Praise for Harvey's ‘Weltethos’

Following its world premiere with Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle, Jonathan Harvey’s Weltethos (‘world ethics’) received its UK premiere in June in no less a grand setting: Birmingham’s gleaming Symphony Hall on the opening night of the London 2012 Festival in Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, combined CBSO choruses and two conductors, Edward Gardner and Michael Seal. The piece was a commission from the theologian Hans Küng and explores the shared spiritual heritage of humanity through texts from six of the world’s great religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Throughout his career, Harvey has explored spirituality in music and in his skilled hands the six extraordinary parts of Weltethos live up to their subtitle ‘A Vision in Music’. Weltethos will reach London on 7th October when the CBSO orchestra and choirs perform the work as part of the Southbank Centre’s Ether Festival.
“a long, ardent ovation”
“Harvey’s most ambitious choral work to date”
“the most extraordinary, often radiant, textures”
‘There is nothing vague or sentimental about the music in this sinewy, often frenetic and complex score, structured in six parts. The first section, “Humanity,” which explores Confucian thinking, begins with an orchestral prelude. Eerie sustained tones on the organ and pungent, soft cluster chords provide a backdrop to repetitive rhythms and twittering riffs for the large battery of percussion instruments. A speaker (here the actor Samuel West) then delivers Mr. Küng’s narrative about Confucius while the orchestra responds with restless bursts, piercing harmonies and grumbling ostinatos… the subsequent five sections maintain the overall structure of the first enhances the ritualistic power of the piece… those present seemed moved and let silence linger for half a minute at the end before breaking into a long, ardent ovation.’
The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini), 22 June 2012
‘Harvey’s most ambitious choral work to date… Harvey allows his mastery as a composer of electronic sounds to carry over into his manipulation of orchestra and choral textures, coloured by a huge range of percussion and the unmistakable tang of a cimbalom. The performances were exemplary, with superb choral singing in writing that ranges from whispered Sprechgesang, to fiercely dissonant clusters and close-packed tonal triads.’
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 22 June 2012
‘sounds of glistening, almost electronic strangeness… echoes of the ram’s horn in the Jewish movement, or the tender string radiance surrounding the Christian choruses, or the dancing, almost angry choruses of the Buddhist movement. Harvey is a shrewd composer, who knows that music for human ears needs some bodily vigour. At the end, everything was gathered into a radiant affirmation over a deep pedal note.’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 22 June 2012
‘[the CBSO] snarled, shivered, tinkled and sighed through the most extraordinary, often radiant, textures … we could certainly salute Harvey’s vivid ear for colour, his musical ecumenism and that rapturous final chorus, shaped to the natural rhythms of the human breath.’
The Times (Geoff Brown), 24 June 2012

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