Sir Harrison Birtwistle (b. 1934) studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music. In 1965 he sold his clarinets to devote all his efforts to composition. His opera Punch and Judy, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, 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, staged by English National Opera in 1986, and by the series of remarkable ensemble scores: Secret Theatre, Silbury Air and Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum. Large-scale works in the following decade included the operas Gawain and The Second Mrs Kong, the concertos Endless Parade for trumpet and Antiphonies for piano, and the orchestral score Earth Dances. Birtwistle’s works of recent decades include Exody, premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim, Panic, premiered at the 1995 BBC Proms with an estimated worldwide audience of 100 million, and The Shadow of Night commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnányi. The Last Supper received its first performances at the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin and at Glyndebourne in 2000. Pulse Shadows was released on disc by Teldec and won the 2002 Gramophone Award for best contemporary recording. Theseus Game, co-commissioned by RUHRtriennale, Ensemble Modern and the London Sinfonietta, was premiered in 2003. The following year brought first performances of The Io Passion for Aldeburgh Almeida Opera and Night’s Black Bird commissioned for the Lucerne Festival. A new opera, The Minotaur, received its premiere at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in April 2008.
The music of Birtwistle has attracted international conductors including Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Elgar Howarth, Christoph von Dohnányi, Oliver Knussen, Sir Simon Rattle, Peter Eötvös and Franz Welser-Möst. He has received commissions from leading performing organisations and his music has been featured in major festivals and concert series including the BBC Proms, Salzburg Festival, Glyndebourne, Holland Festival, Lucerne Festival, Stockholm New Music, Wien Modern, Wittener Tage, the South Bank Centre in London and the Konzerthaus in Vienna.
Birtwistle has received many honours. He is currently Director of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Recordings of Birtwistle’s music are available on the Decca, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, Black Box, Etcetera, NMC, CPO and Soundcircus labels. Harrison Birtwistle is published by Boosey & Hawkes.
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes