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A message from the composer

  • Story Highlights
  • British composer Roxanna Panufnik tells CNN about her latest world premiere
  • "Three Paths to Peace" was first performed by the World Orchestra for Peace
  • The piece was commissioned for a special concert in Jerusalem, October 19
  • Panufnik took inspiration from the music of Christianity, Judaism and Islam
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By Hilary Whiteman
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Very few people who attended the performance of the World Orchestra for Peace in Jerusalem this October would have noticed she was there. But there she was, a petite woman with long brown hair, sitting in the middle of the audience on "nervous autopilot."

Conductor Valery Gergiev accepts audience applause during the World Orchestra for Peace, October 19, 2008.

Roxanna Panufnik's "Three Paths to Peace" was performed by the World Orchestra for Peace in Jerusalem.

British composer Roxanna Panufnik wrote the piece that opened the concert, "Three Paths to Peace," an orchestral prelude specially commissioned for the occasion.

"This is probably the biggest gig a composer could get," Panufnik told CNN.

"I sit there in the audience and I just can't believe that this is happening, that all these people have gone to this trouble for my music."

The World Orchestra for Peace only comes together once every few years at the behest of its conductor, Valery Gergiev and the orchestra's director, Charles Kaye.

On October 19, some of the world's most talented musicians were invited to perform a concert in Jerusalem to promote peace. Read more about the World Orchestra for Peace

Months earlier, Panufnik had been asked to compose an original piece for the program.

She said her busy schedule didn't allow time to construct a piece from scratch, so she sent the organizers a recording of a violin concerto she had composed in 2004 called "Abraham."

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The concerto merged elements of Christian, Jewish and Islamic music into a "homogenous, harmonious and joyful conclusion," she said. It seemed perfect for the occasion.

"They loved it," she told CNN. "They asked me to make an orchestral prelude out of it which included making it two-thirds of the length and also assimilating the solo violin part into the rest of the orchestra."

The resulting piece is a musical representation of the biblical story of Genesis 22, which tells of Abraham being given a last-minute reprieve after being asked by God to sacrifice his only son. Video See a clip of "Three Paths to Peace," as performed by the World Orchestra for Peace »

"Abraham is considered the father of all these three faiths," Panufnik explains. "The whole concept behind it is that despite all the conflict in the world between the three monotheistic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- we do all believe in the same one God."

Catholic plainsong is interwoven with Anglican Church bell patterns; Judaism is represented by an Ashkenazi Jewish chant and Shofar horn; while Islam is conveyed through Sufi drum patterns and the musical elements from a traditional call to prayer.

The original piece required detailed research so as not to risk offense. Muslim clerics in the United Kingdom advised her to listen to many calls to prayer as inspiration for her own, she said.

"I listened to some from Pakistan and Turkey and then took some of the musical elements like the ornamentation and the rhythms."

The audience seated in the Jerusalem Theater for the piece's world premiere seemed to appreciate her efforts.

"I sort of go on nervous autopilot at these things," Panufnik said. "But they did that rhythmic clapping thing, you know, when everyone starts clapping at the same time, which I'm told is a big sign of appreciation."

She hopes the "Three Paths to Peace" is performed again, but right now she's still buzzing from its debut.


"I came home on Monday night and I woke up on Tuesday morning and thought, 'did I dream this?' It was amazing."

"A lot of people came up to me afterwards to tell me they loved it, and how moved they were by it. That's great for me as a composer. It's all composers really want isn't it?"

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