Cave of Luminous Mind (2013) 22'

Programme Note

Nineteen years after I wrote my first orchestral work Horse Tooth White Rock (performed at the BBC Proms in 2005), Tibetan Buddhism is once again a source of inspiration. Cave of Luminous Mind is my third orchestral work, inspired by the meditational journey towards enlightenment of the Tibetan sage Milarepa (c1052–c1135). The meditation technique of following the in-breath and the out-breath with mindfulness generated within me a musical response in the form of a highly sculpted work whose motion and energy are propelled forwards non-narratively. Radiant textures are embedded within shimmering harmonic fields of varying density that generate surprising climaxes against slow background rhythmic pulsation.

Jetsun Milarepa spent years in meditation, practising the techniques of Vajrayana discipline (the Diamond Path) as he learnt it from his teacher Marpa. Over the years Milarepa moved from cave to cave in the mountain ranges of Tibet, seeking shelter as
he single-mindedly pursued his quest for enlightenment. He gave many of these caves beautiful names. One such was the ‘Cave of Luminous Awareness’, which directly inspired the title of my work.

Qualities of light were naturally very much on my mind as I developed this composition and the changing colours of its musical fabric. The two movements of the work are contrasted in character and pacing. The first, slow movement is fashioned from modal scales and harmonic fields that emphasise semitones and clusters. A gently unfolding string glissando appears many times, creating a soft halo for the melodies that unfold, even as it points to the transient nature of all phenomena.

The following faster movement serves as a metaphor for Tibetan meditational transformation. It is akin to a musical thunderbolt, a vibrant energy that underlies the extraordinary stillness one sees in Buddhist icons. Colour and luminosity are achieved by deflecting swiftly changing timbral fragments against symmetrical harmonic fields that stabilise and unify the fast-paced texture.

My work is a tribute to Tibet’s rich spiritual tradition that has kept alive the unparalleled tenets of Buddhist teaching, most especially the meditational disciplines that lead to peace and enlightenment, despite Tibet herself suffering most cruelly at the hands of an alien, occupying power since the 20th century.

Cave of Luminous Mind is dedicated to the late Jonathan Harvey, whose music embodied qualities of light in an astonishing proliferation of pieces, and whose creative vision brought forth so many works fired by the wisdom of Buddhism. My encounter with Jonathan’s music and my subsequent study with him were a source of great enrichment to my life.