a thousand golden bells in the breeze
for harp and two double basses
harp, 2 double basses
Year of composition:
Lontano/ Sally Pryce (harp), Adam Wynter & Ben Daniel-Greep (double basses), conducted by Mischa Tangian
Arts & Humanities Festival 2012
Great Hall, King's College London, London, 19 October 2012
This work borrows its title from an image in Sudhana’s journey of spiritual realisation, as related in the final chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Midway through his pilgrimage the youth seeks a female teacher, who to those unable to understand her virtues appears to dwell in the polluted realm of lust and desire. People who can only project their own illusory world-views on her wonder why such an evidently calm, pure, profound and wise young man wishes to submit to the power of her sensuality. As Sudhana approaches her palace, he is engulfed by the sound of a myriad golden bells rustling in the breeze. He finds her ‘draped with a radiant mesh made of all kinds of precious substances, shining with an array of countless celestial jewelled ornaments’. Sudhana learns how some of her disciples have transcended passion and attained absorbing joy simply by gazing at her. For others, talking to her has been a ‘gate’ to the essence of sound, while many have reached ultimately liberating knowledge and tranquility by kissing and embracing her.
I first composed a version of the piece for harpsichord, in 2009; then the present version in 2012. The two works are related in the manner of a Picasso ‘series’, in the sense that the second is not a mere re-instrumentation but a radical reinterpretation of the detail and overall design of the original. The harpsichord piece consists of four ‘gates’ or sections, while the trio comprises an introduction and two ‘gates’. In both versions, on entering each gate we hear a phrase evoking the chiming of an ethereal carillon, which returns at the very end of the work.
Buddhism is a tradition, on the one hand, of exuberant and sensuous imagery, and, on the other, of meditative experiences where space, time and materiality dissolve. Silvina’s music reflects both these strands: the intensely sensual and passionate, and the transparent, spacious and otherworldly. At times she may be inspired by the words of ancient texts and legends, as in a thousand golden bells in the breeze, at others by the dreamlike Buddhist–Taoist vision of the world that underlies shan shui ...