The three works on this album are centred on the voice or, at least the idea of a vocal presence. Scena is constructed as a series of scenic tableaux that are lived through by the violin-singer. In Jubilus, the voices of plainchant and Buddhist rituals meet in an imaginary poetic universe that goes beyond the simple evocation of one religion in particular. No voice is present, but the solo viola makes heard the transcended expression of the anchorite. Speakings, for orchestra and real-time electronics, is intimately linked to the voice through modelling and formatting. Harvey literally makes the orchestra sing by an incomparable phenomenon of conjuring and astoundingly skilful use of timbres. The three works are based, at least in part, on earlier pieces: the last section of Scena on Lotuses, Jubilus on Chant, and the second part of Speakings on Sprechgesang.
Speakings was commissioned by the BBC and made possible by digital technology developed at Ircam, the underground music research institute. However the initial inspiration was quintessentially Romantic. "I’d been listening to Mahler’s Third Symphony, which starts off by describing ’What the Rocks tell me’. I loved the idea of speaking rocks!" says Jonathan Harvey with a laugh.
The gentle, wise and soft-spoken Harvey, among the most respected and revered of British composers, considers that Speakings is "the most complicated and ambitious composition I have ever written". The piece is part of a triptych of compositions written by Harvey for the SSO during his tenure as composer-inassociation to the orchestra. It was premiered during the BBC Proms in 2008 by Ilan Volkov and the BBC SSO, aided and abetted by a team of computer designers and sound engineers.
Jonathan Harvey is currently celebrating his 70th year between May 2009 - May 2010, with many dedicated concerts, new recordings, festival focuses and composer portraits. He became only the 3rd British composer to win the Prince Pierre of Monaco Prize in Musical Composition for Speakings in 2009.