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John Tavener - A Portrait
Latest release from Naxos Educational Unites Record Industry for Composer's 60th Birthday

 A Greek island setting for a contemplative interview, a world premiere recording from an international pop star, a cooperation amongst many record labels . . .  these are the key components in the latest product available this month from Naxos Educational.   John Tavener - A Portrait is an innovative look at the composer's life, just in time for his sixtieth birthday.  It is a natural partner to Naxos’ Life and Works series, which explores in detail composers of the past.  The Portrait includes examples of Tavener’s music from every period of his busy compositional career, as well as the world premiere recording of Prayer of the Heart, written for and sung by the Icelandic pop singer Björk. 

Genevieve Helsby, Editorial Manager of Naxos Educational, recently visited Sir John Tavener in his Greek island home for this exciting new release.  She writes about the experience in the latest edition of Naxos News:

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John Tavener is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary composers, so his music attracts both admirers and critics. Works such as The Protecting Veil, and Song for Athene, played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, have been particular catalysts for his popularity. However, the critics would have it that he hoodwinks the public by writing unsophisticated music that appeals easily, as if its attraction is fraudulent. While contemporary art is often slated for its obscurity, or overblown experimentation, Tavener’s generally accessible music earns their disdain through its simplicity. But Tavener believes deeply in simplicity: it is his intentional antidote to the over-intellectualised art of western society.

Tavener has for many years had a house on the island of Evia, Greece, and it was there that David McCleery (who has written the accompanying essay on Tavener’s life and career) and I went to meet him and record the interview for this release. The composer is evidently at home in Greek surroundings, so interviewing him there forges a natural empathy. The main room of his house is modest in size and appearance, a living-room and kitchen combined. In the corner sits a digital piano, next to a large table cluttered with paper and books, including a small Greek dictionary. The washing machine is in full swing, and the cleaner is starting to understand why today is not the day for sweeping inside. She goes out and sweeps underneath the window instead. As it happens, a barking dog puts pay to recording in Tavener’s house, and we call the nearby Pelagos hotel: ‘For Mr Tavener? Oh yes, anything…’. So, through street parades on a Greek festival day, Tavener casually leads the way in his aging English Sierra to the hotel, where a conference room is kindly provided for us. He is relaxed as he talks freely of past and present inspirations, his family, his struggles, and his beliefs. As he accelerates through his replies with an unexpected passion, his sincerity and conviction are unmistakable. Of course, sometimes he has to say things all over again, having unwittingly brought his hand down on the table with a bang in support of his point and overpowered his generally quiet voice. But he does this with unfailing patience and good grace.

            This Portrait is released to mark Tavener’s sixtieth birthday at the beginning of 2004, and how encouraging it has been that so many record companies were willing to help towards what has become a comprehensive and unique survey. Tavener’s own reflections in the recorded interview on CD 2, together with the variety of music and David McCleery’s extensive essay, paint a thoroughly captivating picture of a charismatic and important composer. Sceptics, beware – you might actually enjoy it.

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John Tavener - A Portrait (8.558152-53) includes 2 CDs with a recorded interview plus a 70-page booklet. 
Naxos is committed to music education, in its broadest sense, and through celebration of the most prominent composers writing today, we aim to highlight the value and importance of music in our own time.  John Tavener - A Portrait will be available in the UK and Europe from 2 February.  A U.S. release is scheduled for April 2004.

Prayer of the Heart
A world premiere, written for and sung by Björk

John Tavener and Icelandic singer Björk

‘I’d heard her voice…it was quite a raw, primordial sound, and I was very attracted to this sound. I thought of the ejaculatory prayer called the “Jesus Prayer” – “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” – and I set it in three languages: in Coptic, in English, and in Greek. I thought the way she sang it was quite wonderful, and it couldn’t possibly be sung by anybody else but her, or someone with a voice very, very similar to hers. It had nothing of a western-trained voice about it. In fact, it wasn’t trained at all, and this is why I liked it so much, because… it had a savage quality, an untamed quality.  These are qualities that I like…I liked the simplicity of her, I liked the spontaneity of her, and I liked the result that came forth in Prayer of the Heart.’
- John Tavener


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