THE STAR’S THE GUITAR by Mike Walsh

Musically nothing evokes the Spanish experience as does Richard Harvey’s melody Concerto Antico; especially when it is played by John Williams, the internationally acclaimed guitarist. The sincerest form of flattery being imitation, this guitar concerto is adorned in a rich filigree of Spanish lace. It is a paradox of life that this beautiful Mediterranean music was composed by a Londoner for the Australian master guitarist, John Williams.

This in itself was a challenge. The greatest classical Spanish guitarist of all time, Andres Segovia had said of Williams: “A Prince of the Guitar has arrived in the musical world. God has laid a finger on his brow, and it will not be long before his name becomes a byword in England and abroad, thus contributing to the spiritual domain of his race.”

A MELODY SO DAUNTING

It was for such a guitarist that Richard Harvey set out to compose a melody so daunting that even Williams would find it impossible to play, yet at the same time challenge him to attempt it. In fact the concerto is a kaleidoscope of old dance and song forms that mirror different parts of Europe; but surely Mediterranean in essence.

Harvey later wrote of Williams: “His imperious response to this challenge, particularly in the fifth movement, makes me thrill with delight each time I hear it.”

Neither Harvey nor Williams are strangers to challenge for the Londoner’s gift for creating great music is already familiar even if his name isn’t immediately recognisable.

Born in 1953 Harvey was as musically talented as any of the great classical composers. When after graduating from the Royal College of Music he formed the folk group Gryphon, he was already talented as a player of traditional orchestral instruments.

THE EPITOMY OF THE ONE MAN BAND

The group was soon haunting three continents, winning hearts and minds as the London-born prodigy displayed his skills through a repertoire of thirty different musical instruments and five albums. He has an impressive collection of nearly 600 musical instruments – and plays most of them.

Harvey may be remembered for his musical scoring of dozens of iconic movies and television dramas: the Harry Potter films; The Lion King, Kingdom of Heaven. Death of a President, ‘Les Deux Mondes’, The Da Vinci Code and many more. But will he be best remembered for a simple Mediterranean melody so beautifully evocative it stretched the already impressive limitations of master guitarist John Williams?

THE NEW KINGS OF WALTZ

It was Williams‘ father, Len, who in 1952, on returning to London from Australia set up the world renowned Spanish Guitar Centre. By the 1960s, when the rocking and rolling world was warming to The Beatles, John was a shining star in his own constellation.

This was a period as musically exciting and innovative as that experienced under the Hapsburgs two centuries earlier.

Among the new ’waltz kings’ figured cellist Jacqueline du Pre‘, Daniel Barenboim, Vladimir Ashkenazi, Isaac Perlman; soon to be involved with Michael Tippet’s ’King Priam’ and Pierre Boulez’s ambitious recordings.

Amidst these prodigies, whose names and compositions will surely span centuries, Harvey and Williams Concerto Antico may best evoke the timelessness and beauty of Mediterranean and Spanish musical culture.

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