London 2012 Festival Opening Concert

Thursday 21 June 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner conductor
Samuel West narrator
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus
CBSO Children’s Chorus

Michael Seal associate conductor

Harvey: Weltethos (UK premiere) 90′

London FestivalThe world’s greatest music – made in Birmingham. On the opening night of the London 2012 Festival, we’re thrilled to present the latest masterpiece from Jonathan Harvey, one of the world’s greatest living composers, who was born in Sutton Coldfield. An epic choral work, Weltethos is inspired by the shared spiritual heritage of humanity and founded on texts from six of the world’s greatest religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Expansive, visionary and awe-inspiringly beautiful, it’s a perfect way to kick off the nationwide celebrations in the summer of 2012. Join us to welcome the world and hear sounds like you’ve never heard before.

Click here to find out more about composer Jonathan Harvey and his music.

Jonathan Harvey The British composer talks about his latest work Weltethos, which is based on texts from six of the world’s largest religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.”

~ The Weekend StrandClick here to listen (from 14:10)


Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The event here in Symphony Hall is the UK premiere of ‘Weltethos’ by the world-renowned Sutton Coldfield-born composer Jonathan Harvey, and which is a vast meditation on world peace. Principal guest conductor Edward Gardner directs the CBSO and 250 massed voices of the CBSO Chorus, Children’s and Youth Choruses, assisted by associate conductor Michael Seal; the actor Samuel West provides narration.”        …

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

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…     “The work is very tightly structured with each movement highlighting a different faith, looking at a theme, some background and quotes from the faith’s Holy Scriptures before returning to the central message – that only through peace can our children have a future in this world.

Each section in turn features a spoken part, delivered with perfect timing and gravity by actor Sam West, orchestral music which aims to reflect music linked to each tradition and choral pieces. These in turn are broken down into pieces sung by the CBSO’s Chorus, Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus.”      …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     There are some striking moments, especially when the words become indistinguishable and 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. It was a shame such a magnificent effort had to be squandered on so problematic a piece.”

Review by Anthony Tommasini, New York Times:

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…     “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 chorus, as if contemplating what has just been said, whispers phrases back. When the chorus breaks into full-throated singing of a quotation from Confucius (“A man without humanity, what use to him is music?”), the orchestra swells with skittish counterpoint and pummeling percussion. This section ends with voices of children (the orchestra’s combined youth and children’s choruses) singing, “We have a future.” ”     …

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

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…     “Weltethos is an ambitious work in every sense. The forces required are vast. The score calls for a speaker, large SATB choir, a children’s choir and a huge orchestra including an extravagantly large percussion section. Indeed, I can’t recall seeing so many percussion instruments assembled on stage, even for performances of some of Messiaen’s most grandiloquently-scored orchestral works. This massive ensemble, and the metrical and other complexities of the score, required two conductors working independently of each other, though the second conductor (Michael Seal) was not continuously involved. When both conductors were active it appeared that they were usually beating completely different tempi and directing separate elements of the ensemble.”     …

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “At the end, everything was gathered into a radiant affirmation over a deep pedal note. Here Harvey’s music seemed wiser than Küng’s text, its gentle tentativeness implying that the unity of world religions is a Utopian vision, which can’t be realised on this earth.”    

Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…       “The performance itself was a tour de force of focus and commitment. In his informative and entertaining pre-concert talk, chorus master Simon Halsey pointed out that the various chorus-ensembles had spent six months rehearsing music conceived with professional singers in mind – which explained the frequently soloistic nature of the writing (up to 80 individual parts in some instances) and the difficulties (by no means insurmountable, as this performance confirmed) in projecting this over and against an orchestra which features some 10 percussionists in a virtually continuous role extensive even by the standards of this composer. No doubt there were failings and approximations, but what came across most forcefully was the intensity of the choral response – abetted by a no-less-impressive input from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner (who, as was confirmed by his recent account of The Dream of Gerontius, is wholly at ease with large-scale choral works), along with a typically thoughtful and eloquent showing by Samuel West.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Never mind; the performance itself was stunning, Gardner and his movingly empathetic assistant conductor Michael Seal drawing an account of huge commitment, despite the paucity of reward for most involved.

The enthusiastic and so well-coached CBSO Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus had the best of something well to get their teeth into, mantras about children’s hopes for the future.”     …