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Speaking from heart to heart

I was delighted to hear that Jonathan Harvey won the RPS award for large-scale composition last week, for his work Messages. Deborah has already remarked on his very moving acceptance speech, which you can hear on the RPS Music Awards website.

The final year of a music degree is not always the ideal time to be captured by new music. But Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco was a truly haunting work that stayed with me through the whirlwind of exam-focussed listening. Electronically-manipulated music can be quite intimidating, but not so with this work, which is based on the plangent sounds of Winchester Cathedral’s tenor bell and the fragile voice of his chorister son. With Messages, a setting of a text consisting entirely of the names of angels, Jonathan again works on a theme of purity.

Jonathan has long been fascinated by Buddhist thought and practices, and this fascination is reflected in his musical style. Once considered (according to Jonathan himself) “not very British”, his music now receives the acclaim it deserves here in the UK: winning his second RPS large-scale composition award ranks Jonathan alongside Harrison Birtwistle, Thomas Adès, and George Benjamin.

In Jonathan’s acceptance speech he said that Messages was a very direct composition that “speaks from heart to heart” – a worthy aim for any composer. Several recordings of his pieces can be found on the NMC recordings website. And the Faber Music website has information on recordings and upcoming performances of Jonathan’s work, including a Prom performance in August. I hope to see you there!

Tom Butcher
ISM Membership Officer