Richard Harvey: Composer, Conductor, Performer
British composer and conductor Richard Harvey is a BAFTA award winner, a respected orchestral conductor and a virtuoso performer on a wide range of Western and exotic instruments.
His guitar concerto, Concerto Antico, written for the world’s foremost classical guitarist, John Williams, and recorded by him with the London Symphony Orchestra, has resonated with audiences all over the world and won Richard a place in Classic FM’s Composers Hall of Fame.
‘Harvey’s Concerto Antico, a work of great charm and high quality’
A Guitar Concerto to Rival Rodrigo
A review of the guitar concerto in Gramophone magazine immediately recognised its substance and quality and compared it directly to Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre:
“There are currently 20-30 recordings of Rodrigo’s work in the catalogue, and, given that quite a few other guitarists have the requisite technique (if not Williams’s polished mastery), there is no good reason why the same should not be the case with Harvey’s Concerto Antico, a work of great charm and high quality.”
Richard has written several large-scale choral works, including his Te Deum, a complex Magnificat and the popular Kyrie for the Magdalene that formed a highlight of the music for the film of The Da Vinci Code.
Richard has conducted symphony orchestras in twelve countries and performed as a soloist in twenty. He has recorded for and collaborated with many significant contemporary composers, in many different fields, including John Williams, Stanley Myers, Maurice Jarre, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, Elvis Costello (with whom he shared his BAFTA) and Sir Paul McCartney.
From the Royal College of Music to Madison Square Garden
Richard went to school at Tiffin Boys School in Kingston, Surrey, and attended the Royal College of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner, going on to study full-time at the Royal College in the early 1970s under Bernard Walton and Stephen Dodgson.
He first attracted attention as a virtuoso Early Music specialist, playing with Musica Reservata and the London Pro Musica, and also forming a popular experimental crossover band, Gryphon.
Gryphon employed early instruments and complex time signatures and had the unique distinction, when the first album was released, of appearing on all the BBC Radio channels of the time, 1,2,3 and 4, in the same week.
By the end of the 1970s, Richard had become a prolific composer and his adventures with Musica Reservata and Gryphon had given him the opportunity to perform all over Europe (including many concerts behind the Iron Curtain) and to tour both America and the Soviet Union. He had played at Madison Square Garden and composed the incidental music for Sir Peter Hall’s 1974 National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, following in a long tradition that runs from Purcell to Sibelius and Berlioz.
‘Suits the soloist [Michala Petri] as if it had been made to measure… A masterpiece’
Challenging the Greatest Soloists
As his reputation and confidence grew, Richard wrote increasingly ambitious works, culminating in his huge “eco-oratorio”, Plague and the Moonflower.
This collaboration with the artist Ralph Steadman employed choirs, an orchestra, vocal and instrumental soloists and a narrator, played in early productions by either Sir Ian Holm or Sir Ben Kingsley. Plague and the Moonflower was performed in several of England’s great cathedrals – Exeter, Salisbury, Canterbury and St Paul’s – and formed the basis of a superb BBC2 film.
It was the quality of the writing for the soloist in Plague that prompted the guitarist John Williams to commission Richard’s guitar concerto, Concerto Antico, which has now been performed to great acclaim around the world. Richard’s fine understanding of the instrument’s potential and John Williams’s capabilities led him to write several “impossible” passages, which the guitarist gleefully took on and mastered.
Richard also composed a children’s opera, A Time of Miracles, explored his interest in Chinese instruments with a Concertante for Erhu and Orchestra and wrote the first version of his viola concerto (Reflections for Viola and Orchestra), originally performed by Roger Chase with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under Vernon Handley. More than 20 years later, this piece has been reworked and expanded and has recently been recorded by Roger Chase with the BBC Concert Orchestra, with Richard himself as conductor.
In 2009, Richard composed his recorder concerto, Concerto Incantato, for the instrument’s greatest soloist, Michala Petri. Her delight in the piece and the ecstatic audience reaction at the world premiere in Hong Kong led to a recent CD, English Recorder Concertos, in which the Harvey is set alongside works by Malcolm Arnold and Gordon Jacob.
Work in Progress
Richard is currently working on a range of projects, including:
- A piano concerto
- A symphonic work for cello and orchestra – written for the great modern cellist Martin Tillman
- Verses 1, for Cello and Piano