Jonathan Harvey takes '80 Breaths for Tokyo'

Jonathan Harvey takes '80 Breaths for Tokyo'
Jonathan Harvey’s intrinsic spirituality and connections with Buddhist traditions are often conveyed through his music, providing him with a natural following in the east, especially in Japan whose population is 94% Buddhist.

It seems a simple choice then that Harvey was embraced as the ‘themed’ composer for Tokyo’s International Program for Music Composition in August 2010.  His ensemble repertoire was first on the roster, performed at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall on 26 August, in a concert featuring his 'String Quartet No 4', 'Hidden Voice II' plus his latest ensemble work 'Sringara Chaconne'.  The concert was performed by string quartet Quatro Piacerri and members from the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The centre-piece of these celebrations was the commission from Suntory Hall’s ‘Music for Today 2’ Summer Festival, for an orchestral work.  For this Harvey produced '80 Breaths for Tokyo', which was presented by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra under Ryusake Numajiri on 30 August, in a programme which also included his striking orchestral work 'Body Mandala'. Harvey explains his ideas for this new work:

“Breathing, in one form or another, is behind all music. However distant, breathing always has a relationship to music. Yoga students use it to master the body, Buddhists to master the mind, and therapies of all sorts realise that one must step back from one’s habitual ignoring of the act of breathing in order to become more deeply aware. When a large body of people breathe in synchrony the effect is ritualistic, whether it be sacred or a political demonstration. Neurologists are finding powerful neuronal synchrony in many human rites and social events.  80 Breaths for Tokyo is partly the result of the practice of Zen breathing, and partly the result of listening to slow music and enjoying its power over the mind and body. The orchestra somehow mirrors the infinitely variable, infinitely subtle and coloured ambiguity of breath.”

Review from The Performing Art Journal

'This year’s Suntory Foundation’s Summer Festival featured Jonathan Harvey as the theme composer. His work, influenced by Buddhist philosophy, borrows the characteristic sound of the religion as his material and, at the same time, his music reveals his strong will and power to delve into the depth of the world.
Harvey’s “Body Mandala” we heard on August 30, the day for the concert of orchestra music, was inspired by the rite the composer attended at a Buddhist temple in Tibet.  The musical figure imitating a Tibetan instrument, dhug-chen, is repeated by the trombone, and Tibetan cymbals ring out.  The orchestral ensemble without the violas constantly plays the figures repeating some note, both high and low.  Though the music contains squashed and other unique sounds appearing momentarily, the whole thing progressed to culminate in the transparent sound of the orchestra.
Meanwhile “80 Breaths for Tokyo”, commissioned by Suntory Hall and given the world premiere at this festival, has the Zen breathing method as its foundation.  The motif is repeated by the violins unhurriedly playing in the higher range.  Unlike his previous work, the repetition gives the listener the sense of being drawn to and absorbed into the music.  However, even when a variety of instruments play together at the same time, the sound from each instrument reaches us clearly like in the previous work.
Between these two works, the programme included Wagner’s “Karfreitagzauber” from Parsifal and Hektor Parra’s “Karst-Chroma II”.  The Spanish composer chosen by Harvey as an notable one from the younger generation, writes intensely heated music which goes this way and that presenting a contrast to Harvey’s calm and unhurried music.  The two of them share the powerful energy embedded in music as a common feature, but in order to find out more about Parra’s ear which caught Harvey’s attention, we should hear more of his creations.
On the day of chamber music concert, on August 27, three ensemble works and a piece for the string quartet were presented.  Each of them, like those we heard on the orchestra day, featured clarity of sound at the same time as containing unique and characteristic sound.  The most interesting was the piece for the string quartet No.4 using live electronics.  It consists of five sections which are started with similar gestures.  In spite of being crystalene, it is interspersed with artificial sounds and silences, but we can feel the form and sound of various notes themselves being created, released into the space and finding their places.  As witnessed by the appearance of a grotesque waltz and the torrential continuity of sound, he is a composer who can make use of sound at his will, rather than being focused on philosophical spirituality.
The energetic performance by the Quattro Piaceri deserves special mention.

The Performing Arts Journal´╝łJunko Shibatsuji), 17 September