CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Cave of Luminous Mind

Read a small selection of reviews

The performance of Cave of Luminous Mind at the BBC Proms on 21st August generated a great deal of critical coverage. Here are five excerpts.

"There was a symphonic sweep to the patient unfolding of its bipartite structure; Vir audibly stretched himself and extended the techniques that made his previous large-scale works so original.  With this bold, lavishly scored statement, he is reaffirmed as one of the most inventive orchestrators of his generation…" PAUL CONWAY, Tempo 

" . . . the confidence with which Vir handles the sheer scale and the forces involved was hugely impressive." ANDREW CLEMENTS, The Guardian

" . . . using endlessly-rising pianissimo string glissandi, he created the impression of a vast bowl of hazy sound out of which instrumental solos eloquently surged. . . " MICHAEL CHURCH, The Independent

" . . . an impressive addition to Param Vir’s catalogue . . . " RICHARD WHITEHOUSE,

"Mysterious & unknowable—concepts that preoccupied Jonathan Harvey throughout his life, epithets that so often characterised his music, as they do Cave of Luminous Mind, making it in every sense a worthy & very powerful homage to its dedicatee. East & west seem entirely & simultaneously omnipresent in the piece, as does the very essence of humanity’s latent spirituality, not in mere contrivances of style or narrative, but in a less immediate & tangible (but more telling) engagement with notions of reflection & meditation, ambiguity & allusion. Perhaps only this way can one truly aspire to the infinite." SIMON CUMMINGS,

For the full texts go to REVIEWS.


Posted: 2 November 2013 by Richard Howard


A Harmonic Field for "Cave of Luminous Mind"

Music without minor seconds? Why not! The central atonal field in the fast movement of Cave of Luminous Mind is constructed to avoid the interval, and it seems to produce a remarkably spatial effect, devoid of the tension that a surface with minor seconds generates. I suppose it is akin to a kind of atonal pentatonic material, only obliquely related to pentatonic scales.

Luminous Mind is inspired by the meditational journey of the Tibetan saint Milarepa.  Subjects such as these which inhabit most unusual ‘non-Western’ territory, cannot be convincingly clothed in the harmonic materials of a traditional European vintage, such as diatonic keys, or even chromatic extensions of them such as we find in Wagner.  Buddhist concepts originated in an ancient world, and these ideas relating to meditation, self transformation and enlightenment find only distant resonance in Western intellectual history. So it seemed especially anomalous to use such traditional ‘Western’ materials, as they tend to summon powerful historic and cultural associations that detract from the sheer uniqueness of Buddhist concepts. 

However I encountered no such difficulty when I began to use atonal harmonic fields, specially constructed in order to give harmonic colour to this form of intellectual and psychological discourse.  Atonal harmonic fields symmetrically projected outwards from the centre with non-replicating octaves seem especially suited to expressing these kinds of alternate realities.  The harmonic field with which I start my work is given below and it recurs many times in various transpositions of itself and very occasionally with one or two altered or added tones.  There are very few direct octaves in this field, though there are double octaves, hence the pitch class content within each octave tends to be different from the octave above and the octave below it.  Of course there are any numbers of ways to construct such fields and with different degrees of density and intervallic properties. 

The field above is constructed entirely from consecutive major seconds and minor thirds.  It also features embedded diminished seventh tetrachords and – towards the extremities - complementary whole tone scales. Through repetition, reiteration and free arpeggiation, and with multiple instrumental colours thrown rapidly on its pitch grid, it begins to assume a quality of “potent” stasis and yet seems to me to release remarkable energy when orchestral sonorities are cast into its mould. The symmetry of its pitch structure gives it an additional quality of stability. The lack of minor seconds seems to make it less personal and more ‘objective’ in its effect.  As the meditational journey lies beyond normal emotion and personality-driven psychological phenomena, it seemed to me that this field was especially suited to the task. 

Interestingly, fields like this present a practical problem when writing for the harp. The harp is designed to be an octave-replicating piece of technology. When considering a harmonic field, it is apparent that if the pitch class content of one octave does not match the next octave above or below, this either means that the harp must play very sparely, or deploy swift pedal changes and ingenious enharmonic tuning. 

Posted: 28 May 2013 by Param Vir


The Meditational Journey of Milarepa

New work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo

21 August 2013, Royal Albert Hall
BBC Proms

Eighteen years after I wrote my first orchestral work Horse Tooth White Rock (last 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 saint Milarepa (c.1052 - c.1135 CE). The meditation technique of following the in-breath and the out-breath with mindfulness has generated within me a musical response in the form of a highly sculpted work whose motion and energy propel forward non-narratively. Radiant textures are embedded within shimmering harmonic fields of varying density that generate surprising climaxes against slow moving rhythmic pulses. 

Jetsun Milarepa spent years in meditation, practicing 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 the path to 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. 

Luminosity was naturally very much at the forefront of my mind as a core consideration underlying the vibrancy and the changing colours of the musical fabric. My composition is dedicated to the late composer Jonathan Harvey whose life and musical expression embodied qualities of luminosity in such an astonishing proliferation of works, and whose thought processes similarly took refuge in the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhist practice.

Posted: 21 February 2013 by Param Vir


Interview with American poet Donna Masini

Donna Masini, American poet based in New York, reads from her book "Turning to Fiction" and discusses her work and its context in the contemporary world. Donna and I were both resident for 6 weeks at the amazing and generously funded research facility, the Civitella Ranieri Centre in Umbertide, Italy during September/October 2011. I took the chance to interview not just Donna but other writers and artists resident there as well. Amongst other things, Donna Masini discussed her teaching methods, and I found these interesting as they had many parallels with the teaching of composition.

Posted: 1 May 2012 by Param Vir