Preview: RPO Plays Rutter's Requiem, St Paul's Cathedral, London

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The Independent Culture

He and Tavener once sang side-by-side at school: "We are," he says, "the friendliest of rivals." Moreover, the evolution of the Requiem perfectly encapsulates the evolution of the gift which has made Rutter the most performed choral composer alive today. It was born out of grief - he wrote it as an elegy for his father - but four years ago Rutter's life was marked by a much greater grief, when his elder son was knocked down and killed on the road. As he observes: "Everybody who listens to any Requiem weaves into it their own personal griefs and losses. That's not what music's for - it's not therapy, but if it does have that function, that's a useful side-effect."

His initial training at school followed in the tradition of the Irish composer CV Stanford who, he says, had "a wonderful sense for what works vocally - gracious, fluent, haunting melodies. His church music always has that little nameless thing which brings a lump to the throat, that little swelling of emotion in the breast - not sad, not self-indulgent, not schmaltzy - but filled with feeling. And we boys picked that up."

Quite without meaning to, Rutter thus pinpoints the defining characteristic of his own work, that quality which has made his carols resound throughout Europe and America, and as far away as Korea and Taiwan.

Successful he may be, but not with the British critics. "I've spent most of my career keeping out of their way," he says, "either by writing the sort of music that doesn't get reviewed, or by premiering my stuff in the States, where I've never had a problem." But he's at last detecting a mellower response: "They're getting older and wiser, like me."

22 September, 7.30pm (020-7608 8813 / 8840)