John Tavener Laments Lack Of Spiritualism In Western Art

Composer, who will appear in concert with Paul McCartney on May 4, shares philosophy in N.Y. lecture.

NEW YORKSir John Tavener gave a lecture on Thursday that focused on spiritualism — and what he perceives as the lack thereof — in modern music.

The British composer, known for his lavish and intensely spiritual music, appeared at Cooper Union for a discussion of his works, influences and personal philosophy. The event was a prelude to a concert of his works on May 4 in New York that will include an appearance by former Beatles bassist Sir Paul McCartney.

"I deplore the fact that the sacred has ceased to go hand-in-hand with art," Tavener said during his lecture. "That is something I've pondered for many years, as Western art became more and more secular in the 20th century."

His talk was framed by performances of his Chant for Solo Cello and the Akhmatova Songs for Soprano and Cello by cellist Fred Sherry and soprano Lucy Alden Shelton.

Dressed in a black velvet shirt, gray trousers and flowing white scarf, with a large ruby ring on each hand, Tavener spoke — with taped musical selections interspersed — for 45 minutes before a rapt audience of about 100 in Cooper Union's Great Hall.

A devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church, he addressed the importance of spirituality and tradition in art in tones alternately passionate and lighthearted.

Tavener discussed his views that contemporary artists have become too concerned with self-expression and innovation instead of honoring a higher calling.

Since the time of Beethoven, he said, Western culture has been on a "humanist" path, and one has to look back to the Renaissance to find art that is genuinely pure and religious.

He deplored academicism in music, the concept of genius and the idolization of the composer, calling Alban Berg "a master playboy" who typifies the "rotting of humanism."

Conversely, he praised the religious, instinctive works of Stravinsky, Messiaen and Stockhausen, as well as much Eastern music, calling the music of India "the most sacred music that exists."

The upcoming concert of Tavener's music will be held at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyala in New on May 4. His lecture and concert coincide with the release of his book "The Music of Silence: A Composer's Testament."