A thin, small man, an aesthete, he told the audience that this part of the Rivered Earth cycle "takes me back home to India" because it uses translations of ancient Indian texts about Krishna as well as some of his (Seth's) own poems. A lady sitting in front of me was following them from his book as he read them out and as the music progressed. Parts 1 and 2 of the cycle had drawn on poems by the Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Du Fu, and on poems by George Herbert.
In Indian philosophical traditions, the universe was composed of five elements: earth, fire, water, air and space (sky). Not only does The Rivered Earth try to express this, but when planning Part 3 for the 750th anniversary of Salisbury Cathedral, Seth decided it should have a human element too: "Why not all of human life?" he asked himself. Quite an ambitious project! Anyhow, it attempts to describe or comment upon the stages of human life from an Indian point of view: pre-birth, childhood, youth, old age, death, with the tenor speaking stanzas from hymns to creation before each section of the music and the solo violinist adding an "etherial meditation." Other musicians taking part were a small orchestra consisting of 7 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and a double bass, 2 percussionists and a harpist. Besides the instrumentalists there were two choirs singing: 15 children singing in unison (directed by the Cathedral choir man, Matthew Larkin), and Ottawa's elite chamber choir, the Seventeen Voyces, in prodigious harmony, who processed in from the back of the church behind the solo violinist at the start. The children's choir sang settings of Hindi nursery rhymes, like the way Mahler's symphonies incorporate young voices. One rhyme went something like "...chutney made from female frog ... drink it and you're drunk! ..." and another was about the child Krishna asking his mother for the moon (literally) that he could see reflected in a bucket. To match the Tamil classics, as I mentioned above, many of the words set were Vikram Seth's own, such as this poignant couplet about someone looking in the mirror in old age:
Who is this stranger, foolish-wise,/ Who looks at you with your own eyes?The music and seriousness of intent from the creators and performers was so overwhelming that I came away afterwards shaking with emotion. Tremendous!
P.S. Another blogger has mentioned this concert: click here.