Sir Karl Jenkins slams the 'bigotry' of NZ Cathedral that banned his work over Muslim call to prayer

14 September 2015, 15:14 | Updated: 22 September 2015, 16:39

The Dean of Nelson Cathedral in New Zealand has refused to host a concert by Nelson Civic Choir, because of the non-Christian elements in Karl Jenkins' Mass for Peace. Now the Composer has spoken out.

Sir Karl Jenkins told Classic FM "The Armed Man has been performed in numerous cathedrals throughout the UK and abroad and to refuse a performance because of the inclusion of the call to prayer is part of the bigotry that has led to such conflicts and wars."

His comments came after a row broke out around an upcoming performance of the pacifist choral work. The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace draws on music from a number of musical traditions, including a 15th-century Christian hymn and the Adhan – the Muslim call to prayer.

The Welsh composer said: "This has happened before – and I remember one occasion in Berlin where it was banned from the cathedral and moved to the Konzerthaus. A German journalist wrote 'this was the church that 60 years ago was happy to have the swastika draped over the altar' – that says a lot"

Nick Kirk, the Dean of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in Nelson on New Zealand's South Island, had said he refused the choir's request to perform the work in the cathedral on the basis that it did not fit with the cathedral's beliefs.

"The Islamic call to prayer is not Christian," the Dean told The Nelson Mail. "Because of different beliefs we have decided not to accept the singing of The Armed Man in the cathedral."

Kirk said he is tolerant of other religions, but that "people have to understand that Christianity stands alone". He added: "Jesus said there is no other way to salvation except through him. If we start to say any other way is OK, that's not true."

The Armed Man had previously been performed at the cathedral in 2007 – before Kirk was appointed Dean at the cathedral.

Nelson Civic Choir will present the work in a nearby college instead, on 26 October.

Speaking to Classic FM, the choir's President Wim Oosterhoff said: "If people have their point of view it's very difficult to change it." He called for the focus to be on what his choir was performing rather than where the concert was taking place. 

The Nelson Mail has published an editorial in support of the performance, praising the 2007 concert and suggesting the cathedral should not adopt "uncompromising and absolute beliefs".

Jenkins' Mass was composed in 1999 and dedicated to victims of the Kosovo crisis. It has since become the world's most widely performed piece of contemporary choral music. The work takes the form of a Catholic Mass, but also includes elements of the Adhan, war poetry, and the ancient Indian epic the Mahàbharàta. 

Nelson Civic Choir's performance will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, a battle which took the lives of many who fought in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs).