Exploring the spiritual element of classical music

Composer Lawrence Ball explains how his spiritual approach to classical music (and festival management) will play out at this year’s Planet Tree Music Festival — and why audiences will be lying down  

Classical music is traditionally something contemplative, although it does have an emotionally dynamic range. Music that is more inwardly focused, but also with a range of dynamics, can take the listener to a warmer, more satisfying place. That may be through a combination of deep sensitivity and translucency with virtuosity such as with Italian concert pianist Carlo Grante. In composition, too, minimalism or restrained expression can help relax listeners.

This new tonal music, which I have coined ‘Integrated Classical Music’ combines east and west, ancient and classical/contemporary, and the spiritual and cultural. It includes minimalism, and is not restricted to it, but embraces the classical tradition of melody and harmony in fresh ways, rather than subverting it as the modernists have a tendency to do. It has potential to realign new classical music to its past and also offer it an eastern or spiritual depth of sound and experience.

Lawrence Ball
Lawrence Ball

I am one of 15 composers presenting world premieres at this year’s Planet Tree Music Festival, now in its ninth edition. The London-based festival stages new classical music, and the works to be premiered this year have a strong inward dimension.

This notion of meditative introspection is also reflected in how the festival is produced. Audience members will be able to enjoy the concerts lying down, as well as seated. Piano duo Sandra and Jeroen van Veen will bring their ‘horizontal concert format’ to London for the first time. The aim is to combine classical music with the spiritual.

I have strong feelings about festival management. I am in the unusual position of being able to both compose and festival-direct without needing to be dictated to by money factors. I was very poor for many years but have benefited from financial assistance in the latter part of my career. My model of artistic direction embraces the aesthetic far more than the financial.

‘Management’ is what is killing the spirit of the NHS, and I feel that money is a servant not a master. The decisions I make are based on beauty and innovation, not on accounting practices and profit. This allows for a visionary approach based on music with warmth, presence and luminosity, not on barren cerebral, academic, or commercial factors. I have to say that much art, sonic or otherwise is barren spiritually. We badly need a more complete reincarnation of the spirit of the ‘60s, not mere cleverness, which is not true artistry.

Planet Tree is a festival that is run for purely artistic and spiritual reasons, and this month features music curated by myself, with assistance from composer/pianist James D’Angelo. It is composer-led, and because of this, the styles and network the festival represents have purity and an uncompromising integrity of intent perhaps not easy for a more administration-led festival to attain.

An assumption I sense often is simply to present what is already circulating rather than an event based on truly transformative composition and performance. Our audiences and attracted interest are steadily increasing, though that is a third priority behind music excellence and audience fulfilment.

Planet Tree runs from 7-26 October at Rosslyn Hill Chapel and All Hallows Church in Hampstead, London. Audience members are invited to bring yoga mats for relaxation.

Lawrence Ball is a composer who has absorbed many influences into his classical composition. He has particular interests in meditational music and computer-generated music, and has collaborated with Pete Townshend of the Who. He has played for groups meditating as well as ordinary concerts. He has written around 200 scores, and recorded thousands of piano improvisations.