A recurring preoccupation for Jonathan Harvey, breathing (and, tied to this, the idea of inspiration) finds numerous varied manifestations throughout his output, from electronic representations, as in the first act of his 1991 opera Inquest of Love, to purely instrumental ones, like his masterful Tranquil Abiding for chamber orchestra (1998). The latter receives three performances by the New York Philharmonic under Susanna Mälkki in May.
This 14-minute work takes its name from a Buddhist term describing a state of single-pointed concentration and its backbone is made up of a simple oscillation between an ‘inhalation’ on an upper note and an ‘exhalation’ on a lower one. Overlaid with melodic fragments of increasing ornateness, this simple unifying device creates an organic and coherent trajectory through the work’s wave-like form and towards its limpid conclusion, where a gentle smattering of exotic percussion and string pizzicati (the later withheld until this point for maximum effect) bring the music to a rest.
‘Music as a form of breathing, or surging, as of a calm ocean, a static but animated continuum of feeling… His agitato cacophony is as deft as his languorous intensity.’
The Times (Paul Driver), 5 February 2012
The score of Tranquil Abiding can be viewed online here