John Tavener: A celebration

Bach Choir alto Eva Mason on the music of Sir John Tavener

John Tavener: A celebration

As our John Tavener celebration approaches, members of The Bach Choir are devoting more and more rehearsal time to acquainting ourselves (or re-acquainting, depending on whether or not we sang the works earlier this year on our China tour) with the composer's music.

Tavener, who passed away on this day one year ago, knew how to exploit the choral voice to its best effect, but also how to really challenge it – he demands huge stamina from us as singers. Unwavering attention to the score is also required; despite the meditative nature of his work the choir must be vigilant throughout to avoid falling prey to the composer’s ‘tricks’. Patterns in the music are never patterns for long; all too soon he restlessly alters an interval, chord or melodic sequence, subtly changing the whole character of a passage.

Because of the dark intensity at the core of works like his Requiem (in which performance directions like ‘awesome’, ‘apocalyptic’, ‘rapturous’ and ‘infinite’ are frequently encountered), one can’t help wondering whether there is a massive underlying symmetry to the music; patterns that do exist and are rooted in a deep, incomprehensible spiritualism. Or perhaps Tavener just wanted to stop the attention of the choir wandering.

Either way, this music is intriguing, and very enjoyable to sing. The meditation on three Scottish folk songs O Where, Tell Me Where? conjures images of ancient land and long-dead people (Tavener’s version of 'Skye Boat Song' in particular sends shivers down the spine). The timeless, solemn and sacred Song For Athene (Tavener’s deep religious faith pervades every note) almost creates a church-like atmosphere in our brightly lit rehearsal room; Tavener knew how to transport listeners into another world using the human voice.

Spare a thought for those voices, though – as the audience sinks into blissful, relaxed meditation, The Bach Choir will be kept very much on their toes!


– Eva Mason (Alto 1, The Bach Choir)



The Bach Choir performs John Tavener: A Celebration on Tuesday 25 November at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Visit: to find out more




A guide to the music of Sir John Tavener

Download our commemorative Sir John Tavener digital issue

 • Review: Tavener • Pärt (Chilingirian Quartet)


  • Article Type: | Blog |
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