In Hindustani music, Malhaar(p/d) refers to a family of raags that beckon rain. As the legend goes, the greatest musicians could cause a downpour from even the most severely parched skies by the power of their song.
This is the inspiration for Malhaar: A Requiem for Water. As drought worsened in Southern California, I yearned for a way to process the rising panic. The work intertwines texts from the traditional Latin Requiem mass alongside the work of Wendell Berry and William O’Daly, along with interspersed Hindi. It traces a trajectory of beauty and awe of water, the fear and devastation around its loss, an answered plea of atonement, and eventually a promise of a new cycle of life, as the water returns to the skies.
This is a hopeful requiem. While the collective loss has been so tremendous, we can still hold out hope that if we change our relationship to the earth, we might beckon the rain back.
Post script: The week we rehearsed and premiered this requiem in Los Angeles, the city received record rainfall. With over 60 singers, all singing the most beautiful Malhaar, maybe there’s something to that legend after all 😉
(archival recording will be available upon request — due to union regulations we cannot release the full recording publicly, but it will accessible privately for perusal purposes only)
Special Performance Requirements
This work requires two Hindustani musicians: a vocalist and a tabla player. Please note that this work, though written specifically for musicians who have Hindustani technique and training, also requires the ability to follow a conductor and work within a Western musical setting. If you are looking to program this work with your ensemble and have not worked with Hindustani musicians before, please contact us to discuss logistics. We are happy to offer suggestions and make recommendations.
The work also requires a Western percussionist on a variety of mallet and unpitched instruments. (note: the original version required two percussionists, but has been edited down for only one going forward.)
These are not available publicly yet, but can be made available to your ensemble if you are programming this work.
Malhaar: A Requiem for Water was commissioned by Los Angeles Master Chorale. It was premiered on March 26, 2023 at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA with Grant Gershon, conductor; Saili Oak, Hindustani vocals; Abhiman Kaushal, tabla; Graycen Gardner, soprano; Adam Faruqi, tenor; and Western percussionists Theresa Dimond and Daniel La France.
“Esmail, raised and now based in Los Angeles, is LAMC’s composer-in-residence and has created a fresh and profound choral jewel with Malhaar….Esmail’s new piece stirred the ear and soul and proposed a surprisingly supple and affecting cultural synthesis. The Requiem lives, ever renewable in creative hands.” — San Francisco Classical Voice review, Reena Esmail’s Malhaar Is a Rainmaker for Los Angeles Master Chorale
Spectrum News video coverage (March 24, 2023) about the LA Master Chorale premiere of Malhaar (Kristopher Gee)
“In a way,” Esmail said, “I almost feel like I’m finding musical cognates. Sometimes those cognates mean one thing in a certain culture and they mean another thing in another culture or language. And you can use those cognates to create this glue that allows people to understand each other, maybe without even realizing that they’re understanding each other.”
—Los Angeles Times feature (March 25, 2023) “California’s escalating water crisis galvanized composer Reena Esmail’s new work” (Tim Greiving)
“These days, we talk about representation a lot — the idea that ‘If you can see it, you can be it.” But I’ve found the opposite to be equally true: maybe if you can’t see it, that means IT IS YOU…I think about some of our major South Asian celebrities in other arts fields: Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, Kumail Nanjiani – they didn’t see what they do reflected in the world before they did it. They are trailblazers, and that’s something we admire most about their work.” — India West Journal, Composer Reena Esmail’s Unique New Work Blends Indian and Western Classical Music Traditions
“If you create a situation where people have a venue to be able to trust one another, then difficult conversations can happen.” That’s not just what composer Reena Esmail says, but also what she likes to do. Not just amongst the musicians who perform her music, but also amongst the artists and the audience at any given concert.”
— Cultural Attache feature (March 24, 2023) “Reena Esmail and her Water Music” (Craig Byrd)