I’m often asked how far in advance I plan our classical music season. It can be anything between 3 months and 2 years, but I can now add that one event has been almost exactly 5 years in the planning: the two performances of Sir John Tavener’s Towards Silence on Thursday 10th July. I was at the UK première of this remarkable piece in July 2009 and I can still remember very clearly leaving Winchester Cathedral on a beautiful summer’s night and relishing the chance to wander alone through the grounds, holding for as long as possible in my mind the wonderful music I’d just heard. Fanciful as it sounds, I could still feel the energy of the music resonating through my body, and the fact that it had reached out to touch the outer edges of audibility meant that it was difficult for quite some time to distinguish between what was imagined, and what real. I’ve tried on many occasions to bring this music to St George’s but the requirement of not just one but four string quartets and the need to close off half the hall has always made it too expensive an event to promote. I was delighted then to be talking last year to the Director of Cheltenham Music Festival and to discover that he too was keen to mark the 70th birthday year of Sir John Tavener with a performance of this piece. We decided that if we could plan performances in Bristol and Cheltenham on successive nights and then secure the support of Arts Council England we might just be able to make it work. The news in November of the death of Sir John Tavener fuelled our determination to press ahead and, as you can see, we finally succeeded. Sir John Tavener intended Towards Silence to be performed in some ‘spiritual space’ so, with its wonderful acoustic, St George’s is the perfect hall. We will be closing off the gallery and the four string quartets will be placed around it. The audience will sit in darkness in the stalls area of the hall and, as the sounds of the strings and Tibetan bowl float around the hall, people will hear but not see the performers.
During the first part of the concert there will also be a chance to hear another piece that hovers at the borders of consciousness, Jonathan Harvey’s masterpiece Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voco (I Lament the Dead, I call the Living). The music electronically etherealises the recorded sounds of the largest bell of Winchester Cathedral, combining with the recorded voice of Jonathan Harvey’s son, who was then a chorister at Winchester’s Choir.
I cannot state too strongly that this is going to be an extraordinary concert – it’s already sold out in Cheltenham so make the most of this opportunity as it may well be another decade before it happens again!