Preview: Tavener's Requiem, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool
A ferocious dance in the face of death
Thursday 28 February 2008
You have to hand it to John Tavener: he really does stick at his obsessions, most of all with his obsession with death – a subject he both fears and loves, and also treats as his prime source of inspiration. This time it's emerging in a Requiem to be performed in-the-round in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, with, as in all Tavener's works these days, a maiden as soloist (Nicola Benedetti being the most recent). And since he's currently in hospital undergoing treatment for his heart condition, it falls to the maiden to promote the new piece.
When she talks to me, the cellist Josephine Knight is fresh from starring as soloist in a Manchester performance of Tavener's The Protecting Veil: having seen her recording of that work soar into the classical Top 10 and fill the airwaves of Classic FM, she's made it her calling card, so this new work may fulfil a similar function. Is she daunted by its premiere being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3?
"I'm excited, partly because I won't know what it sounds like until we start rehearsals. My part is written incredibly high, as always with John, but at least I get rests, unlike in The Protecting Veil. I'll be playing it on a wonderful Strad, but, if it doesn't cut through everybody else, I'll have to have amplification."
The work's musical structure demands performers be arranged in the shape of a cross, with trumpets and trombones at the head, percussion as the arms, and with the vocal soloists and strings at the foot; the solo cello will be at its heart. The piece itself has a ferociously rhythmic dance as its centrepiece, which will be to invoke the spirit of the goddess Kali, with the music taking on an Indian tinge.
Knight describes its overall tone as lyrical and meditative, "with the whole meaning to be found in the words of the subtitle Tavener has given it – "Our glory lies where we cease to exist". He's talking about when your false self is extinguished, and your true self is able to shine forth, and you become one with God."
How odd: that's Sufism in a nutshell.
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