The piece, called simply “Weltethos,” was written by Jonathan Harvey, a world-famous British modern classic composer, taking as its libretto a text written by Hans Küng, a former theological contemporary of Pope Benedict XVI when they both worked on the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Küng moved in a more liberal philosophical direction to Benedict, and was stripped of his permission to teach within the Catholic Church for his public criticism of the dogma of papal infallibility. Since then he has established the Weltethos, or World Ethos, institute, which works for dialogue between religions and cultures.
He talks of the golden rule – to treat others as one would like to be treated – as taught by Shiva, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Christ and Mohammed, as well as a row of philosophers.
The different expressions of this rule create the six parts of the performance, which was conducted at Thursday’s world premier by Sir Simon Rattle, with the Berlin Philharmonic accompanied by the city’s Rundfunk Choir and the children’s choir of the Georg Friedrich Händel high school.
Küng was at the premier, and received a round of applause at the end, despite what a number of classical music experts criticised as an over-simplified libretto.
The piece will be taken to Rattle’s former home, the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which will perform it to kick of the UK’s cultural Olympiad which accompanies the sports event in 2012.
Thursday’s performance can be heard on http://www.digitalconcerthall.com/