opens with Jerusalem, which begins with an odd-sounding unison that precedes the oud, but the piece does not move.
The string lines, which lack vibrato, could be more lush and sweeping (a characteristic one naturally might expect of string music from the Middle East).
Though the oud's line is interspersed with orchestral passages, the music still feels dull and hovering.
This sense of stagnation continues through various pieces on the album, even in the ending called "A Prayer for Tolerance." "Lament" is more interesting to listen to, as a brass solo as well as violin and cello solos showcase some of the best musicians in the orchestra.
"Gerusalemme Liberata" has more musical drama when the brass enters and there is more texture in the strings.
However, it feels random and lacking in motion, with fragments repeated.
Perhaps the most interesting movement is "Once Upon a Dervish," where the use of percussion enlivens the piece.
Abou-Khalil makes better use of orchestral colors here, which leads one to ask why he did not choose to do this in the previous movements.
Once again, the solo violin plays nicely, and the strings have texture.
Yet overall, the music does not come alive due to the combination of the music itself (with a heavy use of unisons, even taking cultural differences into account) and an orchestra that is not experienced enough to give the music more shape.
This is by no means a criticism of younger musicians or youth orchestras, for there are plenty who are professional-caliber at a young age.
Trouble in Jerusalem just does not make for an inviting musical experience.