Harvey, Jonathan


Born in Warwickshire in 1939, he was a chorister at St Michael’s College, Tenbury and later a major music scholar at St John’s College in Cambridge. He obtained doctorates from the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge and (on the advice of Benjamin Britten) also studied privately with Erwin Stein and Hans Keller. He was a Harkness Fellow at Princeton (1969–70). An invitation from Pierre Boulez to work at IRCAM in the early 1980s resulted in numerous realisations at the Institute. His church opera Passion and Resurrection (1981) was the subject of a BBC television lm, whereas his opera Inquest of Love, commissioned by English National Opera, was premiered under the baton of Mark Elder in 1993 and repeated at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1994. His third opera, Wagner Dream, commissioned by the Dutch National Opera and realized at IRCAM, was premiered to great acclaim in 2007. In 2005–8 he was composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which resulted in three compositions: Body Mandala, ... towards a pure land, and Speakings. The former two were released on a Gramophone Award-winning NMC disc, whereas the third appeared under the Aeon label. Harvey was Professor of Music at Sussex University (1977–93) and Stanford University (1995–2000), Honorary Fellow of St John’s College in Cambridge, and a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study in Berlin in 2009. He held honorary doctorates from the universities of Southampton, Sussex, Bristol, Birmingham, and Huddersfield, was a Member of Academia Europæa, and in 1993 was awarded the prestigious Britten Award for composition. In 2007 he was awarded the Giga-Hertz Prize for a lifetime’s work in electronic music. 

His works are in constant demand from a host of international organisations, and his music is extensively played and toured by such major ensembles as Ensemble Modern, Ensemble intercontemporain, ASKO | Schönberg, Nieuw Ensemble and Ictus Ensemble, to name but a few. About 100 recordings of his music have been issued on CD. In 2009 his 70th birthday was celebrated with concerts dedicated to his works, new releases, and other events. In that year, Harvey received several awards for his music, including the prestigious Prince Pierre of Monaco Prize for his orchestral work Speakings, and the Charles Cros Grand Prix du Président for a lifetime’s work, becoming the first British composer ever to receive this honour. 

Harvey Sachs’s two books were published in 1999, on inspiration and spirituality respectively. In the same year Faber & Faber (and IRCAM in French) published Arnold Whittall’s study of his music. John Palmer wrote a substantial study entitled Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti (Edwin Mellen Press), and Michael Downes’s penetrating book on Songs Offerings and White as Jasmine appeared in 2009 with Ashgate. 

In October 2011 his major large-scale commission Weltethos for orchestra, choir and children’s choir, with a text by Swiss theologist Hans Kng, was premiered in Berlin by the Berlin Philharmonic. In June 2012 the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) performed the same work for the opening of the Cultural Olympiad festival accompanying the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. 

Selected works (from 1995): Soleil Noir / Chitra for chamber ensemble and electronics (1994–95), Fanfare for Utopia for chamber orchestra (1995), Hidden Voice 1 for chamber ensemble (1995), Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (1997), Little Concerto for Strings (1961–97), Haiku for piano (1997), Wheel of Emptiness for chamber ensemble (1997), Tranquil Abiding for chamber orchestra (1998), Calling Across Time for chamber orchestra (1998), Death of Light, Light of Death for chamber ensemble (1998), Hidden Voice 2 for chamber ensemble and CD (1999), White as Jasmine for soprano and large orchestra (1999), Mythic Figures for tape (2001), Bird Concerto with Pianosong for piano, chamber orchestra and live electronics (2001), Songs of Li Po (to English translations by David Hinton) for mezzo-soprano, strings, two percussions and harpsichord (2002), Moving Trees for chamber ensemble (2002), Jubilus for viola and ensemble (2003), Chu for soprano, clarinet and cello (2002), Buddhist Song no. 1 for mezzo-soprano and piano (2003), Buddhist Song no. 2 “With excellent raiments” for mezzo-soprano / soprano and piano (2004), Run Before Lightning for flute and piano (2004), Clarinet Trio (2004), Climbing Frame, improvisational piece for 12–15 instruments (2004), String Quartets nos. 1–4 (1977–2003), String Trio (2004), Two Interludes for an Opera for chamber ensemble and live electronics (2004), ...towards a pure land for large orchestra (2005), At a Cloud Gathering for percussion and electronics (2005), Other Presences for trumpet and electronics (2006), Wagner Dream, opera in nine scenes for soloists, actors, choir and ensemble of 22 players with electronics, to a libretto by Jean Claude-Carrière (2006), Body Mandala for orchestra (2006), Sprechgesang for oboe / English horn and chamber ensemble (2007), Speakings for orchestra and electronics (2007–8), Cello Octet (2008), Ah! Sunower for soprano and piano (2008), Es blühn drei Rosen for four male voices (2009), Sringara Chaconne for chamber ensemble (2009), Vajra for chamber ensemble (2009), 80 Breaths for Tokyo for orchestra (2010), Little Duo for violin and cello (2010), The Annunciation for mixed choir and organ (2011), Weltethos for speaker, large choir, children’s choir and large orchestra (2011), Cirrus Light for clarinet (2012), Fanfare for clarinet and trumpet (2012), Plainsongs for Peace and Light for choir (2012).