Who doesn’t know Khalil Gibran?
The Lebanese-American poet is the third best-selling poet of all time after Shakespeare and Laozi, owing to his highly regarded book, The Prophet. Since its publication in 1923, the book has been translated into more than 50 languages and is believed to have sold tens of millions of copies.
“In the 1960s, the counter-cultural movements for peace, love and higher-consciousness were driven by many individuals who were intellectually and spiritually activated. And, many of these individuals were inspired by two important works: The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, who is a 12th-century Arabic poet, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931). These two books were major influences on that period,” says composer and pianist Dr John Sharpley.
The combined impact of The Prophet and The Rubaiyat goes far beyond what words can describe, especially for the older generations of today. “When I was a teenager, these were books that, if you were interested in spirituality or motivated to know more about life, one had to read,” Dr Sharpley recounts.
For all, including younger people who have not yet had a chance to read it, the world premiere by Dr John Sharpley and the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, A Moment of Rest Upon the Wind, offers a rare glimpse of wisdom as Gibran’s poetry is brought alive onstage through music.
When asked about what The Prophet is about, Dr Sharpley summarized it succinctly: “It’s about goodness and the interconnectivity of all things.”
Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet tells the story of Almustafa, who has resided in the foreign city of Orphalese for 12 years and is about to board a ship that will carry him home. He is approached by the people of Orphalese asking him to share his wisdom on life, death and spirituality. Among them is Almitra, the Seeress. It is often believed that Almustafa mirrors Gibran himself, and the Seeress mirrors his patroness and beloved, Mary Haskell.
The audience can expect an immersive experience. “I want the audience to feel as if they are included amongst the villagers of Orphalese listening to Almustafa sharing his insight,” says Dr Sharpley.
Anybody in pursuit of deeper meanings in life should find it uplifting as Almustafa, performed by the bass-baritone Ochiai Francesco Yohei, explores important life issues in a most poetic way.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. --- The Prophet.
“My artistic aim is to create an exhilarating moment in time,” says Dr Sharpley, “indeed, ‘a moment of rest upon the wind’!”
It took seven years for the work to expand and evolve before it was finally transformed into the oratorio that will be premiered in October - A Moment of Rest Upon the Wind.
The journey first started in 2010 when Dr Sharpley composed a song for soprano and piano set to the chapter called ‘Marriage’ in The Prophet, for the wedding of two friends in London. In 2012, three more songs were added to create Four Songs of the Prophet for tenor or soprano and piano.
Subsequently in 2013, after spoken texts, an overture and a postlude based on other chapters of The Prophet were added, it was premiered at the Arts House. In 2015, one of the songs, The Secret of Death, was featured in the Asian Composers League Festival in Manila.
In 2016, Four Songs of The Prophet was briefly altered so that Almustafa would be a baritone. Nevertheless, Almustafa was destined to be a bass-baritone, Almitra a soprano and a storyteller was added. The piano gave way to a full orchestra that would also symbolise, along with the entire audience, the people of Orphalese. Ten of the book’s twenty-eight chapters were adapted and arranged to create a dramatic narrative – the new work was finally named A Moment of Rest Upon the Wind, taken from the last line, spoken by Almitra.
Premiering on October 1 at the School of the Arts (SOTA) Concert Hall, the oratorio features conductor Adrian Tan, bass-baritone Ochiai Francesco Yohei as Almustafa, soprano Akiko Otao as Almitra, actor Zachary Ibrahim as The Storyteller, and the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra.
The first half of the concert will be the performance of two grand pieces, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 in C Major, Op.21 and Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to Oberon (conducted by Vincent Chen).
“Carl Maria von Weber, whose opera Oberon, explores a fantastical world of fairies and is also based on poetry. And then to Beethoven, his First Symphony is very classical in style, a perfect balance of opposing forces. It has a great sense of drive and definition. I believe that the fist half of the concert predisposes the audience for the second half,” says Dr Sharpley.
For many of Dr Sharpley’s projects, exploring and presenting the interconnectivity of humanity with the cosmos features prominently.
“How do we as a species evolve towards a place of higher-consciousness? May we not celebrate as beautiful our differences as we simultaneously acknowledge unity amongst ourselves and with the universe? I hope if I achieve any kind of lasting contribution before leaving this world, that it might be found in my compositions which are from me as gifts of love to humanity,” says Dr Sharpley.
Some of Dr Sharpley’s other large-scale works that share the themes of spirituality and nature include the opera, Fences, which was premiered in 2012 to worldwide acclaim. “It’s about love that has obstacles of race, religion and politics, and it took place in Singapore,” shares Dr Sharpley.
Another globally acclaimed work by Dr Sharpley is Kannagi, a 2014 chamber opera based on the Hindu goddess. It is about “how she overcomes betrayal and finds compassion”. “She transforms spiritually and becomes a goddess,” says Dr Sharpley.
Of special note is his 2003 production, Kong (Emptiness) for strings, Chinese percussion, choir and two reciters. It was based on the Tao Te Ching, Chinese Chan poetry and the Buddhist Heart of Wisdom Sutra.
JOHN SHARPLEY, formerly composer-in-residence for the Singapore Symphony
Orchestra has held recent compositional residencies at Illinois Wesleyan University, Across Oceans International Festival (Toronto) and Kyoto City University of Arts. Prominent ensembles that have played his work include the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. He earned a Doctorate in Music Composition from Boston University; a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the University of Houston; and, diplomas for piano, violin, and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Strasbourg, France. His composition teachers include David Del Tredici, John Harbison and Leonard Bernstein. His honours include the Texas Music Teacher’s Association Composer of the Year Prize and a New York Film Festival Award. Originally from Texas, Singapore has been his home since 1985.