Performed by The 24 conducted by Graham Bier

Antiphons was written for the 2010 Lyons Celebration Award. Part of the commission involved writing a piece that acted in some was as a companion or response to Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms: one of Sir Jack Lyons’s favourite pieces. The famous version of Bernstein’s piece calls for a large orchestra, along with choir and soloist. However, he also prepared an arrangement for choir, soloist, harp, organ and percussion. It is for this unusual ensemble that I chose to score my piece.

My response to Bernstein’s work starts from the view that the psalms are provided in the Bible as a guide to life and living. As such, I sought to find parallel and complementary texts from other sources, both sacred and secular. In Antiphons I juxtapose passages from Proverbs, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (set here in Edward Fitzgerald’s famous translation), and the writings of the 16th-century Carmelite priest, St John of the Cross. The Rubaiyat has always fascinated me as an essential secular text that is somehow expressed in quasi-sacred terms; on the other hand, St John of the Cross expresses the sacred love of God often in terms of the more secular love of a marriage. In Antiphons I wanted to juxtapose and blur the dividing line between sacred and secular.

The title Antiphons shouldn’t be taken to imply a strict antiphonal structure or specific liturgical use. Instead it alludes on a broader level to the different dialogues that are at work within the piece: the initial ‘call’ of Bernstein’s piece and my ‘response’; the dialogue of sacred and secular in the juxtaposition of texts; as well as the more overt division of the piece into movements for either soloist, full choir or semi-choir.