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25th November 2014
John Tavener (1944-2013) would have celebrated his 70th birthday this year.
He is best known for works such as The Whale, The Protecting Veil, and Song for Athene, which was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. Described as ‘among the very best creative talents of his generation’ he was knighted in 2000 for services to music.
O where, tell me where? is a meditation based on three well-known Scottish songs: The Blue Bells of Scotland, My love is like a red, red rose, and The Skye Boat Song. Commissioned by The Bach Choir, these settings were composed in the Highlands of Scotland, as a tribute to a country that Tavener had come to love since becoming seriously ill in 2007. O where, tell me where? is one of the very last works that Tavener wrote before he died last year at the age of 69. The work is scored for fourteen-part choir and tubular bells and was given its world premiere in the Oriental Art Center, Shanghai as part of The Bach Choir’s tour to China in April 2014. This evening’s performance is the UK premiere.
First Alto in The Bach Choir, Sophie Timms, gives the inside story on rehearsing Tavener’s music for this concert.
“As a singer, Tavener’s works look to the unassuming eye quite simple, and how mistaken we all were when we first thought ‘do we need quite so many rehearsals on this?’ But as the weeks went on, it became clear that simple is certainly not a word that can be used when describing the music of John Tavener! In his Requiem for example, layer upon layer of seemingly effortless lyrical phrases are piled on top of each other to create the most exquisite, crunchy chords that seem to buzz in the air. Moments like that are great when performing in a large choir – clashing with so many people around you yet simultaneously making the most beautiful sound.
But it’s not just during the Requiem that Tavener has cast his eye over the altos and said to himself ‘you deserve more than just singing constant Ds!’, in fact in all of his music he seems to pay equal attention and care to all voices, making it enjoyable for all of us in The Bach Choir whilst challenging us at the same time! ‘Oh Where, Tell me Where?’, a collection of three traditional Scottish folk songs even has the sopranos and altos split, all singing the same tune a semi-tone apart! Our performance on 25 November will be the UK premiere, and it is a privilege for me not only to be singing in this, but also to have already performed the world premiere of this work out in China earlier this year. I am excited to be revisiting Tavener’s meditation on these three well known Scottish folk songs and premiering them to audiences at home in celebration of not just his musical output but also his love of the place which inspired many of his compositions. There is something quite spectacular about singing familiar songs in a completely new arrangement (how many times has Speed Bonny Boat been sung with 200 singers and tubular bells?!) and this certainly breathes fresh life and new meaning into these songs which all too often get abandoned as tunes from our youth, or in my case practice pieces for learning the recorder!
Not having any guidance from previous recordings or performances of this work makes it all the more exciting to interpret – and I very much hope John Tavener would have been happy with the way in which we have approached not just ‘Oh Where, Tell me Where?’ but all the repertoire we will be performing.”
Notes From the Composer / Conductor
Internationally renowned cellist Raphael Wallfisch writes:
“I am very excited to be taking part in this great tribute to Sir John Tavener, together with The Bach Choir and the Philharmonia. I have had the great honour and pleasure of playing The Protecting Veil in John’s presence many times, and each was a great inspiration! It will also be very special for me to play the solo cello part in the Requiem in the same concert as The Protecting Veil, since the Requiem has truly apocalyptic power!”