Uzeyir HajibeyLI (1885-1948), composer
arr. Alim qasimov, Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen

"The music for Layla and Majnun is unusual for its profound depth of sorrow and ecstasy. The mugham style of improvisatory song is a thrilling and rare glimpse into old Azerbaijani culture. The Qasimovs are perhaps the greatest proponents of this heritage. Love, acceptance, devotion, and peace are the ruling esthetics of this production." - Mark Morris

In 1908, Layla and Majnun became the subject of the first Middle Eastern opera, written by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli. In place of recitatives and arias, Hajibeyli interspersed symphonic and choral sections with mugham, a Central Asian style of improvised singing whose modes are defined partly by the emotional states they evoke. A cornerstone of Azerbaijani culture, this opera has been performed annually at the opening of each season of the Theater of Opera and Ballet in Baku, and led for two decades by the revered singer Alim Qasimov, considered a Living National Treasure of Azerbaijan for his preservation of the art of mugham vocal tradition. 

Qasimov proposed the creation of a more universal Layla and Majnun to Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. The result was a 45-minute chamber arrangement of Hajibeyov’s three-and-a-half-hour opera by Qasimov and Silk Road Ensemble members Colin Jacobsen and Johnny Gandelsman. The Silk Road Ensemble’s chamber arrangement incorporates instrumentation from Asian and Western traditions along with mugham, and features Qasimov and his daughter and protégée, Fargana Qasimova.

The Silk Road Ensemble toured Layla and Majnun with Mr. Qasimov and Ms. Qasimova in 2008 and 2009. The world premiere took place in Doha, Qatar and the North American premiere in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read the libretto >

The Silk Road Ensemble arrangement of Layla and Majnun was made possible in part by the generous support of the Qatar Museums Authority, with additional support from the Academie Musicale de Villecroze and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Read program notes on the Music of Layla and Majnun, by Aida Huseynova, musicologist and lecturer at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.