Juri Seo:
“Respiri – in memoriam Jonathan Harvey”

Juri Seo Photo: Andrew Wilkinson Juri Seo (born in 1981) is a composer and pianist based in Princeton, New Jersey. She seeks to write music that encompasses extreme contrast through compositions that are unified and fluid, yet complex. She merges many of the fascinating aspects of music from the past century—in particular its expanded timbral palette and unorthodox approach to structure—with a deep love of functional tonality, counterpoint, and classical form. With its fast-changing tempi and dynamics, her music explores the serious and the humorous, the lyrical and the violent, the tranquil and the obsessive. She hopes to create music that loves, that makes a positive change in the world, however small, through people who are willing to listen.

Her composition honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Koussevitzky Commission from the Library of Congress, a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Kate Neal Kinley Memorial Fellowship, Copland House Residency Award, and the Otto Eckstein Fellowship from Tanglewood. She has received commissions from the Fromm Foundation, Barlow Endowment, Tanglewood Music Center, the 21st Century Piano Commission Competition of the University of Illinois, and the Renée B. Fisher Piano Competition. Her debut album Mostly Piano was released by Innova Recordings in 2017. She holds a D.M.A. (Dissertation: Jonathan Harvey's String Quartets, 2013) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied with Reynold Tharp. She has also attended the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome, corsi di perfezionamento with Ivan Fedele) and Yonsei University (Seoul, B.M.). Since 2009, she has been a Composition Fellow at the Tanglewood, Bang on a Can, and SoundSCAPE festivals, the Wellesley Composers Conference, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In autumn 2014, Seo joined the composition faculty at Princeton University as Assistant Professor.

“Respiri – in memoriam Jonathan Harvey (2016)” for string quartet

Inspiration Juri Seo Photo: Juri Seo “What is the purpose of music? It is, in my view, to reveal the nature of suffering and to heal. The one big question of existence.” — Jonathan Harvey

The composer Jonathan Harvey was an extraordinarily kind person. I emailed him regularly while writing my doctoral dissertation on his four string quartets. Toward the end of our correspondence, I discovered that he was suffering from a motor neuron disease that was gradually paralyzing him; so he spent part of his precious final year responding to questions from a person he did not know. The disease eventually ended his life in December 2012. Although we never met in person, his work and philosophy had an immense influence on the way I think about music.
Harvey was a cutting-edge modernist who wrote unabashedly lyrical melodies framed within intricate, carefully designed structures.

He believed in the ideal of complex unity, which he found, somewhat paradoxically, in both Western classical music and Buddhism. In his pieces, disparate musical ideas change and merge in multifarious ways, revealing their lack of inherent identity. He saw this as a crucial step to experiencing the transcendent unity of all things. Harvey’s music showed me that complexity and warmth needed not preclude each other; in fact, they should coexist.

Harvey’s Buddhism can be found directly in his scores. He frequently composed breathing gestures as metaphysical evocations of meditation. He used the concept of a symmetrical harmonic field—with pitches radiating outward from a central axis rather than deriving from a bass line—to represent the individual’s freedom from obsessive desire. In this piece, I took three distinct ideas from Harvey: composed breaths, a non-octave-repeating symmetrical pentatonic scale, and a melodic segment from the first quartet. Swells of varying lengths develop into long arcs. These breathing gestures symbolize life and, at the end of the piece, death, not as a terrifying inevitability but as the peaceful resolution I imagine Harvey experienced.

Respiri – in memoriam Jonathan Harvey was written for the JACK Quartet in the spring of 2016.