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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Laila (Amu) (2004)
Commissioned by Random Dance with funds from The Wellcome Foundation.
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Year Composed
1 Hour 5 Minutes
soprano, tenor
Programme Note
John Tavener Laila (Amu) (2004)

Laila is based on the Sufi legend of Laila and Majnun. On one level, this is a love story in which Majnun falls passionately in love with Laila and goes mad when her father forbids their marriage. On a deeper level, the legend is about man’s yearning for God, which can never be fulfilled on an earthly plane.

  • 28 APR 2006
    Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk
    Southbank Sinfonia
    Paul Goodwin, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29 April - Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk
  • 07 FEB 2006
    Durham Cathedral, Durham
    Northern Sinfonia
    Paul Goodwin, conductor
  • 15 SEP 2005
    Laila (Amu) World Premiere
    Sadler's Wells, London
    Southbank Sinfonia
    Patricia Rozario, Rufus Muller; Paul Goodwin, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16,17 September - Sadler's Wells, London

McGregor's efforts hitch a giant ride on the luxuriant vocal and orchestral music of Sir John Tavener, [...] a fervent believer in what he calls the "cosmic heartbeat". While Tavever's singers (magnificent, all) are bent on telling a Sufi love story, McGregor's dancers merely respond to the general emotional throb. [...] all three artists climax together in the final moments as the voices trail away, the air turns misty grey, and bodies levitate into the ether, leaving only the sound of a beating heart.
Jenny Gilbert, The Independent on Sunday,25/09/2005
If you thought about it too much it could haunt you. Each minute of every day, through a complex web of arteries, your heart is pumping the body’s lifeblood. It’s a fact of nature that we take for granted but it’s something that the choreographer Wayne McGregor and the composer John Tavener want us to think about. Their fascinating new collaboration Amu (Arabic for “of the heart”) is all about the organ, seeing it through McGregor’s embrace of science and Tavener’s famous spiritualism. The score is based on a mystic Sufi love poem and grew out of the composer’s experience as a patient at the Royal Brompton Hospital, where he met the heart imaging specialists Dr Philip Kilner and Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan. It’s almost impossible to see Amu without being overwhelmed by Tavener’s ravishing contribution. Performed live at Sadler’s Wells by 50 musicians (the Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Paul Goodwin) and seven wonderful singers, it’s his first original full-length score for dance and it’s a tour de force. From its fundamental opening heartbeat (played on an American pow-wow drum) to its heavy closing breath, it follows a majestic journey deep into the soul and out into the cosmos. For 70 minutes its gripping enchantment builds like a whirling dervish and soars with a transcendant ecstasy that blurs the passions of religion and romance. It’s extravagantly sensual, as alluring as a muezzin’s call, yet despite its mystical concept it’s grounded in the rapture of earthly desire.
Debra Craine, The Times,19/09/2005
[Tavener] provides a score that tells of a Sufi poet searching for his unattainable love and for union with God. Full of emotion, chants and wailed repetitions, the music, performed here by the Southbank Sinfonia, is powered by the beat of the pow-wow drum, a sound remarkably similar to the beating of the human heart.
Sarah Crompton, The Daily Telegraph,17/09/2005
There's no danger of missing the fact that Wayne McGregor's extraordinary new collaboration with John Tavener has been inspired by the human heart. The soft atavistic beat of the pow-wow drum marks the rapt cycles of Tavener's score. In McGregor's own choreography a panting energy pumps through the movement and lifts the dancers' chests. And while there are no literal heart shapes in Shirazeh Houshiary's stage designs, their light-fuelled patterns pulsate with a magical, elemental force. By the end of Amu's 70 minutes, as the stage darkens and the music fades to a recording of a heartbeat, the entire theatre seems to be physically reverberating. It's clear that between them Tavener and McGregor have tapped into something fundamental and huge and made a work impossible to categorise. At one level Tavener's score narrates the story of a Sufi poem in which a poet journeys on a quest for love and transcendence. As it charts the highs and lows of this quest the music embraces ritual drumming, deep throated chants and ululating melodies. Dramatically it is erratic, winding to peaks of ecstacy, plunging into dark thickets then flattening into repetitve trance ... as the piece develops it is clear that McGregor is very smart in the way he responds to Tavener's cultural clues. The curves of Arabic script scribble through his dancers' limbs, the beat of an ancient ritual drives their feet. McGregor and Tavener make for the oddest of collaborators, but extravagant opposites can spark the most enthralling chemistry.
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian,16/09/2005
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