Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1960, he 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 1977 to 1986 was dominated by his lyric tragedy, The Mask of Orpheus, and by the series of ensemble scores: Secret Theatre, Silbury Air, Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and …agm….
Important large-scale compositions include his operas The Minotaur, Gawain, The Second Mrs Kong and The Last Supper; concertos Panic, Antiphonies and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; as well as orchestral scores Earth Dances, Exody and The Shadow of Night. Other major works include Theseus Game, Neruda Madrigales, Angel Fighter and In Broken Images.
In 2014, Harrison Birtwistle composed Responses: Sweet Disorder and the Carefully Careless, a concerto for piano and orchestra for his 80th birthday year, which was co-commissioned by Musica Viva Munich, Casa da Música Porto, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Other notable highlights include The Cure for the Aldeburgh Festival and Royal Opera House; 5 Lessons in a Frame for London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Musikfabrik; and Deep Time, which was commissioned by the Staatskapelle Berlin and the BBC, and received its UK premiere at the 2017 Proms.
Recent works include Intrada for piano and percussion, a duo for Colin Currie and Nicolas Hodges; Keyboard Engine: A Construction for Two Pianos, commissioned for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich; and Duet for Eight Strings for The Nash Ensemble.
Birtwistle has received many honours including the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Wihuri Sibelius Prize, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a British knighthood. He was made Companion of Honour in 2001.
Laura Bowler, described as ‘a triple-threat composer-performer-provocatrice’ (The Arts Desk), is a composer, vocalist and artistic director specialising in theatre, multi-disciplinary work and opera. She has been commissioned across the globe by ensembles and orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, ROH2, Opera Holland Park, The Opera Group, Manchester Camerata, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Quatuor Bozzini, Ensemble Phace, Ensemble Linea and Omega Ensemble, among others. Recent projects include a music theatre work, FFF, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF); Feminine Hygiene, a multimedia work commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and Sounds From The Other City festival; A Damned Mob of Scribbling Women, a 20-minute music theatre song cycle for vocalist Lucy Goddard, which was recently nominated for a British Composer Award; and Antarctica, a 50-minute multimedia work co-commissioned by Manchester Camerata and BBC Radio 3.
Bowler has performed and premiered works internationally as a vocalist including Louis Aguirre’s The Way the Dead Love and Jennifer Walshe’s boxing opera, Training is the Opposite. She is also the vocalist in contemporary music ensemble Ensemble Lydenskab based in Aarhus, Denmark, and has recently formed a duo with Red Note Ensemble’s flautist, Ruth Morley.
Upcoming projects include a music theatre work based on Rumpelstiltskin for Riot Ensemble with librettist Alasdair Middleton; a new multimedia work for multidisciplinary group Decoder Ensemble for HCMF 2020; a multimedia work for composer/pianist Zubin Kanga; and smaller-scale works for vocalist Alwynne Pritchard and nyckelharpist Robert Bentall, and a solo percussion work for London Sinfonietta.
Bowler completed her BMus (Hons) at the Royal Northern College of Music and Sibelius Academy, Finland, followed by her MMus and PhD at the Royal Academy of Music. She also studied for an MA in Theatre Directing at RADA. Bowler is a lecturer in Composition at Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Royal Northern College of Music.
Brian Ferneyhough is widely recognized as one of today's foremost living composers. Since the mid-1970s, when he first gained widespread international recognition, his music has earned him a reputation as one of the most influential creative personalities and significant musical thinkers on the contemporary scene.
Ferneyhough was born in Coventry, England, in 1943 and received formal musical training at the Birmingham School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, London. In 1968 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enabled him to continue his studies in Amsterdam with Ton de Leeuw, and the following year obtained a scholarship to study with Klaus Huber at the Basel Conservatoire.
Following Ferneyhough’s move to mainland Europe, his music began to receive much wider recognition. The Gaudeamus Composers’ Competition in the Netherlands awarded Ferneyhough prizes in three successive years (1968–70) for his Sonatas for String Quartet, Epicycle and Missa Brevis respectively. The Italian section of the ISCM at its 1972 competition gave Ferneyhough an honourable mention (second place) for Firecycle Beta and two years later a special prize for Time and Motion Study III which was considered the best work submitted in all categories.
Recent works have included Inconjunctions (2014), Contraccolpi (2016), and a collection of encounters influenced by Christopher Tye, Umbrations (2001-2017), premiered by the Arditti Quartet and Ensemble Modern at Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik.
Associated with the most prestigious teaching institutions and international summer schools for contemporary music, from 1984 to 1996 Ferneyhough was Composition Course Co-ordinator at the biennial Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik. In 1984 he was made Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and he has since been named a member of the Berlin Akademie der Künste, the Bayrische Akademie der Schönen Künste and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music. Most recently, he was awarded the 2007 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
Edward Gregson is a composer of international reputation, whose music has been performed, broadcast and commercially recorded in many countries. He has been described as ‘one of the most significant British composers currently active in this country’ (Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review, 2011).
He studied composition and piano with Alan Bush at the Royal Academy of Music, winning five prizes for composition, with later studies at London University. His commissions have included works for the English Chamber, Bournemouth, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras, with performances by many other orchestras and ensembles around the world. His discography includes recordings of his orchestral and concerto repertoire (Chandos), instrumental and chamber music (Naxos) and music for brass band (Doyen).
His major works for orchestra include Music for Chamber Orchestra (1968), Metamorphoses (1979), Concerto for Orchestra (1983, rev. 2002), and Dream Song (2010), with many concertos written for eminent soloists, whilst his choral music includes Make a Joyful Noise (1988), a large-scale cantata The Dance, forever the Dance (1999), and Three John Donne Settings (2013). His instrumental and chamber music includes two string quartets and numerous works for solo instruments, including a Piano Sonata in one movement (1983), Tributes
and Aztec Dances (both 2010),
His contribution to the wind and brass repertoire has also been of particular significance and in 2016 he was composer-in-association with the Black Dyke Band. In the following year he was composer-in-residence at the Presteigne Festival, with numerous performances of his music. In 2019 he won an Ivor’s Academy Composer Award for his Hallé commission for children’s choir and orchestra, The Salamander and the Moonraker.
His academic career has included appointments at Goldsmiths College, University of London (1976-1996), where he was awarded a Personal Chair and Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music (1996-2008). He has been a member of many international juries, has worked for BBC radio and television, and is currently a Writer Director of PRS for Music. He has also been the recipient of a dozen honorary Doctorates and Fellowships from various English universities and conservatoires, including Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Music (1990).
Karl Jenkins is one of the most performed living composers in the world. Educated at Gowerton Grammar School, Cardiff University and the Royal Academy of Music, The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace alone has been performed over 2750 times in 50 different countries since the CD was released while his recorded output has resulted in seventeen gold and platinum disc awards.
His style and integrity has transcended musical boundaries encompassing jazz-rock with Soft Machine, the global ‘crossover’ phenomenon Adiemus, soundtracks for Levis and British Airways, while stopping off along the way to score a Kiefer Sutherland movie, be a castaway on BBC Desert Island Discs, be featured by Melvyn Bragg on the ITV seminal South Bank Show and be awarded the Freedom of the City of London. Recordings include Requiem, Stabat Mater, Quirk, Stella Natalis and The Peacemakers, on Deutsche Grammophon Adiemus Colores, Motets and Cantata Memoria, and on Decca Symphonic Adiemus, a Piano Album and Miserere. He has composed music for HRH The Prince of Wales, Sir Bryn Terfel, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Evelyn Glennie and the London Symphony Orchestra amongst many others.
A Doctor of Music, he holds Fellowships, Honorary Doctorates and Professorships at five universities or conservatoires, including the Royal Academy of Music, where a room has been named in his honour. In November 2009 he was given the Cymru For The World Award and in March 2010 was honoured with the Hopkins Medal given by the St. David’s Society for the State of New York.
In 2015 he was confirmed as the most popular living composer in Classic FM’s ‘Ultimate Hall of Fame’ and holds the Classic FM ‘Red f’ award for ‘outstanding service to classical music’. He was awarded a Knighthood in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours for 'services to composing and crossing musical genres' and his autobiography Still with the Music was published by Elliott & Thompson. His music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.
Elena Langer’s colourful, dramatic music has become increasingly familiar to audiences through her pieces operatic, vocal and orchestral. Her 2016 hit for Welsh National Opera, Figaro gets a Divorce, was described in The Telegraph as ‘that rare thing: a modern opera that exerts an immediate emotional impact’. Her Welsh National Opera follow-up, the 2018 vaudeville Rhondda Rips It Up!, was wildly popular with audiences across the UK, The Times calling it ‘bursting with irreverent joy’.
Langer studied piano and composition at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory and in 1999 moved to London, continuing her studies at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. She began writing operas while Composer-in-Residence at the Almeida Theatre and her works have been performed at Opernhaus Zürich, Carnegie Hall, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opera National du Rhin, Welsh National Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre. She has released a CD of vocal and chamber pieces, Landscape with Three People.
Figaro gets a Divorce, with a libretto by David Pountney, premiered at Welsh National Opera in February 2016 and subsequently toured around the UK. In 2017, it was performed at the Teatr Wielki in Poznań and at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
In March 2019, Boston Symphony Chamber Players performed Langer’s orchestral piece Five Reflections on Water. The Seattle Symphony performed a new orchestral suite from Figaro gets a Divorce in January 2020 and the suite received its UK première in Glasgow in February 2020, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Elena’s song cycle It’s Not You, It’s Me, based on the poems of Glyn Maxwell, was performed at Wigmore Hall in October 2019.
Langer is currently working on an opera based on Nikolai Erdman’s play, The Suicide, to be performed at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre in 2022.
Michael Nyman is a composer, pianist, librettist, writer, musicologist, photographer and film-maker whose work encompasses opera, concert music and film soundtracks of which The Draughtsman's Contract and The Piano are the best-known. Since founding the Michael Nyman Band in 1977, which tours the world, he has worked with leading film directors and has collaborated with artists such as Mary Kelly, Damon Albarn, Carsten Nicolai and the Oscar-winning Man on Wire star Phillippe Petit. Recent work includes several contributions to what is an intended series of 19 symphonies. Further War Work: 8 Songs with Film is a powerful example of Nyman's work as a composer and also film-maker. His music is available via an extensive range of recordings on his own label, MN Records.
Roxanna Panufnik studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and, since then, has written a wide range of pieces - opera, ballet, music theatre, choral works, orchestral and chamber compositions, and music for film and television - which are performed all over the world.
Panufnik has a great love of world music - this has culminated in her Four World Seasons for violinist Tasmin Little, the world premiere of which was picked by BBC Radio 3 to launch their Music Nations weekend, celebrating the London Olympics; her multi-faith Warner Classics CD Love Abide and Dance of Life: Tallinn Mass for Tallinn Philharmonic, commissioned to celebrate Tallinn’s reign as European Capital of Culture.
She is especially interested in building musical bridges between faiths and her first project in this field was the violin concerto Abraham, commissioned for Daniel Hope, incorporating Christian, Islamic and Jewish chant to create a musical analogy for the fact that these three faiths believe in the same one God. This work was subsequently converted into an overture for the World Orchestra for Peace and premiered in Jerusalem and London under the baton of Valery Gergiev, in 2008 and at the 2014 BBC Proms. In 2017 her opera Silver Birch, commissioned by Garsington Opera, was met with great audience and critical acclaim.
2018, Panufnik’s 50th Birthday year, saw some exciting commissions and premieres for the BBC Last Night of the Proms and a co-commissioned oratorio Faithful Journey- a Mass for Poland for City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Poland, marking Poland’s centenary as an independent state. In 2019, a new commission for two conductors and two choirs was premiered by Marin Alsop and Valentina Peleggi with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Panufnik has just finished an epic work for the Rundfunk Chor Berlin plus 9 other choirs from all over the world, which was due to be premiered at the Berlin Philharmonie in May 2020 (cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis).
Roxanna’s compositions are published by Peter’s Edition Ltd and recorded on many labels including Warner Classics, Signum, Chandos, and EMI Classics.
Augusta Read Thomas was born in 1964 and has been described by The New Yorker as ‘a true virtuoso composer’. In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote: ‘Augusta Read Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.’
Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood, Jacob Druckman at Yale University, Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University and at the Royal Academy of Music. She was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College. Championed by such luminaries as Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and Oliver Knussen, among others, she rose early to the top of her profession and won the coveted Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer in Residence with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 to 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas played a central part in establishing the thriving MusicNOW series commissioning living composers.
An influential teacher at Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festival and School, Thomas is only the 16th person to be designated University Professor at the University of Chicago, where she founded the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. As part of the Center, she also founded a Postdoctoral Fellowship for Music Composition and formed a world-class sinfonietta-sized Ensemble. Thomas also envisioned and spearheaded Ear Taxi Festival, a six-day new-music festival in October 2016 celebrating the booming classical contemporary music scene in Chicago.
Thomas’s discography includes 88 commercially recorded CDs and her opera, Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun, received its world premiere in October 2019 at the Santa Fe Opera. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Philip Venables has been described as a ‘composer of ferocious dramatic instincts’ by The New Yorker and as ‘one of the finest composers around’ by the Guardian. His output covers opera, musical theatre, multimedia concert works, chamber music and song, in an eclectic range of styles and influences, with themes often concerning social politics, violence, gender and storytelling.
Venables's most recent opera, Denis & Katya, with director/dramatist Ted Huffman, won the 2019 Fedora Generali Prize for Opera. Critics have called it ‘an intimate, haunting triumph’ (The New York Times) and ‘a monumental, dramatically shattering event’ (Parterre Box).
Venables's first opera, 4.48 Psychosis, was the first-ever permitted adaptation of any of playwright Sarah Kane's work. It won the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera, the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Large-Scale Composition and the 2017 British Composer Award for Best Stage Work, and was nominated for an Olivier Award and Sky Arts South Bank Award.
Venables collaborates extensively in cross-media work, including with artist Douglas Gordon on Bound to Hurt; with drag/performance artist David Hoyle on Illusions, The Gender Agenda and a sound installation on Canal Street at Manchester International Festival; and with violinist Pekka Kuusisto on Venables plays Bartók. His debut album, Below the Belt, was released in 2018 to great acclaim: ‘music of forensic clarity and visceral force – but also great tenderness and generosity’ (BBC Music Magazine).
Venables was a MacDowell Fellow with director Ted Huffman in 2017 and participated in the Opera Creation Workshop at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2019. He studied at Cambridge University and then with Philip Cashian and David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music, which elected him Associate in 2016 for his significant contribution to composition. Venables completed his doctorate in 2016 while Doctoral Composer in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Julian Philips and James Weeks and the Royal Opera House.