Concert 1: Songs of Divine Love

“Songs of Divine Love: An Islamic/Christian Spiritual Concert” by the Classical Arabic Music ensemble was the first of two concerts held in conjunction with the Songs of Peace and Reconciliation Beirut Colloquium. The concert was opened up to the public and held at the Near East School of Theology.

Christian and Muslim mystical paths have as their goal the sanctifying union of humans with the divine light. These paths serve a quest of human love for God, which responds to the infinite and inconceivable love which God bears for humankind. Mystic poets convey this experience by the use of symbolic lexicons drawn from nuptial mysticism (founded in the Song of Songs) for Christians, and from the chaste and restrained love known as ‛udrī (originating with the desert poets of the Umayyad era) for Muslims.

“Songs of Divine Love: an Islamic/Christian Spiritual Concert” endeavors to embody this quest by means of cantillation and the setting to music of religious and mystical texts making reference to mystical love and illumination, such as St. Paul’s “Hymn to Love“ (1 Corinthians) and the “Light Sūra“ from the Holy Qur’an, along with poems and hymns by St. Roman the Melodist (Beirut, 490 – Constantinople, 551), Abbess Kassiani (Constantinople, 805-807), al-Husayn ibn Mansūr al-Hallāj (Iraq, 857-922), St. Symeon the New Theologian (Constantinople, 949-1024), Muhyī d-Dīn ibn ‘Arabī (Andalusia, 1164 – Damascus, 1240), and ‘Umar ibn al-Fārid (Egypt, 1181-1235). These settings take the route of a musical tradition heavily influenced by spiritual hermeneutics: the Arab-Oriental art music tradition in its encounter with ecclesiastical Antioch Orthodox tradition. The essence of the musical phrases is improvised, apart from two Orthodox hymns (whose melodies were composed by the poets and adapted to the Arabic language by Dimitri Murr) and some instrumental sequences from the Arabic Renaissance of the nineteenth century.