AN EXTENDED service of thanksgiving was held in Westminster
Abbey, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, on Wednesday of last
week, to celebrate the life and work of the composer Sir John
Tavener, who died on 12 November last year, two months short of his
Nine works by the composer, spanning several decades, were sung
by soloists and the choir of Westminster Abbey, under the Organist
and Master of the Choristers, 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
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 John Hall, presided, and
Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain led the
middle section of the service, which was spoken in Greek and
centred on prayers "for the repose of John, God's servant, who has
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, in his address, praised Tavener's
challenging early works, as well as his questing later ones,
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 gaveit its "unique" and "hypnotic"
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
Among the congregation were the composers John Rutter, David
Matthews, and Gabriel Jackson; the singers James Bowman, Michael
Chance, and 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 biographical
note for the order of service.
A retiring collection was taken for the John Tavener Memorial
Fund, which seeks to preserve the composer's manuscripts and to
promote religious education and tolerance through music, and to
support research into Marfan's disease, the genetic disorder from
which Tavener long suffered.