This Love Between Us is a piece about unity. Its seven movements juxtapose the words of seven major religious traditions of India (Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam), and specifically how each of these traditions approaches the topic of unity, of brotherhood, of being kind to one another. The texts come either straight from canonical religious writings or from poets who write through the lens of their religion. Each text is itself a union: it is set simultaneously in English and in its original language (with the exception of the Christian text, where the Malayalam is a translation), so you can hear the beauty of the original and grasp its meaning through translation. Each movement also contains a unique combination of Indian and Western classical styles, running the continuum from the Christian movement, which is rooted firmly in a baroque style, to the Zoroastrian movement, which is a Hindustani vilambit bandish. Each of the other movements live somewhere in between these two musical cultures in their techniques, styles and forms. But even more than uniting musical practices, this piece unites people from two different musical traditions: a sitar and tabla join the choir and baroque orchestra. Each of the musicians is asked to keep one hand firmly rooted in their own tradition and training, while reaching the other hand outward to greet another musical culture.
This piece is also a union for me. The time I spent studying at both Yale and Juilliard have been the foundation of my career as a Western composer. And my Fulbright year, studying Hindustani music in India opened my ears and mind to the world of Hindustani classical music. One day in late 2015, after months of pleading with embassies, government officials and agencies, I finally lost the battle for the visa I needed to return to India, simply because my grandfather had moved his family to Pakistan in the 1950s. I have never been more heartbroken in my life. The pain of being from two places is that, wherever you are, you always miss the other place. And somehow, as if in answer to my despair, the very next day I received the email asking me to write this piece — the one you will hear today. If it is impossible to be in both places at once, or at all, I have strived every day since then to create this hybrid, united world in my music.
I wrote This Love Between Us through some of the darkest times in our country and in our world. But my mind always returns to the last line of this piece, the words of Rumi, which are repeated like a mantra over affirming phrases from each religion, as they wash over one another: “Concentrate on the Essence. Concentrate on the Light.”
Two beautiful commercial recordings of This Love Between Us are available for purchase:
New England Choirworks (Hyperion) – Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415, David Hill, conductor with Rabindra Goswami (sitar) and Ramachandran Pandit (tabla) – This is the premiere recording of This Love Between Us, using period instruments. The album also contains works by Tawnie Olson, Roderick Williams, David Hill and Daniel Kellogg. Click below to buy the album on iTunes:
This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity / Giishkaapkag – The Elora Singers; Mark Vuorinen, conductor; Rajib Karmakar, sitar; Ed Hanley, tabla – this recording uses modern instruments. The album also contains a work by Canadian composer Barbara Croall Click below to listen on Spotify:
Special Performance Requirements
This work requires a sitar and tabla player, and they will require amplification. While the sitar and tabla player do not need previous experience working with Western musicians, the process of putting together the work will require a step outside of the traditional rehearsal process. The ‘parts’ consist of charts that are created with Hindustani-trained musicians in mind.
It is advisable to use an ‘intermediary’ — someone who can sit on stage with the sitar and tabla players and cross-cue with the conductor.
A detailed performance practice guide for This Love Between Us (available for purchase in the store) has been compiled by Lindsay Pope, as part of her doctoral dissertation, Beyond the Binary: The intersection of Gender and Cross-Cultural Identity in Reena Esmail’s Life and Choral Works.
a PDF of all text is available upon request
These are the audio guides for the choir and vocal soloists for each movement:
These are audio guides for the sitar and tabla players (these are somewhat outdated – new audio guides are in the works)
This piece was commissioned by Yale Institute of Sacred Music. It was premiered by Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415, conducted by David Hill, with soloists Rabindra Goswami, sitar and Ramu Pandit, tabla.
The world premiere was at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on March 2, 2017, and was followed by a subsequent tour of India, including performances at NCPA in Mumbai, the Lotus Temple in Delhi, and Sir Mutha Subbarao concert hall in Chennai.
Major subsequent performances of the work include Los Angeles Master Chorale (November 2018), the Elora Festival (August 2019) and Spire Chamber Ensemble (November 2021)
…the work is an East-West fusion, combining religious texts from India’s seven major religions with the European Baroque orchestral-choral tradition. At heart, it is a gentle piece that pleads for a more humanitarian approach to our violent, overly divided world.
Esmail’s choral writing in this work soars angelically with a hopeful degree of optimism in the human race’s capacity for compassion — which, at the moment, seems in disastrously short supply.– San Francisco Classical Voice
For “This Love Between Us,” the composer culled texts from the seven major religious traditions of India: Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam. At the center of each tradition she sees a call for kindness, for respect.– LA Times
Esmail’s music is by turns ethereal, ecstatic, wondrous, full of awe and invention, colored throughout by an Eastern palette. Her fusion of orchestra and voice with the added subcontinent instruments achieved, at times, mystical heights.– People’s World
The result, a 40-minute work for choir, Baroque orchestra, sitar, and tabla, turned out to be especially resonant in light of our recent political upheavals.– Strings Magazine
Having heard, reviewed and prepared many works that attempt to provide a crossover between our symphonic tradition and the music of other cultures, or works that combine period instrument ensembles with contemporary compositional practices, I approached this piece with a degree of caution and trepidation. When cross-cultural or cross-period synthesis works, it is quite lovely. But, it is difficult to make it work successfully—despite the best intentions of composers and performers. Reena Esmail not only related elements of classical Indian music to the symphonic tradition, but also utilized advanced Western compositional techniques, all with an orchestra and chorus versed in the stylistic and technical demands of the Baroque era. The results were extremely successful. This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity is a powerful work of music. Essentially an oratorio, the work features settings of religious poetry and hymns from the religious traditions of Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism Jainism, Hinduism and Islam. The texts are sung both in their original languages, as well as in English. In this era of ethnic genocides and of intolerance for refugees and for other cultures, This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity makes a most compelling plea that we come to see the oneness of our humanity and thus unite around the many points of overlap among the various spiritual traditions. I was particularly taken by the interplay between Goswami’s sitar and the orchestra’s oboe d’amore and bassoon. They created wonderful, original colors, including mutual pitch-bends that added great poignancy to the soulfulness of mezzo-soprano Adele Grabowski’s singing of “How can we still call someone evil, when all are the creation of One?” by the Sikh guru Granth Sahib. Also remarkable was the duet by soprano Natasha Schnur and tenor James Reese to the Hindu text that begins, “This love between us goes back to the first humans.” Here Reese sang in a Western style while Schnur sang in an Indian manner. They reversed stylistic roles about halfway through this movement, at the words “Are you looking for me?” further and eloquently depicting the universality of humanity. Baritone Charles Littlewood, tablaist Pandit and the male chorus gave a haunting rendition of the Zoroastrian movement. Esmail’s music showed a strong influence from Benjamin Britten and other conservative mid-century symphonic masters as well as a great understanding of Indian traditions, yet her music did not lose its own individual character. The chorus performed well, and conductor David Hill did a fine job of keeping the various forces synchronized. Composer Esmail herself was on the stage, helping to coordinate between the Indian and western performers. She received a well-deserved, enthusiastic ovation from the audience.– Opera News
When I began my career as a composer in 2001, I never imagined that I would be doing the work that I am doing now. It was well beyond my wildest dream that I would be a connector between the two musical cultures that make up my musical identity, that I would develop close working relationships with some of the most incredible musicians from both cultures and be able to create environments in my music that would allow them to make music together. I hope to continue to do this work and to continue to grow musically with each new piece that I write.
I also take my responsibility to the next generation of composers very seriously. Even though I’m still considered young, at 34, I know that there is a whole generation of composers just coming into this field, just deciding whether they want to take the next steps into a professional career in music. I want to do everything in my power to create an encouraging, supportive environment where the most talented and passionate young composers can find their way in music.from Serenade Magazine‘s feature on the premiere of This Love Between Us