What is Supreme Silence? This is a composition that could not easily be accommodated under any style or genre. It is not a typical instrumental or vocal work. It is not Buddhist sacred music, nor is it usual for concert music. Supreme Silence is reminiscent of stylized Oriental music.
|The Supreme Silence
|Aspiration for the Pure Land
Estonian National Male Choir RAM
English Handbell Ensemble Arsis
Irén Lovász – mezzo soprano
Kristjan Järvi – conductor
Ants Soots – choral conductor
Konchok Lhundrup – dung chen, damaru, mantra recitation
Recorded in the Studio of Estonian Radio, November 1997
Engineered by Maido Maadik
Co-produced by Ulrich A. Rützel
Mastered by Markus Herzog / Syrinx Music & Media (Hamburg)
Booklet: 64 pages in German, English, French, and Tibetan languages
Translations by Ngari Thingo Rinpoche, Wangpo Bashi, Ieva Gaidulis, Judi Larsen, Ngawang Tsering, Sven Thielmann
Photos by Graham Harrison, Peeter Vähi, and University of California Press
Design by Fang Yu Liao and Thomas Kunadt
Special thanks: His Holiness Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, NYYD Festival, Ulrich Rützel, Lembit Traks, Kai Vassiljeva
Published by CultureWare Music Publ, Germany
© 1998 CCn’C Records 00182
Ratings at (the biggest database of audio recording) and Amazon: 5 / 5
#4, Supreme Silence, Aspiration for the Pure Land, fragment, 2 min 11 sec, mp3
#2 Supreme Silence, Vajrasattva Mantra, fragment, 2 min 27 sec, mp3
On the NYYD New Music Festival in 1997 and in the music program of EXPO 2000 Hannover, a new work by the composer Peeter Vähi was performed. The press reviews ranged from laudatory to downright denouncing. The work was hailed as the highest achievement or condemned as a total failure. Some reviewers fathomed its religious depth, others thought that the pseudo-religious story was there to compensate the lack of musical accomplishment. The composer was praised for his originality of ideas and the novelty of his musical language as much as critized for shameless imitation. It is very seldom that one meets such contradictory opinions from the critics.
What is Supreme Silence? This is an approximately 50-min long composition for female voice, male choir and handbell ensemble, in places supplemented by Buddhist musical instruments and discrete electronics. The subtitles give us an idea of the overall tonality: Mandala Offering, Vajrasattva Mantra, The Supreme Silence, and Aspiration For The Pure Land. The second movement is based on the traditional Sanskrit mantra, the last on Tibetan lyrics by Lord Jigten Sumgon (1143−1217). Both texts have been specially chosen by His Holiness Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, the head of the Buddhist Drikung Kagyu school. This is almost all that we know for certain about “Supreme Silence”. Everything else might be subject to debate, proof and contradiction.
What is “Supreme Silence”? This is a composition that could not easily be accommodated under any style or genre. It is not a typical instrumental or vocal work. It is not Buddhist sacred music, nor is it usual for concert music. “Supreme Silence” is reminiscent of stylised Asian music. This is reflected by the male choir resemblant of the chanting of Buddhist monks and the use of ritual instruments (Tibetan cymbals, damaru, dung chen). But it is not the stylised East, because the work relies on European and American musical tradition. It is more like stylised early music. And it is not, because it is modern music or, we could even say that it is “the music of tomorrow”. It seems to derive from traditional melodies, but they are invented by the composer. Nor is it possible to classify the work using the terms of acoustic or electronic. It sounds like Philip Glass or Steve Reich, but no, it is neither. Over the past decades a number of stylistic terms have been coined: new age, cross culture. crossover. But they do not apply, either. And what about the third movement consisting of 5 minutes of absolute silence. Is it an imitation of John Cage? Not quite. One of the principal tenets of the teaching of Buddha is the concept of shunyata or emptiness. The third movement is empty and the only musical equivalent for emptiness is Supreme Silence.
And yet, what is Supreme Silence? It is the Glasperlenspiel, so characteristic of the end of the Millennium, where the spiritual and the secular, the oriental and the occidental, the analogue and the digital systems, the past and the present seem to be interwoven. In a 1993 CD introduction to one of Vähi’s compositions it says: “… in my eyes the 2000 Years After The Birth Of Christ is like a philosophical-musical summary of the history of Europe.” And now, five years after, it seems that the composer has moved even further on the path of abstraction. Every page of the score radiates with the composer’s conviction that he is viewing “the end of world’s cultural history”. What comes next? Or does anything come at all?
Kristjan Järvi (b 1972, Tallinn, Estonia) is chief conductor of the Vienna Tonkünstler Symphony Orchestra. As a child he moved with his family to New York, where he studied piano and conducting at the Manhattan School of Music. He attended master classes in piano taught by Tatiana Nikolajeva in Salzburg. In New York in 1993, Kristjan Järvi founded the Absolute Ensemble, which today is one of the world’s leading chamber ensembles. CD recordings with Järvi and Absolute Ensemble have been nominated for a Grammy Award and won the German Record Critics’ Prize. As musical director of Absolute Ensemble, Järvi plays repertoire ranging from the 16th to the 21st century, from Baroque to rock. He is an avid explorer and advocate of contemporary music and has conducted the premières of numerous works by such composers as Daniel Schnyder, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Charles Coleman, etc. From 1998 to 2000 Kristjan Järvi was assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducted a sensational debut with this orchestra in the Hollywood Bowl. Since the 2000−2001 season, he has been Principal Conductor of the Norrlands Operan and Symphony Orchestra in Sweden. He appears world-wide as a guest conductor of such fine symphony orchestras as the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne, the Radio Symphony Orchestras of Berlin and Frankfurt, the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the RAI National Symphony Orchestra of Italy, the Adelaide Symphony and the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra.
To the west, up in the space, there is the Pure Buddha-land,
Dewachen, with Buddha Amitābha, who has fulfilled his great resolution;
he is surrounded by infinite numbers of bodhisattvas.
To these we pay homage.
May we be born in that Pure Buddha-land,
where the earth is made of precious elements, with a smooth surface, vast and boundless,
where the oceans, mountains, rivers and continents
display attributes of clarity, radiance, bliss and happiness beyond human imagination.
May we be born in that graceful land,
where the ground is covered with trees of precious elements,
where scented rivers flow, with precious lotuses floating on it,
giving off sweet fragrances, and with trees bearing flowers and fruits.
May we be born in that glorious land,
where miraculous birds make sweet sounds of the Dharma,
where the wind of bliss causes a shower of flowers,
arranging themselves smoothly and beautifully on the ground in bright lustre.
May we be born in that land, where wishes are fulfilled without effort.
There, the wood, the wind, the water and the lotus
give rise to pleasant form, sound, smell, taste and touch.
These increase the bliss and give rise to a cloud of offerings.
May we be born in that perfect realm,
where all beings are perfect and radiating,
fully endowed with 32 major and 80 minor marks of a Buddha,
filling the whole sky, listening to the profound Dharma.
May we be born in that land, which is totally free from the defects of samsāra,
where beings lacking the opportunity of practicing the Dharma do not exist even by name
where there are neither women nor birth from the womb,
where there are no impure deeds, nor even the slightest suffering.
May we be born in that land, fully endowed with supreme qualities,
where the bodies of men and celestial beings are not differentiated into male or female,
all possessing the similarly graceful body with 32 major and 80 minor marks of a Buddha,
the 5 wisdoms, 5 kinds of eyesight free of any attachment.
May we be born in that land of supreme mahāyāna teachings,
where the beings are free from the attachment to place, possession and body;
they get all the things they desire without effort,
and they enjoy the bliss of the profound mahāyāna Dharma.
May we be born in that supreme land, miraculously created,
where the beings can go to limitless numbers of other Buddha-land by the power of miracles.
Clouds of myriad kinds of offerings coming from the palm of the hand,
making offerings to all Buddhas and liberating beings from samsāra.
May we be able to see the tree of Enlightenment there
which is called “the clear radiating lotus”,
spreading over an area of 1600 pag-tse, bearing myriad of flowers and fruits.
May we be able to see the precious earth, covered with myriad kinds of flowers.
In the middle of it is a lotus with lotus stems,
bearing flowers with kesar, bright and radiating.
May we be able to see Amitābha Buddha.
There, with the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara on the right,
and the Bodhisattva Vajrapāņi on the left side,
surrounded by numerous bodhisattvas.
May we be born in that land,
with the Buddha of Infinite Light, the Buddha of Infinite Glory,
Infinite Life and Infinite Merit,
surrounded by infinite numbers of bodhisattva disciples.
Having been born from a lotus in that land,
may we develop the celestial ears and eyes,
and the power to remember our past lives, being well versed in the Dharma,
and possessing the highest wisdom and miraculous powers.
May we be able to see our protector,
the Lord of the world, Buddha Amitābha.
Having received Dharma teachings from him with great devotion,
at that moment, may we instantly attain the perfection of the 10 bodhisattva levels.
Having been prophesied by Buddha Amitābha,
we will make offerings to millions of Buddhas
and through visiting many Buddha-lands by miracles,
may we be able to make offerings to the Buddhas and liberated beings.
May we be born in that supreme land with qualities beyond human imagination.
There the outer world is beyond human imagination.
The beings there and their experiences of supreme bliss are beyond human imagination.
The Buddhas, bodhisattvas and their emanations are beyond human imagination.
At the time of my death may I be able to see Buddha Amitābha,
surrounded by his attendants; and with full devotion and mindfulness
may this vision never depart from my mind, not even for a moment.
May I die in this state of mind and be born in Dewachen miraculously.
May we be born in that land in space,
after getting a warm reception from dākas and dākinīs
through banners, umbrellas, music
and other myriad kinds of offerings.
May we be able to follow the example
of the bhikşu bodhisattva, Dharmakara,
who with his mindfulness, insight,
realisation and diligence accomplished his great aspirations.
By the blessing of the great truth of the three precious jewels,
by the blessing of the perfect reality of Dharmadhatu,
by the power of the unfailing cause and effect of the relative truth,
and by the power of bodhicitta
and all accumulated merit and the merit to be accumulated,
may our aspirations be fulfilled with certainty.
I pray to the Lord Buddha Amitābha,
may we be looked after by the compassionate eyes of Avalokiteśvara,
may we be blessed by the powerful Vajrapāņi,
may we be led by the torchlight of wisdom.
May we be led by the light of compassion.
May we be led by the power of your Buddha activity.
In the west from here
there is the land of Buddha Amitābha.
Anyone who recites his name,
may he be born in that supreme land.
May we be born in Dewachen from a lotus,
free from the defilements of the three realms of samsāra
like the lotus untouched by the mud.
See also other recordings of Estonian National Male Choir RAM: In the Mystical Land of Kaydara, Artist Chagall, People of Kalevala, Planetentöne Vol 2, World Festival of Sacred Music, The Best of Arsis Bells, Wagner Strauss Seeger
See also other recordings of Handbell Ensemble Arsis: Handbell Symphony, The Best of Arsis Bells, Night Music, The Flutish Kingdom, Music Box, In dies, World Festival of Sacred Music, Legend, Terra Mariana, Prelude, Quarter of a Century with Friends
See also other recordings of Peeter Vähi: Maria Magdalena, In the Mystical Land of Kaydara, A Chant of Bamboo, Hommage à brillance de Lune, Handbell Symphony, The Path of Mantra, The Path to the Heart of Asia, Celestials, Tamula Fire Collage, Sounds of the Silver Moon, PS Best Regards from Tallinn and Moscow