"Come, let us all be friends for once. Let us make life easy on us. Let us be lovers and loved ones. The earth shall be left to no one" - Yunus Emre.
On Saturday 3 November at the Cairo Opera House and on Sunday 4 November at the Alexandria Opera House, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra gave a very special concert. Conducted by Nayer Nagui, and accompanied by A Cappella Choir and soloists, the evenings presented Yunus Emre, Oratorio for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 26. The composition by Ahmet Adnan Saygun is based on the Sufi verses of the iconic 13th century Turkish mystic Yunus Emre.
The concert was the result of cooperation between the Cairo Opera House and the Turkish Embassy in Cairo; it included four soloists from Turkey: Esin Tlinli (soprano), Fedra Yetiser (mezzo-soprano), Senol Talinli (tenor) and Tevfik Rodos (bass). Dubbed as “A Message of Peace and Love”, the evening aimed to remind the audience of the peace and understanding that both nations, Egypt and Turkey, aspire to: Yunus Emre’s poetry encourages awareness of divine love through human emotions. Though written in the 13th century, Emre’s words transcend time, moving beyond cultural and social limitations. As such the oratorio is a perfect message of unification and peace, stressing international humanism and truth.
“Mystic is what they call me. Hate is my only enemy; I harbour a grudge against none. To me the whole wide world is one,” Emre says.
The Cairo evening opened with a short speech by H.E. Huseyin Avni Botsali, Ambassador of Turkey to Egypt. “We witnessed unfortunate events some time ago,” the Ambassador referred to the Innocence of Muslims film that generated anger across the Muslim World. “I believe that Turkey with all its Muslims, all its people, Turkish Embassy in Egypt can answer those events with positive feelings, trying to find peace between cultures, civilisations and their peoples. The best answer would be a peaceful, Godly message that can find its power during an evening of love and peace. This is the answer we offer to the insults and tensions that our cultures are subjected to. Enjoy the message of peace and love that we send from Cairo, joining the hands of Turkey and Egypt.”
Having performed both national anthems, Egyptian and Turkish, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, A Cappella Choir and the soloists began Saygun’s work.
It is interesting to note that last April, the Oratorio was performed by the Turksoy Symphony Orchestra in the United States and included the same soloists who sang in Egypt. Two concerts, dubbed “Symphony of Voices from Turkish Lands,” took place at the Lincoln Centre’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York and at the Strathmore Music Centre in Washington. Three of the soloists who performed in Cairo, soprano Esin Talinli, mezzo-soprano Ferda Yetiser and tenor Senol Talinli, took part in the US performance; the evenings culminated with long standing ovations and positive responses from critics. Bass Tevfik Rodos lived up to the challenge in the Cairo performance, together with all the soloists, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and A Cappella Choir; they did not fail to provide memorable moments, inspiring Egypt’s audience as well.
Ahmet Adnan Saygun, a hallmark of Turkish music the and pride of the nation, was the country’s pioneer of polyphonic composition. His interest in folkloric material drove him to rediscover traditional Turkish music, setting it within contemporary musical forms and entwining them with traditional rhythms and modes.
“Saygun was to his country what Sibelius is to Finland, what de Falla is to Spain, and what Bartok is to Hungary,” writes Azza Madian in the programme notes, quoting Saygun’s obituary published by the London Times. We can only add that Emre is to Turkey what Rumi is to Iran.
The Oratorio was composed by Saygun six centuries after the life of the poet. The marriage between Saygun’s musical skills, Anatolian rhythmic structures and Emre’s iconic national status revives the deepest riches of the Turkish legacy and serves as an unparalleled delight for audiences worldwide. Immediately after its premiere in Ankara in 1947, the Oratorio was translated to many languages and performed across the globe, each time proving to be a great success for the orchestras, choirs and soloists. As the programme notes point out, among its memorable performances was the one in 1958, in English, at the United Nations, “led by conductor Leopold Stokowski with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.”
The oratorio is a large-scale work; it consists of three main parts and is based on thirteen selected poems. The post-romantic style of the composition accentuates the poet’s spirituality, at times as if talking to God, praying, looking at mankind or entangled in passion; from the warmth of heavenly, soothing passages to rich musical intensity, the listener is invited to an artistic, spiritual as well as intellectual journey. In many songs, the depth of Tawfik Rodos bass and Ferda Yetiser’s mezzo adds balmy rounding to the poetry.
One can not omit the very good flute solos from part 4: Hast Thou Exiled Hither Come? In parallel, the A Cappella Choir impressed the audience with its discipline and wonderful performance throughout the evening, with a particularly impressive part 5: The Groaning Water Wheel Am I. The Cairo Symphony Orchestra, in its turn, approached the material with adequate capability, and one of the last parts, no 12: Vivo: Love When It Comes Leaves Nothing To Be Desired gathered all the powers of the orchestra, choir and soloists.
No doubt, the Yunus Emre Oratorio was a one of a kind evening at the Cairo Opera House. Chapeau to the Turkish Embassy for the initiative. The Main Hall was filled with attentive listeners and, as was apparent, many of the attendees were new to the concert hall, a fact proved by ovations that exploded not only after each part of the Oratorio but also, often, following crescendos.