- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Composer Richard Danielpour explains with an intense, harnessed rush of energy that "all love myths answer back to the first romantics," namely the medieval poets of Persia and Afghanistan, who wrote of romance in Farsi.

This venerated body of literature particularly of its leading representative, the Sufi mystic Rumi, born 1207 in Balkh, Afghanistan lies at the heart of Mr. Danielpour's new contribution to the great sea of musical love, a double concerto for violin and cello.

Called "In the Arms of the Beloved," the piece receives its East Coast premiere tonight with violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Sharon Robinson and the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, led by William Hudson. The concert is scheduled for 8 p.m. at George Mason University's Center for the Arts.

The only other performance of his new composition took place last month, when it was played by the Iris Chamber Orchestra, near MemThe only other performance of his new composition took place last month, when it was played by the Iris Chamber Orchestra, near Memphis, Tenn.

Mr. Danielpour, a 46-year-old New Yorker who is one of today's busiest classical music composers, talked about his work last month at the National Press Club in Washington under the auspices of the Fairfax Symphony.

Just before starting his double concerto, Mr. Danielpour finished "An American Requiem," a haunting work of spiritual and patriotic content for chorus and orchestra based on the Latin Mass and the poetry of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"An American Requiem" was hailed in the music press as among the first post-September 11 masterpieces after its November premiere by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, based in Santa Ana, Calif.

Rumi (or Jalaluddin Balkhi, as he is known in the Middle East) wrote a six-volume collection of odes and quatrains, "The Works of Shams of Tabriz."

Although "In the Arms of the Beloved," does not allude to any of Rumi's poems in particular, the music has absorbed the rhythms of the meters and the general sensibility of love.

Mr. Danielpour points out that Igor Stravinsky performed a similar feat with Greek mythology for his 1928 ballet "Apollo."

What was Rumi's sensibility of love? Ancient Sufi wisdom held that "when we 'see' the face of our beloved in a love relationship, we also see the face of the Divine the face of love itself," Mr. Danielpour says. Romantic love and divine love become intertwined as one.

Rumi illustrates, poetically (translation by Coleman Barks):

The minute I heard my first love story

I started looking for you, not knowing

How blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.

They're in each other all along.

Mr. Danielpour says he realized that Rumi's meters and all-embracing approach to love were well-suited to his commission to write a 25th wedding anniversary concerto for Mr. Laredo and Miss Robinson.

The two soloists and chamber musicians had worked with Mr. Danielpour once before when he composed a piece for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (formed with pianist Joseph Kalichstein). "A Child's Reliquary," which had its premiere in 2000, was written after the child of one of Mr. Danielpour's friends drowned.

To see Mr. Danielpour talk about "In the Arms of the Beloved" is to see a man reawakened to something dear to him. While writing a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma's "Silk Road" commission project, Mr. Danielpour got to know some of the Persian musicians who would give the first performance of the work. "That is, musicians actually from Iran," explains Mr. Danielpour, whose heritage is Persian.

His parents came to the United States from Iran, and an uncle was executed during the revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power. "For a long time I wanted to distance myself from all that as far as possible," he says in an interview.

However, because of his contact with the Persian musicians, Mr. Danielpour became reacquainted with Rumi's poetry. "It was a discovery of where I came from, and perhaps of where I'm going," he says.

"In the Arms of the Beloved" gestures large and romantically, like a chivalrous sweep of a troubadour's hat. This is in keeping with many of his previous works, including Piano Concerto No. 3 ("Zodiac Variations"), premiered in April by Gary Graffman and the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin.

"I like his honesty, his approach to melody," Miss Robinson say. "He's not afraid of tonality. He's not afraid of being simple when he needs to be simple."

Miss Robinson and Mr. Laredo had previously commissioned two double concertos from other leading American composers, Ned Rorem and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, but "In the Arms of the Beloved" holds a more personal place in their hearts because "It's about our relationship," Miss Robinson says.

The movements follow the stages of love. "At first there's searching, calling out. Then in the second movement we're dancing around each other," she says.

Mr. Danielpour calls the second movement a set of "ritual dances," and it even uses rapid Eastern ritualistic drum beats.

The third movement is a dialogue between the soloists, "a coming together and consummation of the marriage," Miss Robinson says. "The last is an aria."

Make that a swooning, rhapsodizing, heartbreaking aria.

"I think that when one loves, something dies," Mr. Danielpour rhapsodizes in his studio on Broadway in New York City. "There's a moment of surrender."

He says that this is not only Rumi's view of love but that of contemporary psychologists, although Rumi says it more elegantly than most psychologists would:

Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.


Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

"In the Arms of the Beloved" has quickly become the monument for a whole lot of loving. Not only does it possess the aura of Rumi's love poetry, but, as Miss Robinson reports, Mr. Danielpour also has recently fallen in love "with a wonderful woman, and no doubt that's reflected in the piece."

Mr. Laredo and Miss Robinson will perform the work throughout their anniversary year, which began Nov. 23.

"Love and music are two of the best gifts that we're given in this life," Miss Robinson says, "and to experience both at the same time is such a blessing. Life passes us by so quickly, and we often don't get a chance to reflect on it, but this is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. We should experience everything to its fullest, and music helps us to collect ourselves, to keep our feet on the ground, slow us down and let us reflect on life."

Buried deep within the body of "In the Arms of the Beloved" are the reflections of Rumi:

When I am with you, we stay up all night.

When you're not here, I can't go to sleep.

Praise God for these two insomnias.

And the difference between them

WHAT: Violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, with Fairfax Symphony Orchestra

WHERE: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax

WHEN: 8 tonight

TICKETS: $14 to $36

PHONE: 703/642-7200 or online at www.fairfaxsymphony.org

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