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Famous Like Me > Composer > H > John Harle

Profile of John Harle on Famous Like Me

Name: John Harle  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 20th September 1956
Place of Birth: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, UK
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

John Harle's name is synonymous with new and innovative musical ideas and projects across many genres. He is known equally for his work as pioneer saxophonist in the concert hall and for his bold compositions; vividly intermingling the materials of jazz, rock, classical music, electronics and opera.

He is also a conductor, musical director and producer in a variety of fields, covering artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Moondog, Ute Lemper and Lesley Garrett.

But if his eclecticism tempts some of his chroniclers towards the treacherous label 'crossover', - there is a caveat. "- if I'm going to be painted with a crossover brush", John Harle says, " It'll be while I'm kicking and screaming!" By which he means that, in his life, the worlds of the classics, popular songs of the past and present, and the confrontational drive of the avant-garde can co-exist, and that convenient term 'crossover' means nothing to him unless it's able to cross over the sometimes contradictory priorities of all those unruly partners.

The general public has come to know him from his atmospheric score for Simon Schama's BBC TV series A History of Britain, for Silent Witness, and perhaps also for his eloquent settings for a variety of TV advertising campaigns for Nissan (Flying was nominated for 'Best Original Music' at the UK Advertising Awards, and its Nissan Dorma remix reached No.6 in the UK Dance Charts), as well as for Sony, Vauxhall and many others.

Yet the remarkable career of this Newcastle born saxophonist /composer also embraces the creation of 35 concert works and over 40 film and television scores; solo recordings of concerti by Debussy, Villa-Lobos and Glazunov (which have sold over 200,000 copies to date), plus interpretations of over 25 concerti written for his remarkable dexterity, spontaneity and for the intermingled rawness and purity of his saxophone tone. The latter includes works by Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars and Mike Westbrook.

Beginning with his joint accolade with film composer Stanley Myers (Best Artistic Achievement in a Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988, for the Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears), Harle has had a dozen years of growing used to prestigious feedback. His recordings of his original compositions Terror and Magnificence (with Elvis Costello, Sarah Leonard and saxophonist Andy Sheppard) and Silencium have both spent several weeks with the front-runners in the UK Crossover album charts, and received a Grammy nomination.

Harle has also been nominated for a variety of plaudits. He has won a Royal Television Society award (RTS) for his theme to BBC 1's Silent Witness, and received nominations for Defence of the Realm and Summer in the Suburbs. In 1998 he was a castaway on Sue Lawley's Desert Island Discs on Radio 4. Yet while it might not necessarily be apparent to the adjudicators of such matters, playing and composition are inseparable for John Harle.

He was originally a clarinettist who spent a tough musical apprenticeship as solo clarinettist in the Band of the Coldstream Guards, his tastes wide, but his self-discipline focussed even then. As a student at the Royal College of Music, he would compose variations reworking Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler as 12 tone music for his own amusement, but would also listen to Stockhausen, Xenakis, Raymond Scott, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Duke Ellington. After he graduated with a 100% final mark (- only achieved once before, by Nigel Kennedy two years earlier,) Harle's eloquent saxophone fronted his own avant-garde cabaret ensemble called the Berliner Band. It extended those earlier 12 tone studies of Weill and Eisler into dramatic sheets of musical decadence, though Harle was also to call it "the musical equivalent of surrealism - melting clock faces, apples in the sky, runaway funeral hearses..."

It was this aspect of the saxophonists work that first attracted the attention of Stanley Myers. But in the same period Harle would also still spend evenings at an East-End Jazz club called Peanuts (a probable reference to the fees involved... ) - jamming with no-holds-barred free-improvising musicians. From roughly 1973 to 1980, his composing methods were driven by a strictly 12-note serial-music system, and by that period's avant-garde, dominated by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

A decade later, however, John Harle was ready to recognise a quite different strand of influence on him - American Jazz.

His Father had taken him to hear Duke Ellington's band at a Westminster Abbey Sacred Concert in the early 1970's, and the tremulous sound of Ellington's lyrical alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges had never left his memory.

It was a homage to Ellington that was to be the next significant landmark in John Harle's composing and arranging career. The Shadow of the Duke (1992) was a remarkable coupling of classical grace and meticulousness with jazzy fire and swing, the materials recast with non-jazz references that were nevertheless completely appropriate, and drawing on lesser known Ellington materials long overdue for reappraisal.

When John Harle the saxophonist performed his friend Harrison Birtwistle's uncompromisingly byzantine sax concerto Panic at the Last Night of the 1995 Proms at the Albert Hall, new opportunities for John Harle the composer soon followed. After work with David Pountney at the Nottingham Playhouse on new songs for Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, he embarked on the composition Terror and Magnificence - an extended work joining classical and rock singing (Sarah Leonard and Elvis Costello), a string quartet, club dance grooves and 14th century French poetry, with his own lyrical sax conversing and improvising with the powerful tenor sax of Andy Sheppard.

Soon to follow was the performance at the Albert Hall in the Proms of 1998 of his opera, Angel Magick. With a libretto by its director, David Pountney, its subject was the alchemist and magician of the Elizabethan court, John Dee. Its critical reception is now legendary - from the ecstatic to the outraged.

Since that time, John Harle has rarely paused for respite from a demanding schedule of concert appearances as an interpreter of the work of others, and from his own compositional projects, including the intense and meticulously-wrought score for Simon Schama's History of Britain. He has been co-producer, arranger and musical associate with Sir Paul McCartney on a number of projects including Shadow Cycle, Standing Stone and Ecce cor Meum.

Yet John Harle doesn't see any of these multifarious ventures as incompatible with each other, or with the essence of his creative spirit. Harle served his apprenticeship in the late 20th Century context of expanding horizons and a growing willingness for musicians of all backgrounds to share knowledge. He is truly a child of an open era in which musicians of all backgrounds have increasingly shared their knowledge. But he is also one of its most innovative contributors.

John Fordham.

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This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article John Harle