New York (NY), USA – A gutsy music festival featuring premieres of nine bold works from Eastern and Western religious traditions, a rarely performed spiritual composition by legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck and a transformative intercultural concert that weaves sacred music from earliest biblical times to the “golden age” of medieval Spain, when Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths enjoyed an unrivaled harmony, will be held at Merkin Concert Hall in New York November 4-5.
The second Festival of Universal Sacred Music, produced and sponsored by the nonprofit Foundation for Universal Sacred Music, will feature the first performances of extraordinary commissioned works by some of the world’s foremost contemporary sacred music composers, including Emmy and Juno Award winners.”The festival dares to juxtapose and integrate musical and religious styles and customs in ways that we believe will open people’s minds and hearts,” says foundation Executive Director Ullamaija Kivimaki. “The courageous, healing music will help us celebrate our diversity while at the same time recognize all that we share in common. And through this, it can give us a sacred musical experience far richer and fuller than that of any single tradition.”
The foundation’s purpose is to help bridge the spiritual differences that divide the world today by fostering the creation and promotion of music that reflects the unifying and unconditional love of God.
Under the music directorship of conductor Susanne Peck, the festival’s nine commissioned works will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Reserved seats are $35. Brubeck’s piece will be performed during Saturday night’s concert. The intercultural concert will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, with reserved seats $30.
Discounted Festival Passes, with reserved seats for all three concerts, are available for only $90. Groups, senior citizens and students are eligible for further discounts.
Complimentary receptions, during which audience members may meet the composers and musicians, follow the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon concerts.
Commissioned compositions and composers at the festival include:
• “To God of All Nations,” a four-movement choral and instrumental piece, composed by University of Toronto professor and Hong Kong native Ka Nin Chan, that interweaves passages from the Bible, Koran and Buddhist writings to express the diversity of faiths and the oneness of God.
• “The Family of God,” a harmonic, contrapuntal piece in four sections, by Emmy Award-winning Stephen Cohn of Los Angeles, observing the divisions humanity has created from its religious differences.
• “Mandala for Dawn,” a musical mantra, by Kim Cunio of Sydney, Australia, of a soul’s liberation to light from darkness, as well as compassion, mercy and emptiness, following the killing of Dawn Griggs, a dear friend of the Cunio’s, who was murdered on her arrival in New Delhi for a meditation retreat; featuring the angelic voice of concert soprano soloist Heather Lee, winner of an ARIA award.
• “Woods: A Prose Sonnet,” by Julie Dolphin of Purchase, N.Y., articulating an aural forest that celebrates the universal sum of love that rejoices in the beauty of life’s diversity as an expression of its inherent and coherent unity.
• “Plus près de toi que tu ne l’es toi-même” (“Closer to You Than You Are to It Yourself”) for vocal ensemble a cappella (M. 651), written by Laurent Mettraux of Courtaman, Switzerland, for eight soloist voices and an eight-part choir, juxtaposing ancient Jewish blessings, German Christian mystical rhyming couplets, the Great Hymn to the Aten from the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, the Infinite Life Sutra of Pure Land Buddhism and a mystical poem by the Islamic scholar Ibn Arabi, a prime exponent of “wahdat al-wujud,” or the “unity of being.”
• “The Great Invocation,” by Nicholas Ng of Canberra, Australia, blending multiple intonations of the sacred Hindu syllable “Om” with Chinese Chan Buddhist chants and medieval Gregorian liturgical music; featuring renowned indigenous didgeridoo recording artist Ash Dargan of the Larrakia Nation of Darwin, Australia.
• “Echad” (“One”), by Maya Raviv of Tel Aviv, Israel, combining Jewish and Muslim music and tradition, in which the descendants of the two sons of Abraham recognize each other as brethren, praying together for themselves and for each other in a sacred celebration of musical lines, multilingual sounds and the shared experience of connecting with the divine in the truth of human oneness.
• “God Picks Up the Reed-Flute World,” an instrumental quartet setting, by J. Mark Scearce, director of the Music Department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, of two lyric poems by the great 13th century Islamic Persian sage and poet mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi, expressing Rumi’s view that life is music, if we would only listen.
• “Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra,” a melodic and harmonic concerto in three movements, with solos in between — composed by Indian sitar master Roop Verma and orchestrated by Argentina native Alejandro Rutty — integrating a Western instrumental ensemble with traditional Indian instruments and the silky voice of Deepak Kumar Pareek to help express humanity’s common sacred musical heritage and quest for a fuller and richer spiritual life.
Sacred Brubeck Work, Transformative Intercultural Concert
[image2_right]The festival will also include a rare performance Saturday night of Dave Brubeck’s moving tribute to the interconnectedness of all life, “Earth Is Our Mother” (1992). The inspiring piece, for choir and jazz ensemble, with a baritone solo, is a glorious appreciation of the seamless, interlaced arrangement of spirituality, life and land. It was inspired by a famous 1854 speech by Chief Seattle, a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes, in what is now Washington state.
The transformative intercultural concert, at 2 p.m. Sunday, titled “Universal Sacred Music: The Thread of Life,” by Kim Cunio, will be an extraordinary, 90-minute interweaving of some of the earliest and purest sacred music, from antiquity through the Middle Ages.
The stunning performance, featuring soprano soloist Heather Lee, interlaces melodies that animated the spirituality of Baghdadi Israelites in 2500 B.C.E., the mystical resonances revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the holy melodies and rhythms of Jesus’ time and the vibrant musical culture of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
It also weaves vocal expressions of humanity’s natural impulse to seek and experience the divine, from the ancient chanting of Hindu and Buddhist mantras to the great flowering of medieval Christian devotional music.
And it articulates the melodic virtuosity of Islamic music in its classic heartland in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia before journeying to the Al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to parts of Spain that Muslims governed from 711 to 1492. During that “golden age,” Islam, Christianity and Judaism were officially recognized as a blessing, not a problem, and the diversity expressed in sacred music revealed a totality of God that no one faith could express.
Some of the works at the festival will be performed by the composers themselves. All will be performed by distinguished instrumentalists and singers, including the 32-voice Foundation for Universal Sacred Music choir, representing the best talent from around the world.
Merkin Concert Hall, part of the Kaufman Center, is located in Goodman House, 129 West 67th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City.
For more information, visit the Foundation for Universal Sacred Music Web site at www.universalsacredmusic.org.
To order reserved seats, contact the Merkin box office at 212-501-3330 or visit www.kaufman-center.org/tc/0607/usm.php.