(*this work was originally written for SATB+cello)
As a companion piece to Victoria’s O Vos Omnes, I chose to set a beautiful text by the 14C Persian poet Hafiz. The text of O Vos Omnes is asking, simply, to be seen in a moment of sorrow — to be beheld through suffering and darkness. And Hafiz’s text responds in such a beautiful way — it moves through that darkness and begins to let those very first slivers of light in.
This piece is about that first moment of trust, of softening. About the most inward moments of the human experience, of realizing that ‘breakthroughs’ often don’t have the hard edge, the burst of energy that the word implies, but that they can be about finding tender, warm, deeply resonant spaces within ourselves as well.
(see video above)
Can forgive the past
It starts singing.
When the violin can stop worrying
About the future
You will become
Such a drunk laughing nuisance
Will then lean dow
And start combing you into
When the violin can forgive
Every wound caused by
The heart starts
— Hafiz, The Gift (tr. Daniel Ladinsky)
Viola version was premiered by Matthew Dane and Ars Nova Singers, on April 1, 2022 in Boulder CO.
“The second half of that concert was given over to music by Esmail, who exemplifies the [Los Angeles Master Chorale]’s forward-looking spirit. The child of Indian immigrants, Esmail often draws on Hindustani musical traditions. The highlight was “When the Violin,” for chorus and solo cello, a gently ravishing setting of a text by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky: “When / The violin / Can forgive the past / It starts singing. . . .” The Master Chorale and the cellist Cecilia Tsan nimbly negotiated the score’s Hindustani gestures, which were seamlessly woven into a four-art texture modelled on Renaissance polyphony. Once more, an imaginary space of ideally resonating voices materialized, this one hovering between centuries and continents.” — Alex Ross, The New Yorker (from The LA Master Chorale’s Pyramids of Sound – April 11, 2022)