Esplanade Presents


Call to the Divine: Music of Sufi Rites

Kudsi Erguner & Muezzins of İstanbul (Türkiye)

14 Apr 2024, Sun, 4.30pm

1hr 15mins

(Intermission: None)

Esplanade Theatre

This event is over.


Be entranced by the sounds of centuries-old Sufi music in this performance of ceremonial preludes and mystic songs. Ney master Kudsi Erguner and two of the most prominent Turkish Islamic vocalists, Imams Bekir Büyükbaş and Yunus Balcıoğlu present a repertoire of music from whirling dervish rituals (ayin) and various brotherhoods (İlahi), as well as ghazals from Sufi Poets.


The significance and symbolism of the whirling dervish

A plaintive song, accompanied by a drum and flute starts up. Wearing a tall hat (sikke) to represent the tombstone of his ego, and dressed in a flowing robe symbolising the ego’s shroud, the Sufi whirling dervish starts to spin around meditatively, his robe fanning out like a flower. As the music progresses, the dervish removes his cloak, symbolising a spiritual rebirth. Crossing his hands over his shoulders, he embodies the picture of unity with God.


Sufism is an aspect of Islam that emphasises the emotional experience of God’s presence, and its followers believe that these experiences of divine truth and love can be attained through personal encounters with God. The earliest form of Sufism can be traced back to the Umayyad Dynasty in the 7th century. Later on, numerous preachers who built communities had orders (tarikat) named after them, such as the Qadiris from Sheikh Abdülkadir al-Jilânî in the 11th century and the Naqshbandis from Bahâ'uddîn Naqshband in the 14th century.


Each brotherhood carries a lineage of spiritual poetry, which was combined with music for use in prayer ceremonies. Of which, the most often represented are the Mevlevi whirling dervish ceremonies (sema) which originated from the famous Sufi mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi in the 13th century. He would fast, meditate, and dance to reach a state of transcendent enlightenment.


Integral to the music is the Turkish ney (a vertical or end-blown flute). With its mournful sound, it is said to represent the intense longing of the human soul and body for the love of God. Kudsi Erguner describes it in an interview with J.Y. Atlas.


“The importance of the ney lies in the fact that it is made from hollow reeds. The metaphor is that those who want to be open to the high inspiration, need to be clean and empty like the insides of the reed flute. You have to become like the ney. You have to let God blow through you.


As such, if there is no ney, you cannot properly perform the ceremony because when the ney is not played, there is separation; when the ney is played, there is unity. Separation is the life of this world. Since we are here, we are in separation, but we have this innate yearning for unity.”


For a fuller experience, oil sampling by The Naturalist Grandeur with Frankincense with Grapeseed Oil, will complement this programme. The fragrance has been appropriately diluted in the carrier oil so that patrons are able to apply them onto their skin safely.

Admission Age:
6 and above.
Language: Arabic, English
Things to Note:
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Artist Information

About Kudsi Erguner

Musician, composer, musicologist, teacher and author Kudsi Erguner is one of the foremost ney (Turkish reed flute) masters of our time and an authority of traditional Sufi music who has introduced Ottoman and Sufi music to the world.


Born in Diyarbakır into a family of musicians following the Sufi tradition, Erguner is the only Turkish musician of his generation to learn the ney in the classic aural tradition. In 1975, he moved to Paris to study architecture and musicology. Erguner has published many field recordings of traditional music, and made studio recordings of music from the 16th century Ottoman repertoire.


Erguner has performed and collaborated with a wide range of internationally celebrated artists including Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, Alexandre Desplat, Nusret Fathi Ali Khan, and ensembles like the Hillard Ensemble and the New Ensemble. Based in Paris, he has also released more than a hundred CDs dedicated to different aspects of Ottoman music, and published books in French.


In 1981, Erguner founded the RUMI association, an institute for the study of the classical music and teachings of the original traditions of Sufis. He gives conferences on Sufism and Sufi music all over the world and leads two small communities connected to the Mevlevi tradition; one in Paris and one in Istanbul. In 2014, Erguner was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Bulent Ecevit University in Türkiye and was designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2016. He is a professor at the Rotterdam Conservatory (CODARTS), and conducts master classes (Birun) at the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice.


He performed in Singapore with the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble at Esplanade Concert Hall as part of Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music in 2018.

About the Muezzins of İstanbul

Imams Bekir Büyükbaş and Yunus Balcıoğlu are prominent muezzins in İstanbul, Türkiye, and are recognised for their knowledge and mastery of Quranic recitation.

Date & Time

14 Apr 2024, Sun


Esplanade Theatre

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