Retrospect: The Protecting Veil

St John’s Smith Square was lit up with Christmas decorations and filled with festive cheer on Saturday 2 December, all ready for an exploration of Sir John Tavener’s musical vision of Mary, the Mother of God – a work of ‘such overt mysticism’ (Bachtrack). What an end to our Modern Mystics trilogy!

Our series finale saw world-renowned cellist Matthew Barley present fun, thought-provoking and educational living programme notes in the first half, and bring ‘to life the depths and contrasts of this deceptively simple piece’ (Bachtrack) – Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil – in an entrancing second-half performance.

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Matthew Barley: living programme notes (image © James Berry)

In Barley’s living programme notes, our musicians were directed to get into groups – spread among our audience and onstage – to play parts of the music in different styles and forms, to show how Tavener used musical devices and techniques to ‘create intensely moving music’ (Bachtrack). Barley also demonstrated how Tavener was influenced by Indian music, performing a solo excerpt of the music over a recording of Indian soundscapes. In the spirit of Christmas, the Orchestra applied compositional techniques such as retrograde, inversion, augmentation and canon to well-known Christmas tunes – and you could hear the cheerful humming and recognition from our audience throughout.

‘[Living programme notes are] a great way to help more casual listeners appreciate the hidden depths of the music.’ – Bachtrack

In the second half, the talking had come to an end, but the education continued as our audience were able to hear those techniques in action in a full performance of The Protecting Veil. Matthew Barley’s solo cello represented the Mother of God, which ‘never stops singing throughout’ (Sir John Tavener), with our magnificent strings responding in ‘sensitive ways in which they complemented the solo instrument’ (Bachtrack).

‘City of London Sinfonia seemed alive to the composer’s sense of the spiritual significance of each of the work’s sections.’ – Bachtrack

The music moved seamlessly between movements, and between moments of emotional power and meditative calm – a calm that prolonged in a consensus of zen throughout the Hall, before Barley’s dropping of the bow cued a rapturous applause.

The standing ovation that followed prompted an encore from Matthew Barley, who demonstrated even more charisma and astonishing technique in Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio.

Relive some of the concert in photos from the night, taken by James Berry.

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All images © James Berry Photography.

Tell us about your Modern Mystics experience

If you’ve been to any or all of our Modern Mystics concerts, we would love to hear about how much you enjoyed them! You can write a review on our Facebook page or on Google, tweet us @CityLDNsinfonia, or send us an audio recording to info@cls.co.uk which we can feature in one of our podcasts.

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