My hero: John Tavener by Steven Isserlis

Having asked Tavener to write a short piece for him, the cellist Steven Isserlis was delighted to be provided with the huge and deeply romantic The Protecting Veil

I first met John Tavener, who died this week, in the late 80s, when I asked him to write a short musical piece for me. The result, rather to my surprise (but even more to my delight), was a huge work, The Protecting Veil. It was written in a burst of inspiration, and at astonishing speed, and, in the end, was commissioned for the BBC Proms and first performed there in 1989. It was in the second half of a marathon programme, which also contained the first performance of a symphony by Minna Keal, and John and I were both convinced that The Protecting Veil would be overlooked by a tired audience.

We need not have worried; the piece became an instant classic. For the next couple of years, wherever I played, people would ask me: “When are you going to record that beautiful piece by John Tavener?” Eventually, the arrangements were made, and we did record it; it leapt to the top of the classical charts.

Why did it capture people’s imaginations? I believe that it was because the beauty came from within; many people write beautiful music – but music of such intense rapture, such aching fervour, is rare indeed.

John wasn’t writing to please people – at the time he composed The Protecting Veil it was many years since he’d had a major success. He was writing the music he had to write, fired by his love of Russian Orthodox music, and his conviction of the importance of purity and simplicity. He was not a minimalist; The Protecting Veil is a deeply romantic work, even if its proportions allow for much repetition. The form is uncomplicated but satisfying; the whole work written in sections starting with each note of a descending F major scale.

Will his music last? I certainly hope so – and I believe that it will. Not every piece was an unqualified success, but there is at the core of his music a power of communication, a sense of theatre, a love of truth, that moves people deeply.

Contributor

Steven Isserlis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
My hero: Ravi Shankar by Amit Chaudhuri

Ravi Shankar's death robs us of a musical master with a serene self-belief, writes Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri

12, Dec, 2012 @5:35 PM

Article image
My hero: John Lennon by Kevin Barry
For great artists time is unfixed, and they can tune into the essences of other eras. I came to see John as a kind of Edwardian type – he’s the Melancholy Dandy

Kevin Barry

14, Nov, 2015 @9:59 AM

John Tavener – review

The composer's new works represent a blaze of creativity and rank among his most transparently personal statements, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

08, Jul, 2013 @5:14 PM

Classical review: John Tavener, Requiem

This work shows new fervour and robustness, says Fiona Maddocks

Fiona Maddocks

30, May, 2009 @11:02 PM

Article image
My hero: John Cooke

As Cromwell's solicitor general, he drafted the Act which abolished the monarchy. Then, for good measure, he abolished the House of Lords as 'useless and dangerous'

Geoffrey Robertson

22, Apr, 2011 @11:06 PM

Article image
My hero: Gwen John
By Anne Enright

Anne Enright

01, Oct, 2010 @11:06 PM

Article image
My hero: John le Carré by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My hero: John le Carré by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

01, Apr, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
My hero Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds

Adam Foulds: My hero, Oliver Knussen

Adam Foulds

23, Jul, 2010 @11:06 PM

Tavener premiere, Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury Abbey

Rian Evans

23, Jul, 2002 @4:18 PM

Article image
My hero: Dennis the Menace by Steven Butler
Dennis taught me that it didn't matter if I hated books. He became the helping hand between being a non-reader and the children's author I am today, says Steven Butler

Steven Butler

15, Mar, 2014 @7:00 AM