Marcel Khalife was born on June 10, 1950 in Amchit, Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1971, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the oud.
From 1972 to 1975, Marcel Khalife taught at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music, public Universities and other local private music institutions. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the oud.
Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalife were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.
In 1972, Marcel Khalife created a musical group in his native village, Amchit, with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Marcel Khalife's Al Mayadine Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble's musical experiences, Al Mayadine's notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalife began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.
Marcel Khalife has been invited several times to festivals of international fame such as: Baalbeck, Beit Eddine (Lebanon), Carthage, El Hammamat (Tunisia), Timgad (Algeria), Jarash (Jordan), Arles (France), Krems, Linz (Austria), Bremen (Germany), Re Orient (Sweden), Pavia (Italy), World Music Festival in San Francisco, New York, Cleveland (USA), Wellington Music Festival (New Zealand) and the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco and the Kennedy Center Arabesque Festival in WDC. Khalife has performed in such prestigious halls as the "Palace of Arts" in Montreal, "Symphony Space" and "Merkin Concert" in New York, "Berklee Theatre" and "New England Conservatory" in Boston, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, "Royal Festival Hall", and "Queen Elizabeth Hall" in London, "UNESCO Palace" of Beirut, Cairo Opera House (Egypt), "Reciprocity", "House of the Cultures of the World" and "UNESCO Hall" in Paris, "Central Dionysia" in Rome, "Yerba Buena" in San Francisco, "Sodra Teatern" in Stockholm, "Bozar" in Brussels, Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, Konzerthaus in Berlin, "Detroit Symphony Hall" in Detroit, "Sydney Opera House", "The Arts Centre" in Melbourne, Australia, “The Champs Elysees Theater” in Paris and the “Teatro Alla Scalla Milano” in Italy.
He has also composed several purely instrumental works like The Symphony of Return, Sharq, Concerto Al Andalus- Suite for oud and Orchestra, Arabian Concerto, Mouda'aba (Caress), Diwan Al oud, Jadal oud duo, oud Quartet, Al Samaa in the traditional Arabic forms and Taqasim, duo for oud and double bass which was awarded the Grand prize of the prestigious Charles Cros Academy in France in November 2007. One of his recent works, Sharq, a choral symphonic composition was performed by the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Piacenza Choir. His latest work, “Arabian Concerto”, premiered at the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra inaugural concert and was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and the Champs Elysees Theater in Paris and “Teatro Alla Scalla Milano” in Italy and the Royal Albert Hall in London, all under the baton of Maestro Lorin Maazel.
Marcel Khalife's compositions have been performed by several orchestras, notably the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Boulogne Billancourt Orchestra, The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the city of Tunis, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra and the "Absolute Ensemble" and the Italian Symphony Orchestra.
Since 1982, Marcel Khalife has been writing books on music that reflect his avant garde compositions and the maturity of his experience. He published Al Samaa, a collection of compositions for various traditional Arab musical instruments (1981), a six part methodology for the study of the oud (1982), and Arabic Music-Theory and Practice (French Edition, 1984), Jadal oud Duo (1996), OUD (1997), Andalusian Suite for oud and Orchestra (2002).
His challenges, however, are not only musical in character. Interpreter of music and oud performer, he is also a composer who is deeply attached to the text on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestinian poet par excellence, Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of the Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it.
Marcel Khalife's lyrical and instrumental recordings add up to more than 20 albums and DVDs, Promises of the storm (1976), Rain Songs (1977), Where from, do I Enter the Homeland? (1978), Weddings (1979), At the Borders (1979), Stripped Bare (1980), Happiness (1981), The Bridge (1983), Collections – 3 Albums (1984), Dreamy Sunrise (1984), Ahmad Al Arabi (1984), Peace Be With you (1989), Ode To A Homeland (1990), Arabic Coffeepot (1995), Jadal oud Duo (1996), Magic Carpet (1998), Concerto Al Andalus (2002), Caress (2004), Voyageur DVD (2004), Taqasim (2007), Sharq CD & DVD (2007).
Since 1974, Marcel Khalife has been composing music for dance which gave rise to a new genre of dance, the popular Near Eastern ballet (Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, and Popular Art Ensemble). His compositions for dance include The Marvels of the Prodigy (1974), The Black Tents (1978), A shot of Glory (1980), The Taming of the Shrew (1981), Echoes (1981), Summer Night's Dream (1992), Alissar, Queen Of Carthage (1997) and Andalusia (2000).
Marcel Khalife has also been composing soundracks for film documentaries produced by Maroun Baghdadi like Kamal Jumblatt (1976), The Martyr (1977), All for the Homeland (1978), Whispers (1979), and Maarouf Saad (1979) by Samir Zaki. He also scored music for fiction film The Half meter Incident (1981) and The Box of the World (2003) by Ousama Mohammad. His published music has also been used in Hollywood produced films like East West (2006) and Rendition (2007) and also used in independently produced films like Driving to ZigZigland (2006) by Nicole Ballivian and Me, the Other (2006) by Mohsen Melliti.
Marcel Khalife's works has been critically acclaimed both in the Arab World and worldwide. His creativity, innovations and his educational and humanitarian concerns and contributions to the promotion of arts and Culture in the Arab world has earned him tens of awards in the Arab World and Internationally. Upon his receipt of the National Palestine Medal for Arts and Culture in 2001, Khalife contributed the financial part of the Award to the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine. The Conservatory has since established in his name an annual music competition under the title of The Marcel Khalife National Music Competition grants young gifted musicians financial support for their continued music education. Following are some of the awards and recognition that Marcel Khalife has received throughout the years.
On his journey, Marcel Khalife invents and creates original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. This language elevates him to the level of an ambassador of his own culture and to the vanguard of Arabic music in search of innovators.
In June 2005 Marcel Khalife was named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his artistic achievement and humanitarian contributions.
In 2008, Marcel Khalife was worked with the Qatar Foundation and was instrumental in the establishment of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) and was named as its artistic director (2008-2010) and resident composer. He is also a member of the Board of Governance of the QPO.