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Verdigris Ensemble, Dallas’ innovative choir, bringing medieval Persian poetry to life

By Tim Diovanni - 5:00 AM on Apr 4, 2023 CDT

Verdigris Ensemble, Dallas’ innovative choir, is at it again.

Now in its sixth season, the choir has previously created and sold a choral NFT for $375,000 and given performances with themes ranging from the Big Bang to the Dust Bowl to the lives of Dallas residents. Its next project is a new kind of collaboration.

In partnership with the Crow Museum of Asian Art, Verdigris is premiering a new choral work, Shams, by Iranian-born composer Sahba Aminikia. The work explores the relationship between the mystic 13th-century Persian poet Rumi and his spiritual guide Shams Tabrizi.

Aminikia focuses on the love between the two men in his setting of Rumi’s poetry.

“The question comes, is this some sort of homosexual love?” Aminikia says. “But in fact, what we are targeting here is an idealistic higher love that leads to transformation. I don’t think it’s bounded or limited by gender or anything.”

Tracing the development of love over time, he says, are the eight sections of the 50-minute work. “Every section is dedicated to one stage of love. And I genuinely just describe what I felt in every stage of love.”

Shams also includes a string quartet, with performers from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and prerecorded sounds. The recordings are from recent women’s rights protests in Iran as well as U.S. protests in 2017 against the executive order that banned travel from mainly Muslim countries.

“It represents this chaotic scene of the world today that is all about differences,” Aminikia says. “But the remedy and the medium that people can talk through that, which is the lens of love, in my opinion, is the key to Rumi’s poetry.”

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