The relationship between art and public policy is, of course, somewhat oblique: “You don’t go to a Tavener concert, and come away thinking about tax policy,” Gedmin quips. The Diamond Jubilee theme, and the implied celebration of U.S.-British relations, is the only overt political connection in a work that Tavener describes as “quite a feminine piece.”
“One of the qualities I miss most in contemporary art is the childlike and the feminine,” Tavener says. “I suppose it’s been the area to which I feel I’ve contributed, if I’ve contributed anything.”
But the existence of the commission — and, indeed, of Gedmin’s philosophy about the arts — is a direct result of arts education. In the 1970s, Gedmin, who is American, was Shafer’s student at a Fairfax County high school in Vienna, Va. Shafer instilled such a love of music that Gedmin pursued an undergraduate music degree before shifting to graduate work in German studies and moving into the realm of public policy.
A few years ago, when he was in Washington, Gedmin saw that Shafer was conducting Bach’s Mass in B Minor. He went to hear it, reconnected with his old teacher after the performance and began brainstorming ideas about involving the arts in his current work. Shafer has since appeared in the institute’s Salon Series, evenings devoted to poetry, theater, painting and music. Soon enough, Shaferwas looking for a composer who might be available to write something on a couple of years’ notice.
The result is tantamount to a statement of faith coming from three different angles: Shafer’s in the existence of his chorus, Gedmin’s in the ability of art to broaden the horizons of policymakers, and Tavener’s in God. “Tolstoy’s Creed” wasn’t even part of the original commission. Reading Tolstoy after his illness, Tavener says, “I found the Christianity he believed in was closer to the Christianity I believed in after being ill.” He was so inspired that he set some of the text to music and sent it to Shafer as well. “It wasn’t an important piece of music for me,” he says. “It was just something I needed to put down. It was a proclamation.”
Which certainly offers a whole new perspective on a think tank’s work. And that, after all, is part of the point.
“If music is not another reality, another way of seeing things that is separate from the everyday way,” Tavener says, “then it’s not worth writing.”
Diamond Jubilee: A Coronation Anniversary Celebration
The City Choir of Washington concert will be presented Sunday at 4 p.m. at Washington National Cathedral. Tickets, $25-$80, are available through the cathedral’s box office at tickets.cathedral.org.
This story originally gave a wrong date for Princess Diana’s death. This has been corrected.