It happened at holiday time more than a decade ago as I was sampling new Christmas recordings for the radio. John Tavener's "Little Lamb" (with a text by William Blake) broke into my heart. The music was both serene and earthy. How simple it was; how unfussy and honest. I had to know more. I had to find more music by this unlikely Brit who, on a spiritual quest, had been led into Christian Orthodoxy.
Tavener fully embraced the odd-sounding Eastern rhythms and scales of the ancient Greek Orthodox Church. They had entered his heart and, taking up residence there, began to transform his musical output. His music was an icon in sound, an experience of the other-worldly that existed in the here and now.
He had health problems. He mentioned in several interviews that he composed with the understanding that he would not be alive for very long. Although he lived longer than I think he believed he would, you hear a stripping away of the cares of the world in so many of his pieces. His music was about the joy of the present moment, of the eternal "now."
Listen for selections by John Tavener during Steve Staruch's shift on Classical MPR today from 3:00-7:00 p.m. Performance Today will also be featuring works by John Tavener on Thursday's broadcast.