Jonathan Harvey's masterpiece trilogy at Edinburgh International Festival

Jonathan Harvey's masterpiece trilogy at Edinburgh International Festival
Jonathan Harvey’s three-year residency with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (2005-8) resulted in three extraordinary pieces known as the 'Glasgow Trilogy': Body Mandala (2006) Speakings (2008) and …towards a Pure Land (2005). This masterpiece triptych has since gone on to win international acclaim, including a Gramophone Award for the NMC recording of Body Mandala and ...towards a Pure Land. These astonishing pieces have just been given another chance to shine at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival in a moving and deeply committed performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov.This was the first opportunity for the works to be heard in their intended order (Body Mandala, Speakings and ...Towards a pure land), and as Ilan Volkov commented, the trilogy has a feeling of symphonic proportions, the epic scale of a Mahlerian journey.  The critics were quick to praise these unique works.
 
Harvey's interest in Buddhism has inspired music of quiet, transcendental brilliance. These three works combine distinctive orchestral invention with strange, glistening electronics so that the borders are blurred. Life and death, physics and metaphysics combine. The impact is singular, fierce and tranquil. He was honoured by fine performances from his orchestra and Volkov whose playing added love to skilfulness. In a long and steady career, Harvey has never courted fame or followed fashion. His aim, pursued with humanity and integrity, has always been higher. In his book 'Music and Inspiration' (1999) he celebrates the ways in which the greatest composers, through music, have transformed the everyday and achieved, as he puts it, paradise on earth. He would never say admit that of his own compositions. I will strike out and say it for him.
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 21 August 2011

…this is the first time, remarkably, the trilogy has actually been performed complete. It's a complex experience; at times baffling, at times astounding, but never less than engrossing.
 
The trilogy is, above all, a statement of belief, and sound and structure are consequently inseparable from its underlying metaphysics. Its sections – Body Mandala, Speakings and … Towards a Pure Land – examine ideas of bodily, verbal and mental purification respectively. Body Mandala takes Tibetan ritual music as the starting point of a tremendous outpouring of energy and weight that gradually turns from dark physicality to transparent joy. Speakings uses electronics to replicate the erratic confusion of human speech until a huge, mantra-like monody eventually stills the babble.
 
The Pure Land, meanwhile, represents the clear mind, free from the disturbances of samsara. Harvey's journey towards it is a kind of concerto grosso in which an independent string ensemble maintains a series of barely perceptible chords around which the rest of the orchestra shifts and swirls….
 
...it was a great concert, one that will stick hugely in the memory for a very long time. I'd not heard any of the trilogy before this, and Body Mandala strikes me as an outright masterpiece, written and scored with a brilliance and daring that is remarkable in the extreme.
Guardian (Tim Ashley), 15 August 2011
 
...Harvey takes Buddhist ritual as inspiration for his trilogy (Body Mandala, Speakings and Towards a Pure Land). But anyone expecting an hour of trance-like tranquillity would be shocked by this magnificent work. It opens with pulsating blasts for trombones, then takes the orchestra (enhance in one movement by echoing electronics) on a fiercely joyous trip encompassing blistering note-splatters, exultant percussion (loads of cymbals and water sounds), and even a big cinematic tune replete with pitch-bends. To me, the piece evokes Tibet as much as ancient religion. Either way, it was compellingly played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov.
The Times (Richard Morrison), 15 August 2011
 
The purification rituals of Tibetan Buddhism are not just the subject matter of Body Mandala, Speakings and ...Towards a Pure Land, but precisely inform thir bar-by-bar unfolding. Harvey's orchestral inventiveness is brilliant and burgeoning. Parisian (IRCAM) technology added bravura to the Speakings centrepiece.
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 21 August 2011
 
This is cutting edge music which I was immediately ready to think was not for me. But it was a large traditional symphony orchestra on stage and the players were clearly enjoying themselves. It did not take long to start enjoying what I was hearing.
 
In all, just 60 minutes. But the applause brought Ilan Volkov back on four times.
Edinburgh Guide (Barnaby Miln), 14 August 2011
 
Certainly it was a vivid experience, from the superb undulating low brass which opened the piece to his varied and colourful percussion writing. So we were treated to everything from the wonderful effects of half a dozen percussionists working Tibetan ro-mo cymbals to splashing their hands in buckets of water (hopefully their scores had been waterproofed). What marks out the writing especially was that none of this felt gimmicky, as such a cornucopia of unusual instruments can in the wrong hands.
Where’s Runnicles? Blog (Tam Pollard), 14 August 2011
 
The evening's central work, Speakings (2007-08) concerned itself with the connection between speech and music…In this endeavour electronics from IRCAM/Radio France were employed - not so much in form of prepared recordings, but rather the role of 'shape vocoding' a small, mixed concertante who occupied the previously empty inner-arc of the orchestra. This was an extremely expressive extension to orchestration. Now and again, having cast my eyes round the remainder of the orchestra, I'd be drawn back to the centre, and often surprised, to discover which mic'd up instrument was the source of the intriguing sound which had grabbed my attention. More impressive still was the relationship between natural instruments and electronically manipulated ones. Just one hearing of this piece was sufficient to convince me that Harvey's use of electronics is about music and not gimmickery. The reason I felt this so strongly is that his manipulations sounded like orchestration and his orchestrations so inventive that one would swear electronics had lent a hand. Only this piece featured electronics but there were moments in the others where I could have sworn that new colours were being imported into the piece. In addition to on-stage speakers, there were others to the side, adding the dimension of space to those of pitch, duration, dynamics and timbre. In such moments it felt as though the hall itself were a magical addition to the orchestral forces.
The concert was being recorded for broadcast at a later date on Radio 3 and I would urge lovers of music and sound to look out for it.
Bachtrack (Alan Coady), 15th August 2011