Total Immersion: Jonathan Harvey
Barbican Hall, 28th-29th January, Tel: 0844 243 0753
Composer Jonathan Harvey once wrote: “It’s for music to articulate the true nature of man in his blissful, enlightened form. No less than that should be demanded.” That enlightenment could come from many sources. Harvey, the soft-spoken mystic of British music, practises Buddhism, but retains a lingering attachment to the Anglicanism with which he was raised.
Harvey’s music also has a tough-minded modernist core, rooted in a rigorous analysis and synthesis of sounds, often using digital technology. Yet it is full of sensuous appeal. At the root of his glistening, mysteriously “electronic” sounds there is the glow of simple major chords: Harvey is not afraid to symbolise spiritual narratives in a naively pictorial way. There is a delightful example in “Madonna of Winter and Spring,” where the descent of Mary to hell is symbolised by a falling harmony.
This is one of the 15 pieces of Harvey’s that make up a weekend portrait of his music at the Barbican, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the BBC Singers and the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra. The climax is the British premiere of Wagner Dream, which builds on hints of the Buddhist opera Wagner envisaged but never composed.