Songs. Around 2004-5, while Tulev was composer in residence with the EPCC, I proposed that he write an extended new work for us, and ventured to suggest that it might be a polychoral piece with various groups of singers and instruments distributed around the concert venue. The work he came up with certainly matched this idea, but it also exceeded my expectations in every way. The music was designed for the resonant, airy acoustics of the ‘Niguliste’ (St Nicholas church) where the premiere was to be held, and the performers are in fact spaced out in the form of a cross:
The text is a collage created by the composer from various sources: the Bible in both English (the King James version) and Latin translations (Neo Vulgata) of the Song of Songs; and two poems, Cantico espiritual (Spiritual Canticle) and Coplas del alma que pena por ver a Dios (Stanzas of the Soul that Suffers with Longing to See God), by St John of the Cross. Along with the original text in Spanish, selected passages of the English translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez are used.
These texts, expressing spiritual longing in the terminology of physical desire, seem perfect for the music – even though it may be odd to express it that way around. The words are in three languages – English, Latin and Spanish; says Tulev: ‘The overlapping of languages works like a commentary, re-interpreting the original. When we aren’t listening to our principal language the process of translating forms a kind of gap between the object and the new language, and this gap is filled with interpretation even while we are listening to it. The process of translation gives time for this and raises the activity above the normal.’
The small orchestra includes recorder and duduk (a Eurasian wind instrument somewhat akin to the oboe). The duduk’s longing quality is well suited to the poems, and the players improvise embellishments, drawing on the background that they share with the composer) in early music performance. The work, which is dedicated to the writer, was premiered in October 2005 as part of the NYYD (‘NEW’) festival.