Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, May 9

Tavener's "wake up" call?

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1998, a work by the British composer John Tavener received its European premiere at the Beauvais Cello Festival in France. It’s scored for solo cello and just the cello section of a symphony orchestra and was commissioned by Sony Classical to fill out a CD of Tavener’s music featuring that label’s star cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.

Two years earlier, in 1996, Yo-Yo Ma had recorded another Tavener piece for cello entitled “The Protecting Veil,” but since that piece ran only about 45 minutes, Sony needed something to fill out the disc and so – perhaps acting on the principle that there’s “always room for cello” -- this 20-minute work for cello and celli was commissioned to fill out the disc.

Tavener gave the new piece a VERY strange title, namely “Wake Up and Die.”

The mystically-minded Tavener explained he was referring to the spiritual paradox that, as he put it, “If you wake up spiritually, then you will die to all that is not of God.”

Perhaps Tavener knew first-hand what he was talking about: In 1990, during surgery to remove a tumor in his jaw, he actually DID die -- clinically speaking -- on the operating table but was fortunately resuscitated by the surgical team. “Before my illness,” Tavener wrote, “I'd always had a morbid fear of death, but since the operation it’s not terrifying anymore.”

Music Played in Today's Program

John Tavener (1944 - 2013) Wake up . . . and die Yo Yo Ma, vcl; Baltimore Symphony cellists; David Zinman, cond. Sony 62821

Additional Information

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