Vocal consort Sansara perform three choral works by Jonathan Harvey at this year’s Lammermuir Festival in Scotland. On 15 September they perform Harvey’s The Annunciation, a new realisation of his rendering of the Palestrina Stabat Mater for choir and electronics, and his electronic work Mortuos plango, vivos voco, which opens the programme.

Their programme ‘Stabat Mater’ explores the ensemble’s preoccupation with the relationship between humanity and technology. Harvey’s music demonstrates this same interest, often fusing acoustic and electronic sounds, reflecting both the crossing of his interests in the experimental European avant-garde and extensive training as a chorister.

Like Mortuos Plangos Harvey’s 2004 reworking of Palestrina’s Stabat Mater also makes use of electronics, manipulating Palestrina’s setting and superimposing it over live double SATB choir. This realisation of the 14-minute work by Sansara features electronics devised by Harvey and Gilbert Nouno in 2005 and updated by Gilbert Nouno in 2022 with the generous support of Lammermuir Festival.

Sansara previously programmed Mortuos plango, vivos voco at the Barbican’s Sound Unbound festival in 2019. The 1980 piece is inspired by his son Dominic’s experiences as a chorister in Winchester, setting the text inscribed on the Cathedral’s enormous black bell:  HORAS AVOLANTES NUMERO MORTUOS PLANO: VIVOS AD PRECES VOCO (I count the fleeing hours, I lament the dead: I call the living to prayers). “The walls of the concert hall”, Harvey writes, “are conceived as the sides of the bell inside which is the audience, and around which…flies the free spirit of the boy”.

The Annunciation (2011) is a 3½ minute setting of a poem by Edwin Muir for unaccompanied choir; Muir’s poem describes the moment at which the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to bear the son of God, as they stare into each other’s faces. “But through the endless afternoon / These neither speak nor movement make, /But stare into their deepening trance / As if their gaze would never break.” The piece also drew inspiration from Domenico Veneziano’s The Annunciation in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. It was one of the final works that Harvey composed.