Karakorum: A Note from Director Constantine Costi

Why was William chosen to go on this journey?

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In this series, we have the pleasure of welcoming back Director Constantine Costi who worked on the Brandenburg's productions of Handel's Messiah and Bittersweet Obsessions: Monteverdi & Bach in 2017.

On absorbing the many historical and musicological materials in preparation for his work on this series, Costi had one particular thought he wanted to share with our audience.

READ ON > David Wenham joins musical journey into an ancient battle of faiths- Sydney Morning Herald

William of Rubruck certainly wasn’t the first choice of Louis IX or Pope Innocent IV to go East on behalf of the Christian world.

There was a succession of monks and friars who travelled on missions before William of Rubruck.

At 60 years old Giovanni da Pian del Carpine left Europe for the Mongol Empire in 1245. The Pope presented him with the daunting task to criticise the Mongols for their previous acts of violence against Christians. It’s amazing he made it back alive.

Between 1245 and 1251 André de Longjumeau was sent to Constantinople by Louis IX to collect the crown of thorns sold to him by the Emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin II. Pope Innocent IV ordered him to Syria to deliver letters to a Mongol envoy.

Other friars, Lawrence of Portugal, Ascelin of Lombardy and (the somewhat casually named) David and Mark, were all sent East before William.

13th-century Franciscan monk13th-century Franciscan monk

So why William?

His credentials were hardly as impressive as André de Longjumeau who, beyond his experiences, also spoke Arabic and Chaldean (a language widely spoken in the Middle East of the time).

William, by contrast, was an unremarkable monk from an obscure village in Northern France.

Whilst it’s important to note that William travelled with the Seventh Crusade, Louis’ reasoning to send William to Karakorum remains unknown.

This mystery struck me. 

I realised that this is not the story of an extraordinary monk. It’s the story of an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary endeavour. In the end, no one ventured as far into the Mongol empire as William.

Whilst William’s journal is hugely detailed, what he leaves out is equally important. Namely his emotional journey.

Michael’s adaptation has fused historical record with emotional empathy. In the process of adapting he asked himself, how would I feel if I had to go on this dangerous journey? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Exhilarated?

The sensory world is also hugely important. Anyone who has travelled to a foreign city knows that feeling of sensory overload. New sights, smells, sounds and faces that make you wonder, “Am I dreaming?

I’m sure William felt the same way.

Working with Paul Dyer and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra alongside La Camera delle Lacrime is a distinct joy. The beating heart of this evening is the music. Much like the vast plains, mountains, and oceans William traversed; the music is a journey through a distant world that shifts and turns to create an awe-inspiring aural landscape. 

William would have been out of his depth and struggling, and yet, simultaneously enchanted and enlightened. As you, or I, or anyone we know, would be today.

Perhaps this is the power of all great art; the realisation that despite the vast distances of time and place human beings are largely the same.

WENHAM David 1 760x760.jpg
A failed 13th century religious mission provides unusual inspiration.
Sydney Morning Herald: David Wenham joins musical journey into an ancient battle of faiths

"It had me hooked from the first notes, both musically and spiritually"
Paul Dyer AO, Artistic Director


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