YoC7: Jonathan Harvey

YoC7: Jonathan Harvey

This is embarrassing

19 February 2023

This last week there was lots of cultural activity going on in Riga. I guess this is how you know spring is on its way. My friend, Ieva, told me that there were going to be several concerts, and I asked her if I had to choose just one, which one should I go to, and she suggested “Džonatana Hārvija portrets” which was part of the 9th annual JVLMA Mūsdienu mūzikas festivāls deciBels. Honestly, I don’t know what any of that means, but I trusted my friend Ieva who is an ethnomusicologist.

I met a friend at the concert which was at the Music Academy. I had only been to this venue once before, but it is a nice hall. There are several spaces like this that I have been to in Latvia—older buildings with high ceilings and an open floor plan made of parquet that can be adapted for many types of performances.

We chose to sit near the back, which was a mistake because I broke my glasses dancing last week and cannot see very well. We did not get a program, and I admitted that I had no idea who this Jonathan Harvey was or what kind of concert it would be. My friend had also done no research, so we were ready to be surprised.

There was a stage upfront with a grand piano. I thought that maybe this would be a piano recital. We were at the Music Academy, and it seemed that most of the audience knew each other, so I thought they were students.

The Concert

The concert began when a young man stood at a microphone with his trumpet. He began playing a few notes, and then they were recorded and echoed through speakers that were located around the room creating an interesting effect. He would play, and then the echoes would follow and this continued for several minutes. The title of the piece is “Ricercare una Melodia”. I think it sounded better in person.

My embarrassing thought was, “Is this Jonathan Harvey?” It couldn’t be. Then I thought, this is a music school, so before the main act, some students will perform pieces. I created this whole narrative in my mind that these were students performing their graduate pieces for an audience, and then the “real” Jonathon Harvey would perform a recital at the piano. For those of you who know music, you understand where I am headed. The rest of you can probably guess.

After the trumpeter finished to a roar of applause, another set of musicians followed with a very strange piece that included a variety of instruments—flute, bass clarinet, and piano. It was called “The Riot“. These musicians seemed very skilled. The music felt so random, and I was just impressed that they knew when to come in and play together.

Each piece was postmodern feeling with no real melody, but more of an atmospheric, staccato type of vibe.

Between each performance, someone would come out and speak in Latvian for a few minutes. I thought these were some poetry recitals, but they were actually explanations of each of the pieces. I could only understand a few words and phrases.

I just translated a bit of the program (which I took photos of AFTER the concert), and the word “polyphonic” comes up quite frequently. Experimental. Polyphonic.

There were many instances of what felt like call and response with two or three instruments using delays and other techniques to create fascinating sounds. Each piece was a mood, and I felt my mind being transported a bit from place to place and time to time.

One sequence with bells was a bit disturbing and felt almost violent and created discomfort, a bit like a horror movie. It is called “Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco“, and it was composed way back in 1980.

The final piece, “Advaya” made me think of nature and a forest, water and spirits. It included was a cellist and an electric piano, and it felt like the big finale. It was my favorite of all the performances, but it is hard to say why. The cello is just a beautiful sounding instrument and she played very well. I guess that she is a well-known professor at the Academy named Guna Šnē.

After the show

After a long round of applause, the show was over almost as quickly as it began. It was only about an hour long which felt too short, and I was hoping this was just an intermission, but it was, indeed, the end.

We walked out and I tried asking some people about the concert until I found some young people with a program. They generously let me take photos and explained that Jonathan Harvey was the composer of the music.

Later, I looked him up, and he died over ten years ago. He was a fairly prominent British composer, and someone I feel like I should have known. But hey, we can’t know everyone, right?


I am still not sure if it was the right idea to go to this concert without any research. I think next time I will do a quick search before I go in blind, although I do love surprises! How you like to approach cultural events? Any suggestions?

The program

Side note

I finally caught the Covid this week. I was exposed on Sunday and started getting symptoms, took a test on Tuesday and have been on the mend for a few days. All told, I am thankful I had the vaccine, and my symptoms have been very mild. I am a bit tired, and I feel a bit weird. It is hard to concentrate for long periods, but honestly, I have felt better most days with Covid than some days I had been feeling without out. How do you explain that?

And I apologize for a lack of photos, but I just don’t like to take pictures in concert halls.




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