I was introduced to Metropolitan Anthony, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in England, by Father Malachy. I became Orthodox whilst still organist at St John’s, Kinsongton, and was immediately asked by Metropolitan Anthony to make a setting of the liturgy in English. This was the start of a long journey into Eastern Christianity.
On converting to Orthodoxy, I began setting the liturgy. This I did knowing nothing of tradition or the sacred tones, and it was sung in the Russian Cathedral. It caused a furore, and people came up to me and said it was just your own composed music – where are the sacred tones? This brought about a crisis in my composing life. I wanted so much to compose truly sacred music. I stopped writing and made a study of Znameny and Byzantine chant. During this time I had been to Greece and met Victoria Marangopoulos and her father. We later married, and although our marriage was very short-lived, she and her beloved father inspired me to write many works and also gave me a life-long love of Greece.
I met the Irish playwright, Gerrard McLarnon in the mid 70s. He was a wonderfully wild but gentle man, in love with the Orthodox Church, Francis Bacon, Dostoyevsky and Greek Tradegy. I had come to know the French Saint, St Therese of Lisieux through the postulant nun who was still influencing me deeply. I asked Gerry to collaborate with me on an opera about St Therese. We both travelled frequently to Lisieux and met one of the nun’s who knew St Therese’s sister. I remember her sitting behind the Grill and handing us a piece of paper with the words ‘Therese – atheiste’. We both became very excited by this and returned home to work on this dramatic piece of information. She was a manifestation of the dark night of the soul.
After completing Therese, Gerry introduced me to a short story by Dostoyevsky, The Gentle Spirit. This became a rather apocalyptic chamber opera. I read Dostoyevky and Berdiyaev at this time. My last collaboration with Gerry was with the Immurement of Antigone. After recovering from a slight stroke, I fell under the spell of the great Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, and composed a setting of her great poem Requiem. Russia and Greece had become the countries where I found treasure houses of inspiration.
In 1980, I met the artist Cecil Collins and his wife Elizabeth. We discussed music almost daily. Both Cecil and Elizabeth became very special friends and a huge inspiration. He introduced me to Blake and the traditionalist thinkers. The Lamb, a setting of Blake, was written in 1982.
I was introduced to Philip Sherrard, Orthodox theologian, through Cecil. I visited him in Katounia on the beautiful Greek island of Evia to discuss a possible opera based on St Mary of Egypt. I returned home to more strict Orthodox traditional concerns and set the entire Orthodox Vigil Service for Christ Church, Oxford with Bishop Kallistos celebrating. This more than satisfied my traditionalist Orthodox critics.
My meeting with the Russian Orthodox Abbess, Mother Thekla, began a collaboration that lasted 20 years, and friendship that has lasted to the present day. She encouraged me to write Orthodox-inspired music rather than strict Orthodox music. In 1987 Mother Thekla translated the great life-affirming hymn written by Archpriest Gregory Petrov in a labour camp during the Stalinist purges. I immediately set it to music in a flood of inspiration: The Akathist of Thanksgiving. We went on to work together on Mary of Egypt, a moving icon in sound of the story of a prostitute who became a desert mother, and thereafter a saint.
Icons, and specifically icons of the Mother of God were to inspire me again and again, one of them was The Protecting Veil. The piece marked another turning point. I met Maryanna at the premier of The Protecting Veil in 1989, having originally met in 1985 at the dedication of Cecil Collins’ stained glass window in Basingstoke. We married in 1991.
I worked on Resurrection in 1989, the text Mother Thekla put together from services in Holy Week, the Gospels and the Old Testament. This three-hour piece was premiered when Glasgow was European city of culture in 1992.