Sir Harrison Birtwistle


Composition - Visiting Professor of Composition

One of the best known names in British contemporary music and celebrated composer throughout the world

Studied at the Royal Academy of Music; now a Visiting Professor here

Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music. In 1965 he sold his clarinets to devote his efforts to composition, and travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow where he completed the opera 'Punch and Judy'. This work, together with 'Verses for Ensembles' and 'The Triumph of Time', firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.

The decade from 1973 to 1984 was dominated by his monumental lyric tragedy 'The Mask of Orpheus', and by the series of remarkable ensemble scores: 'Secret Theatre', 'Silbury Air' and 'Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuumand agm'.

Important large-scale compositions are the operas 'The Minotaur', 'Gawain','The Second Mrs Kong' and 'The Last Supper', the concertos 'Panic', 'Antiphonies' and 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra', as well as the orchestral scores 'Earth Dances', 'Exody' and 'The Shadow of Night'. Other major works include 'Theseus Game' for large ensemble and two conductors, 'Neruda Madrigales' for chorus and instruments, 'Angel Fighter' and 'In Broken Images'. Smaller-scale pieces include 'Pulse Shadows', the cycle of piano works 'Harrison’s Clocks', 'Orpheus Elegies' for oboe, harp and countertenor, stage works 'The Corridor', 'The Io Passion', 'Tree of Strings' for string quartet, 'The Moth Requiem' for female voices and instruments and 'Songs from the Same Earth' for tenor and piano.

The music of Birtwistle has attracted international conductors including Stefan Asbury, David Atherton, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Christoph von Dohnányi, Peter Eötvös, Elgar Howarth, Daniel Harding, Vladimir Jurowski, Oliver Knussen, Ingo Metzmacher, Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Simon Rattle, David Robertson, Franz Welser-Möst and Ryan Wigglesworth. He has received commissions from leading performing organizations, and his music has been featured in major festivals and concert series in Europe, the USA and Japan.

Birtwistle has received many honours including the 1987 Grawemeyer Award, the Chévalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1986), a British knighthood (1988), the Siemens Prize (1995) and the Wihuri Sibelius prize for music (2015). He was made Companion of Honour in 2001. Recordings of his music are available on the Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, Signum, NMC, CPO and ECM labels.

Other recent works include 'Responses: Sweet Disorder and the Carefully Careless', a concerto for piano and orchestra written for his 80th birthday year and co-commissioned by Musica Viva Munich, Casa da Musica Porto, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony, 'The Cure' for the Aldeburgh Festival and Royal Opera House, 'The Silk House Sequences' for the Arditti Quartet, ensemble pieces for the London Sinfonietta and 'Deep Time' for symphony orchestra.

Harrison Birtwistle is published by Boosey & Hawkes and Universal Edition.

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