Composer Reena Esmail | Photo by Rachel Garcia
Hit play below to listen to our extended Arts Alive feature with Reena Esmail.
Diverse musical worlds come together this weekend with the LA Master Chorale at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s a piece that brings together chorus, a Baroque orchestra, tabla, and a sitar; and bridges time and place and seven different major religious traditions. The music is by Los Angeles composer Reena Esmail and it’s called This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity. Esmail tells me she wrote it in the throes of the contentious 2016 presidential election and one of the goals of the piece was to celebrate the idea that, as humans, there is more that unites us than divides us.
“For me, as a composer, I think of myself as an engineer of spaces,” Esmail says “I can bring whoever I want into the conversation. I can bring them into dialogue in specific ways. So, when I’m composing, I actually start with those questions: who is in the room? How can they feel comfortable expressing themselves? In this case, I brought together people who come from a Hindustani classical tradition and people who come from a Western classical tradition. [In the piece,] I’m trying to find ways that they can shine and really truly feel like they are able to express what they know best and then also ways that they can start to interact with each other. I think it’s just a matter of comfort and, through that comfort, being able to express what they need to express.”
The seven religious traditions in Reena Esmail’s This Love Between Us are the major religious traditions of India: Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Islam.
“What I wanted to say in this piece,” Esmail says, “was whatever religious tradition you believe in, whatever you care about, whatever moves you, there’s no place in your tradition that’s going to tell you to be bad to other people. If you’re choosing to be bad to other people, it’s not your religion that’s telling you to do that. It doesn’t have to be about where you start. It’s about where you use your teaching to end up and what conclusions you draw. So many religious teachings are so broad and you can interpret them in a variety of ways. We can choose to interpret religious teaching in a way that allows us to be inclusive and to be good to one another.”
KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen and composer Reena Esmail | Photo by Jennifer Scott
Reena Esmail tells me she wants her music to be both inspirational and also inspire action.
“I’m always trying to think: what is the bigger conversation? How can we make sure people feel that their voice is valued? I think it even goes beyond just being heard. We hear it and what do we do about it? How do we actually build relationships that allow people a way to get the resources they need and live in the world in a way that goes beyond just including them, but actually partnering with them. Actually using their gifts and the perspective they bring to create a society that values that. Again, I think that a lot of these things are in various religious teachings and if we just look at them, I mean, it’s been there for ages.”
Reena Esmail is the composer of This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity, which receives its West Coast premiere Sunday evening by the LA Master Chorale, 7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall. More information is available at lamasterchorale.org.