(notes for the original work, for choir and obligato violin or 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.
This version of When The Violin was adapted for Vijay Gupta as part of the 2020 Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, given by Americans for the Arts. Because the lecture was given remotely, due to COVID-19, the original piece was adapted in a more intimate version, for solo violin.
Listen to this version and then listen to the talk below:
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 down
And start combing you into
When the violin can forgive
Every wound caused by
The heart starts
— Hafiz, The Gift (tr. Daniel Ladinsky)
The current version was commissioned by Americans for the Arts, and was premiered by Vijay Gupta as part of the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on June 23, 2020.
“Hafiz’s poem When the violin is a must-read, and was the inspiration for Reena Esmail’s short piece for solo violin of the same name. Shaham’s interpretation was haunting and utterly beautiful, the many false harmonics and glissandos shimmering into the air. Frequent use of a drone gave the work a distinctly Eastern feel and Shaham played with tremendous depth of emotion.” review of Gil Shaham’s performance of When The Violin in The Strad Magazine