GAVIN BRYARS (b 1943 )
“…The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe…”
— Michael Ondaatje
Gavin Bryars was born in Yorkshire in 1943. His first musical reputation was as a jazz bassist working in the early sixties with improvisers Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. He abandoned improvisation in 1966 and worked for a time in the United States with John Cage. Subsequently he collaborated closely with composers such as Cornelius Cardew and John White. From 1969 to 1978 he taught in departments of Fine Art in Portsmouth and Leicester, and during the time that he taught at Portsmouth College of Art he was instrumental in founding the legendary Portsmouth Sinfonia. He founded the music department at Leicester Polytechnic (later De Montfort University) and was professor of music there from 1986 to 1994.
His first major work as a composer was The Sinking of the Titanic (1969) and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971), both released in new versions in the 1990s on Point Music label. The original 1970s recordings have been re-released on CD by Virgin Records.
He has composed prolifically for the theatre and dance as well as for the concert hall and has written three full-length operas. His first opera, Medea was first staged by the director Robert Wilson at the Opéra de Lyon and Opéra de Paris in 1984. Following the success of the original production, a revised version was given in concert in 1995 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. His second opera, Doctor Ox’s Experiment (based on a story by Jules Vernes and with a libretto by Blake Morrison) was staged by the Canadian film director Atom Egoyan for English National Opera in 1998. A separate production of Doctor Ox’s Experiment appeared in 1999 in Dortmund, Germany. The third opera, “G” (libretto again by Blake Morrison), was commissioned by Mainz Opera and was premiered in February 2002, staged by Georges Delnon, in the newly refurbished Mainz Opera House. He is currently working with Canadian writer Marilyn Bowering on a chamber opera Anyone can see I love you, based on Marilyn Monroe, featuring the Faroese singer Eivør Palsdottir for production in 2012.
Among Gavin Bryars’ other works are three string quartets and a great deal of chamber music, much of it for his own ensemble. He wrote a series of vocal works for The Hilliard Ensemble including Glorious Hill(1988), Incipit Vita Nova (1989), Cadman Requiem (1989, revised 1998) and The First Book of Madrigals (1998–2000) and since that time vocal music has been a major preoccupation. His background in the visual arts has resulted in works for the opening of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool (1988); an installation in the Chateau d’Oiron, Poitiers, commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture (1993) a work for the Tate Gallery St Ives (1997), an a project for the Valencia Architecture Biennale (2002) with Will Alsop. Other commissions include works for Charlie Haden (1987), John Harle (1991), Nexus (1994), Lawrence Cherney (1994), Fretwork (1995), Maggie Cole (1995), Julian Lloyd Webber (1995), Valdine Anderson (1995/6) Holly Cole (1998), Orlando Consort (2000) Ensemble Tozai (2001), Trio Mediaeval Sextet (Second Book of Madrigals 2002). Orchestral commissions include Bournemouth Sinfonietta (The Green Ray, 1991), BBC Symphony Orchestra (The War in Heaven, 1993), Primavera Chamber Orchestra (The Porazzi Fragment, 1999, Violin Concerto 2000), Double Bass Concerto (“Farewell to St Petersburg”) for Duncan McTier (2002), London Sinfonietta (2004). Gavin Bryars was the solo bassist in By the Vaar with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra at the Vancouver Jazz Festival in June 2002 a programme subsequently recorded for CBC Records and reissued on GB Records. He has written a Third Book of Madrigals (2003–5) for Red Byrd and has embarked on a Fourth and a Fifth Book. Most of his many “Laude”, over 39 to date, feature the Swedish soprano Anna Maria Friman—some with additional voices (Trio Mediaeval, John Potter)—and there are some for choir. Other vocal works include Eight Irish Madrigals (2004) and Nine Irish Madrigals (2006–7), for Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter, who are also members of his ensemble and From Egil’s Saga (2004) for the Faroese bass Rúni Brattaberg. His work in the Faroes developed further with Trondúr I Gøtu, for Rúni and Eivør Palsdottir. Since 2003 he has worked closely with the Latvian Radio Choir and since 2006 with the Estonian National Male Choir (RAM). He is currently working on more madrigals for Singer Pur, to add to the four he has already written for them, all commissioned by the Villa I Tatti in Italy.
Since 2006 he has worked collaborated with Opera North Projects, initially with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) on Shakespeare sonnets Nothing like the Sun (2007) and subsequently on Mercy and Grand (2007–8)—a project on the songs of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Since 2006 he has worked with the Irish singer Iarla O’Lionaird on settings of early Gaelic texts. Gavin Bryars has a particular association with dance and the visual arts: choreographers who have used his work and commissioned new pieces from him include William Forsythe, Lucinda Childs, Carolyn Carlson, Maguy Marin, Jiri Kylian, Siobhan Davies, Edouard Lock and David Dawson. His hugely successful collaboration with Merce Cunningham, Biped, is in the Cunningham Company’s repertoire and has played world-wide. He collaborated with Carolyn Carlson on the work Writing on Water and on her Giotto Solo. His second work with Edouard Lock and La La La Human Steps, Amjad (2007) toured worldwide until April 2009, was recorded on GB Records. A new work with Edouard Lock, based on the music of Purcell and Gluck, opened in Amsterdam in January 2011.
Among Gavin Bryars’ numerous recordings are “Three Viennese Dancers”, “After The Requiem”, The Black River and “Vita Nova” on ECM New Series, “The Last Days” on Argo (1995), and “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” (1993), “The Sinking of the Titanic” (1994), “Farewell to Philosophy” (1996), “A Man in a Room Gambling” (1997) and “Cadman Requiem” (1998) on Point Music. In 2000 he started his own label GB Records with an initial release of Biped. This was followed with a number of other albums: Lockerbie Memorial Concert (2003), A Man in a Room, Gambling (2003), Oi me lasso (2005), On Photography (2005), A Listening Room (2005), Glorious Hill (2007), Silva Caledonia (2008), Amjad (2008), Season of Mists (2008), I have heard it said that a spirit enters (2010)—being a remastered re-release of an album recorded for CBC Records in 2002—Live at Punkt (2010), I send you this Cadmium Red (2010), Al Suon dell’acque scriva (2010), New York (2010). Mercy and Grand, an album of Tom Waits songs, and Anail Dé, with Irish singer Iarla O’Lionaird, are to be released in 2011. Black Box released a recording of his three string quartets (2002). Universal released a double CD of music recorded for Decca and Philips from the last ten years to coincide with his 60th birthday in January 2003. There are new recordings of his early works on Mute Records and LTM and a live recording of The Sinking of the Titanic on Touch. A recording of his piano music, including a piano concerto, performed by Ralph van Raat, is released by Naxos in February 2011.
Gavin Bryars was Associate Research Fellow at Dartington College of Arts from 2004–2008 and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Plymouth and was awarded a Fellowship of Bath Spa University. He is a Regent of the Collège de Pataphysique. Gavin Bryars is married to Russian-born film director Anna Tchernakova, has three daughters (two from the previous marriage) and a son. He lives in England and British Columbia, Canada.
(Reproduced through the kind permission of Mr Gavin Bryars)