AN EXTENDED service of thanksgiving was held in Westminster
Abbey in the presence of the Prince of Wales on Thursday to
celebrate the life and work of the composer Sir John Tavener, who
died on 12 November last year, two months short of his 70th
Nine works by the composer, spanning several decades, were sung
by soloists and the choir of Westminster Abbey, under its Director
of Music, James O'Donnell. These included the celebrated setting of
William Blake "The Lamb" (1982), the plaintive Funeral
Ikos and a setting of the Lord's Prayer.
The actor Simon Russell Beale read from Isaiah 35 (". . . and
sorrow and sighing shall flee away'). The composer's elder
daughter, Theodora, read a text, "Ninety-Nine Words", in which
Tavener encouraged his three children to "remember God every day"
and "aspire to the state of bliss which inhabits all things".
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, presided,
and Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain led the
middle section of the service, spoken in ringing Greek, and
centring on prayers "for the repose of John, God's servant, who has
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, in his address, praised Tavener's
challenging early as well as questing later works, recalling that
the composer - "vigorous, opinionated, accessible, by no means
monkish, a hugely attractive late 20th century person" - made an
unusual spiritual journey, from Presbyterianism (as a young church
organist in London) via Catholic mysticism and Anglicanism to Greek
Orthodoxy, which he embraced in his later years. This, with Sufi,
Jewish, and latterly Hindu texts, greatly influenced his music, and
gave it its "unique" and "hypnotic" quality.
Sir Nicholas also recalled Tavener's other passions, notably for
"upmarket cars", and his unceasing and infectious laughter.
The countertenor Andrew Watts, with the oboist Nicholas Daniel
and the Britten Sinfonia under Stephen Layton, performed The
Hidden Face, a work of sublime serenity, then explosive force,
dating from 1996. Other performers who made an eloquent
contribution were the soprano Patricia Rozario, the cellist Steven
Isserlis, and the violinist Thomas Gould, associate leader of the
Westminster Abbey's assistant organist, Martin Ford, played Bach
before the service, and at the end the Abbey's Sub-Organist, Daniel
Cook, played "Transports de joie d'une âme devant la gloire du
Christ" from Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension,
which made a thrilling conclusion.
Among the congregation were the composers John Rutter, David
Matthews, and Gabriel Jackson, the countertenors James Bowman and
Michael Chance, the tenor Ian Partridge, the conductor Harry
Christophers, the BBC Radio 3 presenter Donald Macleod, and
Tavener's publisher, James Rushton of Chester Music, who had
written a biography of the composer for the service programme.
A retiring collection was taken for the John Tavener Memorial
Fund, which aims to preserve the composer's manuscripts, further
religious education and tolerance through music, and support
research into Marfan's disease, the genetic disorder from which
Tavener long suffered.