Okkyung Lee & Amir ElSaffar

Cellist Okkyung Lee and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar are distinguished instrumentalists who have developed formidable reputations for their exploratory performance techniques and genre-blurring approach to musical styles. This acoustic performance at ISSUE’s 22 Boerum Place theater features Lee and ElSaffar each performing solo sets, and in their first collaborative duo.

Organized by Lawrence Kumpf.



Okkyung Lee, a New York-based artist and South Korea native, has created a body of work blurring genre boundaries through collaborations and compositions while pushing the limitation of contemporary cello performance techniques. Her music draws from noise and extended techniques, jazz, Western classical, and Korean traditional and popular music. Since moving to New York in 2000, She has released more than 20 albums including her latest solo record Ghil produced by Lasse Marhaug on Editions Mego/Ideologic Organ, and Noisy Love Songs (for George Dyer) on Tzadik. She has performed and recorded artists from wide ranging genres including Laurie Anderson, David Behrman, Mark Fell, Douglas Gordon, Jenny Hval, Vijay Iyer, Christian Marclay, Ikue Mori, Lawrence D “Butch” Morris, Marina Rosenfeld, Jim O’Rourke, Evan Parker, Wadada Leo Smith, C Spencer Yeh and John Zorn to name just a few. Okkyung was rewarded with prestigious Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in 2015, was an ISSUE Project Room Artist-In-Residence in 2011, and received a Foundation For Contemporary Arts Grant in 2010.

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar has distinguished himself with a mastery of disparate musical styles and a singular approach to combining aspects of Middle Eastern music with American jazz, extending the boundaries of each tradition. A skilled jazz trumpeter with a classical background, ElSaffar has created new techniques to play microtones and ornaments that are idiomatic to Arabic music but are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is an acknowledged performer of the classical Iraqi maqam tradition, and performs actively in the US, Europe and the Middle East as a vocalist and santur player. He currently leads four critically-acclaimed ensembles: Two Rivers, the Amir ElSaffar Quintet, The Alwan Ensemble, and Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US performing the Iraqi Maqam in its traditional format. In addition, he has worked with Cecil Taylor, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, Marc Ribot, Henry Grimes, and Oliver Lake. ElSaffar has appeared on numerous recordings, and has released six under his own name.