Interview: Jonathan Dove

First published in BBC Music Magazine, July 2019 edition

“I should have probably cleaned what looks like blood off my hands before the photoshoot!” Jonathan Dove has been correcting scores in red ink, and he apologises for the not-blood-stains on his fingers. We’re at his kitchen table in Hackney: a sparse and stylish apartment where the main event is a handsome grand piano. Dove pours out tea (rooibos earl grey) from a technical-looking teapot into mugs printed with a line of music from his latest operatic comedy, Marx in London. “Opening night gifts for the crew,” he explains, with a smile that acknowledges the irony of Marx-themed merch.

Dove, one of Britain’s most compelling, accessible, prolific and socially engaged opera composers, is turning 60. It’s standard etiquette to say that someone doesn’t look a certain age but he genuinely appears decades younger. We’ll come to the subject of birthdays and celebration and retrospection, but the most immediate concern is sitting in front of us on the table. It’s his latest album – a collection of orchestral music performed by the BBC Philharmonic and featuring two major works relating to climate change.

Hojoki (2006) is a piece for orchestra and countertenor about a 12th century monk who experiences extreme weather events – “the kind we know we’re going to get more of in coming years,” says Dove. “Earthquakes, draughts, fires. All of the predictions are coming true faster than anyone thought they would.” Gaia Theory (2014) was inspired by the writing of James Lovelock, veteran ecologist whose core assertion is that the earth behaves as a self-regulating organism and maintains surface conditions that are favourable for life. Lovelock describes us all being locked in a dance in which everything changes together, and Dove’s musical response is accordingly vital and optimistic.


For the full interview, see BBC Music Magazine July 2019 edition