Lotuses (1992) by Jonathan Harvey
for flute, violin, viola, and cello

In Harvey’s music, aesthetic and religious ideas are not separable from questions of musical technique. Where his works seek to express extra-musical ideas, they do so not through vague, subjective "associations" on the part of composer or listener, but rather by means of concrete musical processes. When Harvey mentions, in reference to Lotuses, that in Buddhist teaching the lotus is a "symbol of the rich individuality of forms of being," he is also saying something about musical technique. His music cultivates the individuality of line and gesture and tone. Character is everything. The transcendent quality of his music is not arrived at in spite of his individual materials, but precisely through entering more profoundly into their particularity.

In the opening of Lotuses, each fragment is shaped by its underlying breath patterns, but is unique in the detail of its tone, phrasing and contour. The sustained use of unison between instruments (often tinged with subtle pitch inflections) suggests a multiply-voiced unity, a rich identity that thrives on ambiguity as separate melodic lines overlap and combine with one another. Throughout the piece, this lyrical, subjective voice is heard alternating with more ritualistic dance music. At one point, near the end, the three stringed instruments sound for all the world like an Indian tabla accompanying the solo flute. At others, they transform their characteristic tone into something more reminiscent of electronic music: a shifting of timbral boundaries, which the flute player complements both through a variety of extended techniques such as multiphonics, and by changing instruments between flute, piccolo and bass flute.

[from: Music of Jonathan Harvey, January 25, 2000 at Stanford University, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and Stanford Chamber Chorale.]

— Julian Johnson    

[from program for June 1, 2011 concert]