The British composer embraces film and dance in her new composition based on mystical Persian poetry
Composer Sally Beamish has always enjoyed exploring and incorporating foreign idioms, particularly jazz and traditional Scottish music, in her work. Her recent concerto for Scottish fiddle and harp is a fine example, its northern folk melodies jostling with underlying funk-derived rhythms. But this November, the composer unveils a new work that demonstrates the true scope of her musical imagination. The Intoxicating Rose Garden is a collaborative, multi-faceted work combining film, dance and music. It was inspired by the artist Jila Peacock’s interpretations of poems by the 14th century Persian poet Hafez.
Next month there are three performances of the new work by Scottish contemporary group, Red Note Ensemble. Anoosh Jahanshahi, the Iranian composer and performer, will preface each performance with his own settings of Hafez’s poetry for voice and setar (a Persian member of the lute family), in the classical Persian style. These settings were an inspiration for Beamish’s own take on the Persian poet’s work. ‘Listening to Anoosh, you are taken into a very intimate space,' she explained to Gramophone. Beamish has sought an imitation of the soft sound of Jahanshahi’s setar in her own instrumental grouping (cello, flute/recorder, trumpet, harp, bell and voice), and has matched the Iranian singer’s characteristic use of ornamentation in her vocal part.
Hafez’s esoteric poetry first caught Beamish’s attention when she came across Peacock’s Ten Poems from Hafez, in which the artist pairs her translations of Hafez’s texts with ‘shape poems’ – graphic designs of birds and beasts (referenced in Hafez’s text), shaped from the calligraphy of the original Farsi text. These animals find a voice in Beamish’s music – the cries of Hafez’s birds are heard in the recorder and the vocal part, while the soft tread of the deer is echoed by the music’s gentle rhythmic impulses. Beamish explained that the totally unselfconscious way in which Peacock translated the poems seemed to ask for musical expression; the composer was drawn to their articulation of the ‘universal idea of the human condition – that longing for oneness but always being in conflict’.
Because she had always wanted to work with dance, Beamish felt that the richness of this musical setting would be enhanced by the incorporation of movement. She was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the four Red Note instrumentalists to incorporate physicality into their performance. The solo dance role is being performed by choreographer Michael Popper, who - as a ‘true operatic bass’ – also provides the vocal element. ‘There are no boundaries in the work,' Sally explained. ‘The dance, the voice, the musicians and Laurie Irvine’s video projections are one’.
The Intoxicating Rose Garden is receiving its premiere on November 15 at the Tolbooth in Stirling. Click here for more information.