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Universal Edition - Sir Harrison Birtwistle – Biography

Sir Harrison Birtwistle
*15.07.1934

Future Performances

Salford Toccata
25.01.2015, Manchester (GB)
Secret Theatre
20.04.2015, Zagreb (HR)
Cortege
02.07.2015, Viitasaari (FIN)

News

  • 04.11.2014
    King’s College celebrates Birtwistle’s 80th year
    King’s College celebrates Birtwistle’s 80th year

    The King’s College Cambridge celebrates Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th year with a three-day cele [...]

  • 24.10.2014
    “One of the great operatic achievements of our time” turns 20: The Second Mrs Kong
    “One of the great operatic achievements of our time” turns 20: The Second Mrs Kong

    It’s been 20 years since Harrison Birtwistle’s 2-act opera The Second Mrs Kong was performed [...]

  • 14.10.2014
    Live: Punch and Judy
    Live: Punch and Judy

    Director Leonard Prinsloo’s and conductor Walter Kobéra’s new production of Harrison Birtwis [...]

  • 15.09.2014
    The Triumph of Time
    The Triumph of Time

    But the music’s real triumph lies in its unfaltering sense of movement. […] From start to fin [...]

  • 05.09.2014
    A Portrait of Sir Harrison Birtwistle at the Proms
    A Portrait of Sir Harrison Birtwistle at the Proms

    Despite a recent heated discussion regarding the BBC and new music, it is good to have Harrison B [...]

  • 18.07.2014
    Harrison Birtwistle on BBC Radio 3 and Ö1
    Harrison Birtwistle on BBC Radio 3 and Ö1

    The strength of Birtwistle’s music, and his way of showing time passing at different speeds are [...]

  • 15.07.2014
    Happy 80th Birthday Harrison Birtwistle
    Happy 80th Birthday Harrison Birtwistle

    Celebrations for Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th already took place earlier this year with the Barbi [...]

  • 11.07.2014
    Two angry men: Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies
    Two angry men: Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies

    Ivan Hewett of The Telegraph has written an article on the differences and similarities of Sir Ha [...]

  • 13.05.2014
    Sir Harrison Birtwistle at 80
    Sir Harrison Birtwistle at 80

    The Barbican Centre honours Harrison Birtwistle with several events, Punch and Judy will be perfo [...]

  • 05.05.2014
    Harrison Birtwistle: Notes from the end of a garden
    Harrison Birtwistle: Notes from the end of a garden

    In his 80th year, Harrison Birtwistle agreed to let his godson, the wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustil [...]

  • ecme
    18.02.2014
    Bedford and Birtwistle performed in Egypt
    Bedford and Birtwistle performed in Egypt

    Rossen Gergov conducts the Egyptian première of Igor, The Bird Who Couldn’t Sing and a perform [...]

  • Harrison Birtwistle (c) Universal Edition
    15.05.2012
    Harrison Birtwistle: Bow Down
    Harrison Birtwistle: Bow Down
    Bow Down, Harrison Birtwistle’s music-theatre work from 1977 employs 5 actors and 4 musicians to t [...]
  • Harrison Birtwistle
    01.04.2011
    Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy in Geneva
    Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy in Geneva
    The Grand Théâtre de Genève is now showing the joint production by the English National Opera and [...]
 

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Biography

Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington in the north of England in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music, making contact with a highly talented group of contemporaries including Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth. In 1965 he sold his clarinets to devote all 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, staged by English National Opera in 1986, and by the series of remarkable ensemble scores now performed by the world's leading new music groups: 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 the past decade include Exody, premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim, Panic which received a high profile premiere at the Last Night of 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, a meditation for soprano, string quartet and chamber ensemble on poetry by Paul Celan, 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. Premieres in 2004 included The Io Passion for Aldeburgh Almeida Opera and Night's Black Bird commissioned by Roche for the Lucerne Festival. His opera The Minotaur received its premiere at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 2008 and has been released on DVD by Opus Arte. His music theatre work The Corridor opened the Aldeburgh Festival in 2009, with a further staging at the Holland Festival the following year. Angel-Fighter for voices and ensemble was premiered at the Leipzig BachFest in 2010, and Christian Tetzlaff premiered Concerto for Violin and Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

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, Franz Welser-Möst and Sir Antonio Pappano. 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, the Konzerthaus in Vienna and Settembre Musica in Turin and Milan. 

Birtwistle has received many honours, including the Grawemeyer Award in 1968 and the Siemens Prize in 1995; he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1986, awarded a British knighthood in 1988 and made a Companion of Honour in 2001. He was Henry Purcell Professor of Music at King's College, University of London (1995-2001) and was 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, NMC, CPO and Soundcircus labels, with discs of Pulse Shadows on Teldec and Night's Black Bird on NMC winning Gramophone Awards in 2002 and 2011.

He became a Visiting Professor at the Academy in 2012.

Harrison Birtwistle is published by Boosey & Hawkes. Universal Edition was the sole publisher of his music until 1994.

Reprinted with kind permission from Boosey & Hawkes