May 24th, 2010 4:00 pm | by Jacob Reingold Arts & Books | Posted In: Classical

Jailhouse Classical: Portland Cello Project Plays Pieces Composed by Imprisoned Cellist


Imprisoned cellist Harun Mustafa, whose dubious imprisonment WW chronicled recently, got to hear the debut of three pieces he composed behind bars when the Portland Cello Project featured his work in a concert on Saturday night.

Between collaborations with established local performers at the sold-out Aladdin, the Cello Project showcased three new songs by the 20-year-old Mustafa. Mustafa's former youth ensemble, the Pacific Crest Sinfonietta, accompanied the Cello Project for two of those three compositions.

Three members of the Cello Project then performed a third piece called “Duality of Three,” which Mustafa had mailed them three days earlier from the Snake River Correctional Institution. Mustafa listened to the music over the phone from the prison, though the audience couldn't determine his reaction because he wasn't on speaker phone.

Mustafa, a once-promising cello player at Jefferson High School, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2009 for shivving someone during a fight. But the wound he inflicted required only one stitch to fix and looked to many like self defense.

Jyothi Pulla, mother of one of Mustafa's bandmates, contacted the Portland Cello Project at the end of last year after she started advocating for Mustafa. The Cello Project agreed to perform some of his music before they ever even heard it because they were moved by Mustafa's story.

Douglas Jenkins, one of the cellists with the group and a Franklin High School ESL teacher, told WW he wanted to draw attention to Mustafa's story because he felt it could easily happen to one of his own students.

The Aladdin's audience of around 600 people sighed in remorse during a 10-minute documentary produced by Pulla about Mustafa and applauded loudly for his music.

Saturday's show also featured Portland artists Storm Large, Laura Gibson, Sallie Ford, Stephen Marc Beaudoin, and Two Penguins Productions.
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