Any Proms commission is an honour, but to be asked to compose the very first piece of the festival is a particular mark of distinction, and one which this year fell to Julian Anderson. The resulting piece, Harmony, a 5-minute work for chorus and orchestra, eschews the traditional blazing brass or clashing cymbals of a concert overture, instead it’s a peaceful and thoughtful reflection on music, time and eternity. ‘The piece emerges gradually,’ explains Anderson, ‘hovers, spreads through the hall and vanishes. It sets a brief text by Richard Jefferies about time and eternity in which he says that time is nothing but an illusion. This seemed to me a suitable text with which to celebrate music-making and concert-giving, as the opening work of the Proms should do. What’s so magical about listening to music, or indeed playing it, is transcending everyday clock-timing and replacing it with a completely illusory musical time which suspends our awareness of normal time altogether.’
The premiere was given by the massed forces of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus under conductor Sakari Oramo, and attracted wide praise.
'Harmony will surely travel'
‘Commissioned by the BBC to write a short season-opener, Anderson might have been expected to uncork the fizz, and deserves credit for not doing so. Harmony is the opposite of glib. It takes the form of a choral meditation on 19th-century writer Richard Jefferies’ out-of-body moment when he felt he had entered eternity. Proving that less really can mean more, Anderson’s pristine musical poem is over almost as soon as it has begun – but not before eliciting mystic waves from the sopranos, a flurry of dark rumblings in characteristically imaginative orchestration and a succession of quasi-minimalist syncopations. Harmony will surely travel.’
Financial Times (Andrew Clark), 14 July 2013
'as if Delius had momentarily joined hands with French modernist chic'
‘It was a nice conceit, to begin the world’s largest music festival with something called Harmony, and the piece itself caught with delicate precision the idea that music stops ordinary clock time and creates its own sort of motion. Its brief four-minute swell left behind a definite flavour of something English, as if Delius had momentarily joined hands with French modernist chic.’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 12 July 2013
'hush of note-clusters and sinuous choral counterpoints'
‘Rarely can a Proms season have opened so quietly, or vast choral and orchestral forces been used with such exquisite fastidiousness. Setting a text contemplating time and eternity by the 19th-century writer Richard Jefferies, it came and went in a four-minute hush of note-clusters and sinuous choral counterpoints, with brief bursts of jazzily off-kilter string pizzicatos supplying a contrast.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 13 July 2013