The eighth edition of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music returns from April 15 to 17 featuring music and arts from various countries, including Azerbaijan and Turkey.
The festival features four ticketed performances. In the Esplanade Concert Hall on 15 April, Fareed Ayaz and ensemble perform qawwali, a Sufi devotional form known as the “path of the heart”. With origins in ancient Islamic poetry, the music draws the audience into a transcendental world of chants, at once human and divine.
On April 16, the Buddhist Music Ensemble of Zhihua Temple from Beijing brings the sounds of ancient China to the Esplanade Recital Studio. The temple’s 27th generation of musicians will perform a 500-year-old ritual music form first introduced during China’s Ming Dynasty in the 13th century. The music is recognised in China as Intangible Cultural Heritage and features instruments common to the Ming royal courts such as the sheng (mouth organ), guan (reed pipe) and yun luo (gong chimes).
On the evening of April 16, Glory Gospel Singers, New York take to the Concert Hall stage with a rousing performance of gospel music, a form with a 150-year history. The group will feature classic pieces from the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as music from Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album and gospel music from that era.
In the Recital Studio on April 17, catch Voices from the Land of Fire: Mughams and Ashiqs of Azerbaijan by Alim Qasimov who will perform mugham, a classical Azerbaijani folk music form that carries the cultural and spiritual values of its people. Alim Qasimov is considered one of the greatest mugham singers and has also collaborated with other renowned musicians including cellist Yo-Yo Ma in his Silk Road ensemble, as well as The Kronos Quartet.
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The festival opens on April 15 with Korean acrobatic samul nori performances at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. Associated with wishes for a good harvest, the performance will be a rare visual treat of a Korean traditional lion dance against the celebratory beats of hat-twirling percussionists. On April 17, the festival closes with lively candomblé performances of percussive ceremonial dances and music associated with Afro-Brazilian gods.
From Morning to Night: Diverse cultural experiences at Esplanade
Over the weekend on April 16 and 17, the festival’s free programmes run from the early morning to the night. Festival-goers can spend a full day at Esplanade, getting immersed in diverse cultures from around the world.
The days’ programmes begin at 7am at the Esplanade Concourse with early morning chants by Buddhist monks on one day, and on the next, the singing of a collection of hymns known as suprabathams (auspicious dawn), which are recited in the inner sanctums of Hindu temples to awake deities from their celestial sleep. Beginners’ meditation sessions at the Concourse thereafter will help to calm the mind, followed by a vegetarian breakfast to nourish the body. Later in the morning, festival-goers can sample and learn about the history of different types of incense at incense appreciation workshops.
In the afternoon, festival-goers may attend talks and workshops on a variety of topics including an introduction to Turkish music, a gospel music workshop and drum masterclasses.
At the Esplanade Concourse from the afternoon to the evening, a series of performances themed Stirrings will feature soulful and introspective forms of sacred music. Not to be missed are performances featuring the sacred ceremonial gamelan music of the Royal Courts of Solo by Soerya Soemirat Mangkunegaran, Turkish sufi music performed by the Şimdi Ensemble and Singapore qasidah (Islamic devotional poetry) ensemble Madeehul Mustafa.
On Sunday afternoon, everyone is invited to experience a free pipe organ concert in the Esplanade Concert Hall. The free pipe organ concert on the Sunday of A Tapestry of Sacred Music is a festival tradition of sorts and this year’s concert features organist Michael Hey, an up and coming young organist who is also the Assistant Director of Music at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
Each day closes with performances at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre and Courtyard Green. Themed Sacred Rhythms and featuring the more extroverted and lively forms of sacred music, the performances will alternate between both venues.
At the Outdoor Theatre, highlights include the State Dance Ensemble of Sri Lanka’s showcase of Sri Lankan Buddhist ceremonial drumming and dances and Singapore’s Taoist Orchestra, a group specialising in ritual Taoist music which will put on a demonstration of Taoist ceremonial practices and martial arts.
At the Courtyard, highlights include a rare opportunity to witness the Mah Meri people of West Malaysia (an ethnic tribe who live in small settlements along the coast of South Selangor) perform an elaborate dance ritual for their ancestral spirits, complete with intricately-carved masks and costumes woven from pandan leaves.
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Due to unforeseen circumstances, Abu Muhammad will not be performing as part of Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal during Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music on Friday, April 15. The performance will still take place as scheduled, led by Fareed Ayaz.