Tavener's new score, commissioned by Prince Charles, sets for chorus and orchestra the 99 names of Allah given in the Quran al-Rahman ("The Beneficent"), al-Malik ("The King"), al-Aziz ("The Almighty"), al-Hakim ("The Wise"), and so on.
Following this evening's concert, the musicians travel to Istanbul, where The Beautiful Names will be performed on Friday (June 22) in Agia Eirene (the Church of St. Irene) under the auspices of the International Istanbul Music Festival.
This is Tavener's first piece with an explicitly and strictly Islamic theme; most of his music, and his vocal music in particular, has drawn its subject matter from Eastern Orthodox Christianity, to which the composer converted in 1977.
Born in 1944, John Tavener first drew notice in 1968 with his oratorio The Whale, performed at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta and recorded on Apple Records (the Beatles' label). He came to wide public attention with his 1988 The Protecting Veil for cello and strings, premiered by Stephen Isserlis at the BBC Proms; his 1993 choral work Song for Athene reached an enormous audience when it was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. His Lamentations and Praises, composed for and recorded by Chanticleer, won the 2003 Grammy award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition; his all-night work The Veil of the Temple had its world premiere in London's Temple Church in 2003 and its North American debut at the 2004 Lincoln Center Festival.
The first portion of today's program features two pieces for unaccompanied chorus: Popule meus, a brief section of the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy as set by the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomšs Lu‹s de Victoria, and Tavener's own Hymn to the Mother of God.
The performance broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and over the web at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 begins at 7:30 pm UK time / 2:30 pm US Eastern time / 1630h GMT/UTC. For those unable to listen at the time, the concert broadcast will remain available in on-demand streaming audio for seven days at the Radio 3 website: click on "Tuesday" under "Performance on 3" on the BBC Radio Player.