Abu al-Mughîth al-Husayn Ibn Mansûr, al-Hallâj (Iran 858 - Baghdad 922)
After his arrest in Sûs and a lengthy period of confinement (c. 911-922) in Baghdad, al- Hallâj was crucified and brutally tortured to death. A large crowd witnessed his execution. He is remembered to have endured gruesome torture calmly and courageously and to have uttered words of forgiveness for his accusers. Al-Hallâj left behind revered writings and supporters who courageously affirmed his teachings and his experience. In subsequent Islamic history, therefore, the life and thought of al-Hallâj has been a subject seldom ignored. I have been studying Sûfi texts and trying to incorporate ethnomusicological approaches while composing selected Sûfi works for almost ten years. Al-Hallâj was one of the most that I admired. Therefore, the preparation process for this work was exhausting. While keeping in mind the alternative musical tradition that Sûfism has penetrated throughout the years, the tools of ritualistic- expression that Sûfi fraternities used had and the significant role in the establishment of varied alternative musical experiences that seek ecstasy, I faced major problematic matters that eventually had to be overcome. Musically speaking, the so-called \"classical\" musical tradition had developed dramatically in the courts of the Islamic Empire while the alternative Sufi musical-tradition was developing in a different direction away from the courts and gradually applying more local musical elements. This relative separation between the two traditions and the limited and careful musical interaction between the two traditions was the essence of the problem that I meditated while composing al-Hallaj\'s poetry. So in order for this work to reflect the musicality of the maqam system and the philosophical aspect of the text and its drama, a high level of artistic application of the expressed \"matters\" became necessary for the process of emphasizing the common and/or unique perception of al-Hallâj\'s surroundings, and bridging the outcome with current dilemmas. Depending on Maqam tradition on one hand and text on the other, the outcome was merely a composed text congenial with both its philosophical content and development of Islamic Court Music. The significance of this work is its use of the musical tradition of the Islamic Empire as whole while selecting certain tools of expression to enhance the outcome. The ethnomusicological approach used in the composition eliminated any prejudicial technique and forms from being excluded. Therefore, understanding the dynamics of this diverse tradition and developing a greater sense of respect to distinct and unique cultural characteristics that determined much of the musical character of each era, this work is opening doors to other aspects of our musical identity and exploring the artistic core of one of the greatest establishments. The challenges that this work has generated for performers and listeners are fascinating and conceptual. All of the technical and interpretational aspects of the work are well thought off and contain well-furnished fine details.
Issa is a composer, \'ud performer, critic, researcher, writer and lyricist, his works have covered various genres and acquired worldwide recognition. He is featured in many recordings and festivals throughout the world as both composer and performer and covered by virtually all media major networks including CNN, PBS, CBS, NBC, CLTV, CAN TV, Chicago Tribune, the Suntimes, the Reader, Chicago Weekly, RedEye. His latest commission was by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra where he wrote four pieces for orchestra and takht. His works include Kawkab Akhar, Shortly After Life, Lysistrata, Catharsis, Sama, al-Hallaj, Rif, Being Peace; A Palestinian Memoir, and the music for the PBS documentary \"The New Americans,\" and most recently for the critically acclaimed documentary \"Nice Bombs.\" Issa writes music reviews for Four Magazine and This Week In Palestine and is a recipient of several awards and fellowships including most recently an Artists Fellowship Award by the Illinois Arts Council and the 2006 Palestinian Cultural Fund Award. He is a lecturer at the University of Chicago where he directs the Middle East Music Ensemble.