By Dr. John Burke

Mysterium is the seed crystal and animating spirit for a body of ambient music that I created for the purpose of facilitating a contemplative experience. The recent revival of walking the labyrinth as a spiritual tool has resonated strongly with the contemporary world and offers the possibility of initiating an inner journey of integration and wholeness in an eminently participatory way. Music can enhance this effect, and Mysterium, with its circular harmonic structure that mirrors the sacred geometry of the labyrinth itself, is a virtual labyrinth walk in sound. It carries with it the aspiration of serving as a vehicle for the listener’s own process, by engaging the psyche at a profound level.

This recording begins with my work Mysterium, which bookends this recording, however, the Mysterium we begin with is not the Mysterium we end with. Following the Piano Trio version of Mysterium, which I wrote for Ensemble Vivant and gave to pianist Catherine Wilson as a present, is Catherine’s powerful, evocative solo piano improvisation of Lungta, which means “windhorse”, and stands for life force or subtle energy. Ms. Wilson extemporizes on the harmonic sequence to raise a wind of delight and power in preparation for the formal enactment which follows in the journey’s tour de force, Hieratikos. This is the solar plexus of the journey. A vast expansion and intensification of the harmonic sequence, it describes a self-contained arc within the global arc of the recording, the inner sanctum within the temple’s larger precincts. The opening meditative induction introduces a shape-shifting traverse through soundscapes sunlit and storm tossed – harmonic fields as states of being. The denouement is liminality a threshold condition of ambiguity or disorientation that marks the ritual loss of the old identity in preparation for the acquisition of the new one. It is here that music, the sacred geometry of the labyrinth, and the inner work of the labyrinth pilgrims can synergistically meet. The movement concludes with a pacifying reintegration, followed by the return of Mysterium. The piano sextet appearance of Mysterium becomes a litmus test, a means of checking in on ourselves in the wake of what has gone before.

The music normally associated with the labyrinth favours the slow, the subdued, and the non-rhetorical, such as Gregorian Chant and devotional music of other cultures. The music heard on this recording models the dynamic of the classic rite of passage in its three phases: separation, transition, and incorporation. Without obstacles there can be no growth; the labyrinth when met with inspired facilitation becomes a singular crucible in which to catalyze it. Music is internalized differently while walking than when sitting in a concert hall. When walking the labyrinth the experience becomes an energetically embodied one, whether at the Chartres labyrinth, a labyrinth of wilderness trails, a labyrinth of neighbourhood streets, or a virtual labyrinth of the mind, this is music that proposes a challenge and offers a template by which to navigate it. The necessary catalyst to achieve the desired effect is musicianship beyond ego. The profound depth of artistry and musicianship of pianist Catherine Wilson and that of the extraordinary musicians with whom she collaborates in her group Ensemble Vivant, perfectly embodies that. These wonderful artists establish an unerring connection to communicative source.

The magic of Ensemble Vivant’s performance of Mysterium inspired Toronto filmmaker Robert DiVito to create his art film Mysterium, where he brilliantly weaves the ethereal musical performance with compelling film footage from nature and our urban reality.

John Burke’s Mysterium CD



  1. Mysterium (piano trio)
    Catherine Wilson, piano; Erica Beston, violin; Sharon Prater, cello
  2. Lungta (solo piano improv)
    Catherine Wilson, piano
  3. Hieratikos (piano trio)
    Catherine Wilson, piano; Joseph Peleg*, violin; Sybil Shanahan, cello
  4. Mysterium (piano sextet)
    Catherine Wilson, piano; Erica Beston, violin; Norman Hathaway, violin; Jonathan Craig*, viola; Sharon Prater, cello; Dave Young, bass
John Burke, composer


Catherine Wilson, Piano/Artistic Director

Erica Beston, violin

Joseph Peleg, violin

Norman Hathaway, Viola

Jonathan Craig, viola

Sharon Prater, cello

Sybil Shanahan, cello

David Young, bass

With Special Guests:

Joseph Peleg, violin

Jonathan Craig*, viola

Catherine Wilson Review, Burlington Standard Press

…pianist Catherine Wilson, the pride of Canada…

Burlington Standard Press

Vermont, USA

Rick Wilkins CD Review, Rick Wilkins, C.M.

This is the highest-level chamber music making. No matter the genre, there is magic in Ensemble Vivant’s music-making

Rick Wilkins, C.M.

musician, composer, arranger

Rick Wilkins CD Review

Mysterium CD Review, WholeNote

…precisions of sonority, dynamics and rhythm that Ensemble Vivant, led by pianist Catherine Wilson fully deliver… Burke’s intricate ensemble writing is performed magnificently…a moving experience… Wilson’s playing is evocative.

Roger Knox

WholeNote Magazine, Canada

Mysterium CD Review

Ensemble Vivant Review, The WholeNote

Ensemble Vivant… this is chamber music at its evocative best!

The WholeNote Magazine

Ensemble Vivant Review, David Bullard

…Thanks again for a great performance and wonderful program…molti bravi to Ensemble Vivant… please have Ensemble Vivant return very soon!

David Bullard, Director

de Blasiis CMS at the Hyde

NY, U.S.A.

Catherine Wilson Review, Neville Bowman

Led by a remarkable pianist, Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant boasts a collection of musicians whose abilities and qualifications are second to none… a diversity of beautifully played music and sound (with vibes… Don Thompson, O.C.) from Bach to Piazzolla to Widor… wonderful interpretations… highlight of the Kelowna Community Concert Association series. I had the pleasure of spending time with the group after the concert and they are a fun, humble and inspiring group of musicians… such tremendous mutual talent and respect within the ensemble… Merci Ensemble Vivant!

Neville Bowman

musician, composer for B.C. Arts

Catherine Wilson Review

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