M. Cherif Bassiouni is Emeritus Professor of Law at DePaul University where he taught for 45 years. He was a founding member of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul, where he later served as President and Emeritus President. Among his numerous accomplishments, Professor Bassiouni has served on and chaired a number of U.N. and National Commissions of Inquiry into the conflicts of (former) Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Bahrain. The author of many books and law review articles in several languages, he was nominated for the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize for his seminal work in the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
What drew you to classical music?
I’ve been attracted to classical music since I was five or six years old. I heard it at home all the time–everyone in my father’s family played an instrument. My paternal grandmother was a pianist and played famous opera arias at home. My parents had a box at the Cairo Opera, I’d be a kid in a suit, mesmerized at the opera. At the age of ten, I became enamored with Chopin’s Polonaises. I began piano lessons because I loved it so much. Three lessons later, and I turned to my teacher, and asked when I could play the Polonaises. He said “maybe in five years.” I was too impatient, so–no more piano lessons for me.
What inspired you to dedicate seats in Orchestra Hall?
My late wife’s father was a violinist with the CSO in the 1930s. His daughter, Nina, began playing piano at the age of five. Her Northwestern Music School graduation recital was on stage at Symphony Center. Nina and I went to the CSO together for 30 years. We had seats 109 and 110. I thought about Nina’s debut here, her father being here, and her and me sitting in those chairs for over 30 years. I felt that the memory should be honored.
How does music support your work in international criminal law?
We all try to maintain an inner balance, particularly in times of sorrow. My experience investigating five wars in modern times–it’s pretty horrible. And it doesn’t seem that human nature has become any better–the façade changes, the technology, the science, but human atavism always appears. When you face that, what options do you have if you want to keep your sanity? You try to reach something inside you which takes you to a better place. I’ve never found anything that can transport me out of this universe and into another like music can. This allows you to come back to reality with the beauty of that music in the background.
Are you drawn to certain composers or repertoire?
It becomes a subconscious process. In difficult times, I find myself humming or thinking of a piece, having no idea where it came from. It’s something that comes out from the inside. And I think that’s because my musical formation was an emotional one as opposed to a studied one. So my reaction is an emotional one, and I’m very grateful for it. I want to keep it as such.
Any advice for today’s concertgoers?
I think it’s important for audiences and new generations of concertgoers to experience the feelings that the music engenders as opposed to approaching it as a stage performance. To me, the real test is when the performance has ended. It’s like you’re coming out of a dream and you don’t know how long it lasted– you just know that you lived through it and it was beautiful and uplifting. The practical dimensions–time, space, who’s on stage doing what–disappear. The music creates a link between you and your humanity, and what’s beautiful about human-kind.
To learn more about dedicating a seat in Orchestra Hall, please contact Liz Heinitz, director of annual giving and development operations, at 312-294-3191.