John Tavener : The Veil of the Temple (concert version)
I hope that this concert version of The Veil of the Temple will encapsulate something of the experience of the seven hour vigil. I have tried to capture the gradual movement from darkness to light, and the gradual 'unveiling' of the music, by taking key elements of the eight cycles that lead to the climax in cycles seven and eight.
Initially composed as a seven-hour vigil to be performed in the candlelit Temple Church, John Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple is music as spiritual experience, offering religious perspectives from Islam to Christianity to Hinduism in what amounts to a gigantic, universal prayer.
We got the much shorter, 2004 Proms version. But there was still a sense that we were about to participate in an intensive artistic experience as people dug themselves in with pockets full of boiled sweets and one eye on the quickest toilet route. Those with prom tickets lounged in each others’ laps.
Grinning encouragingly at each other through the taxing incantations and grooving spontaneously as they processed from the hall to a jaunty Hindu chant, the five choirs, many local, were deployed like troops, encircling the hall with sound or calling from the domed roof and mustering on stage for the climactic cycle eight.
Tavener was watching from the stalls. He is a formidable, unearthly presence. And yet several people felt licensed to turn round mid-performance and shake his hand. Much has been said about the wonderful inclusiveness of promenade theatre. Apparently it works for promenade concerts too.
Bella Todd, The Argus, 29/05/2006
At 9pm in the late-night Prom, mankind and musical laws became swallowed up in a prayer to the God of all religions, East and West. The Proms premiered the 'concert version': seven hours reduced to two and a half, still time enough for the obsessive refrains, droning organ, stately pace and long chanted texts to uplift the soul.
The Albert Hall [is] ideal for Ceri Sherlock's smoothly realised staging across platform, arena and high crevices, with the excellent Temple Church choristers, Brighton Festival Chorus, Patricia Rozario and others in perpetual movement back and forth. Conductor Stephen Layton made sure the score's handful of short, thrilling moments hit home, and the massive tubes of the Tibetan horns, or the warbling reeds of Dirk Campbell's Armenian duduk, were good value.
Geoff Brown, The Times, 03/08/2004
John Tavener joined a packed Albert Hall audience for a shortened version of his vast, six-hour ritual The Veil of the Temple. Would it have the same overwhelming effect as it did in the incense-filled, candle-lit intimacies of Temple Church, I wondered?
In the event the piece appeared stronger than ever. It was a pleasure to re-encounter details I'd forgotten, like the marvellously simple trio for two bassi profundi and tenor, and the astonishing, but perfectly apt quotation from Wagner's Tristan towards the end.
I was amazed again at the sheer audacity of the conception, which takes a cycle of prayers and meditations and repeats it sevenfold, each time in a more ecstatically elaborate form. And at the boldness that can put a melismatic style vaguely reminiscent of Orthodox cantillation next to a radiant piece of Anglican church harmony.
At the end, the ritual Christian frame was shattered, and we processed out to a hymn from the Hindu Upanishads. Yes, I know it sounds like a spiritual and musical brothel, and in a way it was. But the iron grip of the form, and the telling economy of the music - and its amazing beauty - made it a profound experience.
Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph, 03/08/2004