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Two men playing grand piano and a guitar.

Father & Son: Marcel & Rami Khalifé

Ahead of their Concert Hall show, Marcel and Rami discuss their father-son bond, their music and what it’s like performing together.

Oscar Godsell

There is nothing quite like the bond between a father and son. Marcel and Rami Khalifé are not just family members, but also an acclaimed musical partnership – performing their latest concert, Legacy, at the Sydney Opera House in early February. The performance tells the story of a father and son who find solace in music during exile.

Music was constantly echoing through the rooms of the Khalifé family home. They would eat, drink and sleep with music, says Marcel. In fact, all four members of the Khalifé family are performers, so it’s no surprise that a big part of their connection is musical. 

What is it like performing as a father-son duo?

Marcel: When Rami and I play music, we are overwhelmed with great joy. We are birds flying disobediently toward a distant horizon.

Rami: It is always a joy and a feeling of gratitude being able to share special moments with my father and sharing the same passion for music on world stages.

How long have you been performing together?

Marcel: Years ago, when Rami was young. He was still in school.

Rami: Our shared journey started in 1998.

What’s the difference between performing on your own and now with each other?

Marcel: When I play solo, I am in a state of oneness with myself. When I play with Rami, we share two souls and one belief in realising the impossible.

Rami: Performing on my own is total freedom, but performing with my father is basically mastering the art of compromise, which in a way is a great lesson for life and living in a society where you have to listen and respect others and their views.

Are there any challenges working as a father-son duo?

Marcel: We are not on the stage as father and son, but as musicians. We owe it to the audience to present our best. And when the evening is over, I return as a father to my boy.

Rami: As a classical relationship between a father and a son, some arguments and little fights, but most of all, it is a great pleasure to share the stage.

How have you influenced each other’s music?

Marcel: Rami was born in a house full of music. In this musical atmosphere, Rami lived and was influenced, from here he embarked on his own artistic journey and developed his musical projects.

Rami: I guess the biggest influence I took is the generosity my father displays on stage. He always gives one hundred percent of himself, as if those moments might be the last.

What is your favourite piece to perform together?

Marcel: There are many tracks that I like to play with Rami on piano, including ‘Rita’ and ‘Passport’.

Rami: ‘Passport’.

What do you admire most about each other’s music?

Marcel: His absolute freedom and will to compose and play.

Rami: His generosity, passion, uncompromising professionalism. And his energy.

What do you think is each other’s greatest skill?

Marcel: The piano keys can no longer accommodate a rebellious musician like Rami, and that is why he uses piano wood for percussion. I hope that there will be a new piano invented to compliment Rami’s playing and composition.

Rami: His finesse and unmistakable touch on the oud.

What is your favourite memory of playing together?

Marcel: Every evening has its own memory. We have visited most of the world’s city theatres. Memories are still engraved at the Sydney Opera House, at Royal Albert Hall, at Royal Opera House Muscat, at the Canadian Opera Center, at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and others.

Rami: Probably our first big joint concert back in Jordan, at the arena. Also when he shared the stage with me at my graduation from The Juilliard School in New York.

Where do you get your musical inspiration from?

Marcel: Nature is the most important source of music. The sounds of birds – we learn a lot from them. The roaring sea. The vast desert. All of which is the inspiration for musical writing.

Rami: I take from many inspirational figures but the most important is to believe in yourself and your own message.

Who practises more?

Marcel: I imagine both.

Rami: We both are hard workers.

How do you like to spend time with each other outside of music?

Marcel: On the seashore or in the bosom of nature, and in the great silence.

Rami: Going to nice restaurants (we love food) and hiking together in the mountains of Lebanon.

What do you hope people take away from the concert?

Marcel: That people take music and songs with them. They take with them the euphoria of the evening and wait for our return from year to year.

Rami: That they reflect, and that they leave the hall happy and emotionally fulfilled.

What does it mean to be returning to the Sydney Opera House?

Marcel: It is not our first time, as we previously held two evenings at the Sydney Opera House with a quartet, and Rami accompanied us. The other was a trio with me, Rami and my second son, Bachar. The evenings were crowded, the audience came from many Australian cities to attend, and their voices still ring in our ears.

Rami: Playing in an iconic venue is always a joy, we’ve already played two times at the Sydney Opera House, but we’re very excited to try the new acoustics in the renovated Concert Hall.

Find more about Contemporary Music at the Opera House