Harvey’s Cello

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Jonathan Harvey’s cello has been donated to his alma mater St John’s College, Cambridge where it will be made available to students at the University’s Faculty of Music.

Margaret Faultless, Musician-in-Residence at St John’s College and Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, said: ‘Harvey had a long association with St John’s, eventually becoming an Honorary Fellow, and the thought of the cello being in College again is very exciting… Jonathan’s family are very keen that the instrument should be played.’

Harvey was a skilled cellist, even playing in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for a number of years. His knowledge of the instrument, and his skill and adeptness in writing for it, is evident throughout his oeuvre, from the early Dialogue for cello and piano (1965) and pioneering works involving electronics including Advaya (1994), to the late Cello Octet (2008). Forever seeking to expand the sounds available to him, Harvey often modified the instrument; each of his Three Sketches (1989) requires a different scordatura whilst in The Summer Cloud’s Awakening for choir, flute, cello and live electronics (2001) the player doubles an amplified ‘prepared cello’ with  two G strings and two C strings all tuned down an octave.

Amongst Harvey’s greatest works for the instrument is the Cello Concerto (1990 rev. 2005), a luminous 20-minute movement in which the soloist is wreathed in a halo of sound from a Messiaen-like concertante group comprising tuned percussion, electric keyboard, celesta and harp. There is little trace of the usual ‘heroic’ concerto soloist here: at once virtuoso and delicate, the cellist eschews a series of earthy outbursts from the orchestra, and is elevated to higher, more rarefied plains.