Tuesday, November 12, 2013

John Tavener: Rest in Peace

I'm very sorry to hear of the passing of this unique, contemporary composer whose work I've grown to love very much over
the past several decades.

Still young and working at Tower Records, I'd long been a fan of Tavener's when The Protecting Veil made its debut on CD (I believe before the work premiered in the 1989 Proms). Cellist Stephen Isserlis had suggested Tavener compose a large scale work and it seemed a natural that the composer, (a fairly new convert to the Greek Orthodox Church) would select as topic the solemn celebration of the "Protecting Veil of the Mother of God," I recall the haunting image work on the cover (a Virgin Records release) and rushing to bring it home. My roommate - who at the time listened to nothing but death and speed metal, joined me and we sat in silence for nearly an hour as the eight connected movements of "The Protecting Veil" washed over us. I was (shut up) in tears more than once during the experience from the sheer beauty and power of Tavener's masterly manner of moving from haunting, shimmering sounds to powerful swells of emotion.

Apparently, audiences at the Proms' premiere were held similarly spellbound during the performance, yet at the same time (and of little surprise) the critical reception was mixed, proving, yet again, composers write music for audiences
(and themselves) and not to please critics.

The Protecting Veil holds a unique spot in contemporary/modern music in that a little over 20 years after its premiere it has received a number of recordings on major labels including those by Maria Kliegel, Yo Yo Ma, France Springuel, Raphael Wallfisch, as well as two separate recordings by its creator, Mr. Isserlis. I can't think of anything composed in the past twenty years that quite matches this success (and which still divides listeners).

If Tavener's other works haven't quite reached the popularity level of Veil, there are plenty of them well worth exploring to those not yet familiar with his compositions. If I were to suggest a single one to "whet the whistle," as it were, it would be his splendid mass/dramatic work Lamentations and Praises, composed for the ensemble, Chanticleer. I recall reading an acquaintance's enthusiasm and the moving experience he had attending the premiere of this piece back in 2001.


The news of Tavener's death, particularly at such a young age, is sad news indeed, despite lifelong health issues. He was and remains a unique, very individual voice, a composer almost obsessed with his spiritual nature, its mysteries and whose work may not speak to all, but still has plenty to say to those willing to listen. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, family and other loved ones on this sad occasion.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tavener.

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Lyric Opera's opening night broadcast of Parsifal.

I sincerely hope others were able to tune this past Friday night for Lyric's premiere of their new "Parsifal" by Richard Wagner. There was some thoroughly beautiful singing in what sounds like (at least based upon the descriptions, photos and previews I watched) a tremendous and well thought out production with some magical theatrical effects.

For the naysayers, Paul Groves was (as I expected) the very model of a lyric Parsifal, almost consistently lovely with a fine and thoroughly moving interpretation of the role. There were many well thought out touches and nuances to his singing all night long. Though I only got to hear the radio broadcast, I have heard from a number of friends in attendance last night that Groves was heard just fine in that big house.

Daveda Karanas was a fine, feminine sounding Kundry, sounding more like a young woman than world weary curse victim usually portrayed in the first act. Unfortunately, in the upper reaches of the role in Act 2's great duet, she revealed about as short a top a singer can have and still be labelled a "mezzo." The sounds there were unpleasant, white-sounding shrieks, best quickly hit and forgotten.

Kwangchul Yung once again proved himself to be a Gurnemanz of the highest order, easily in the company of any singer of this role I've heard before him or currently singing it today (and I'm predisposed towards thinking several older singers "own" this role. It was simply gorgeous singing, full of emotion and gorgeous tone. Bravo!

Thomas Hampson was not having his best night, but still as he can usually be relied upon, delivered a touching portrayal of the tortured Amfortas.

Sir Andrew had the orchestra in mostly fine form (some expected brass glitches, etc.) and while no one complained, I did feel he could have used a bit more sweep and less grandeur at times to move things along (most notably during the 2nd transformation scene music). The chorus sounded lovely, particularly so during the opening of the first Grail scene and the operas hushed, closing, mystical moments.

If I could get to Chicago any time soon, I'd be so there!

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