"... 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. . ."
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(for information on Joseph Holbrooke and Portsmouth Sinfonia
(see early works and improvisation)
His first major work as a composer was The Sinking of the Titanic (1969) originally released on Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975 and Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971), both famously released in new versions in the 1990s on Point Music label, selling over a quarter of a million copies. The original 1970s recordings have recently been re-released on CD by Virgin Records.
(see Gavin Bryars' notes about The Sinking of the Titanic and Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet also see Discography ).
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 in 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.
(see Gavin Bryars' notes about Medea and Doctor Ox's Experiment; also see notes about the third opera, G).
Among Gavin Bryars' other works are three string quartets, 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); works for the opening of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool (1988); Chateau d'Oiron, Poitiers French Ministry of Culture Commission (1993) the Tate Gallery St Ives (1997). Other works include commissions 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). 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.He has written a Third Book of Madrigals
(2003-5) for Red Byrd and has embarked on a Fourth Book. Most of his many “Laude”, over 35 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. Since 2003 he has worked closely with the Latvian Radio Choir (see Discography) and since 2006 with the Estonian National Male Choir (RAM)
(see The Complete Lists of Works )
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.
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. His hugely successful recent collaboration with Merce Cunningham, Biped, is now in the Cunningham Company's repertoire and is playing 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) is touring worldwide until April 2009 and there is a further project with Edouard Lock under discussion.
(see a note on Biped, Upcoming Concerts and a link to La La La Human Steps for dates and venues)
Among the visual artists who have worked with Gavin Bryars' music are: Tim Head ( worked on a live performance of Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet), Bruce MacLean (collaboration on Invention of Tradition), James Hugonin (The North Shore, From Mina Harker's Journal and The Island Chapel were written for his exhibitions). Bill Culbert did an installation for a live performance of The Sinking of the Titanic. Jennifer Bartlett's paintings were an integral part of the design for Four Elements. A Man in a Room, Gambling, was a collaboration with Juan MuĖoz for Artangel. Christian Boltanski did an installation for a live performance of The Sinking of the Titanic in Bruges, France, and Gavin Bryars performed The Sinking of the Titanic as a part of Christian Boltanski's exhibition in the Mito Art Tower, Japan. Robert Wilson used Gavin Bryars' music in various exhibitions of his drawings, as well as working with him in the theatre. David Byrne used Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet for his photographic exhibition in Tokyo. In 2004 Gavin Bryars worked on a project with Will Alsop and Bruce McLean for the Valencia Architecture Biennale. In July 2006 he will be a keynote speaker at the Alvar Aalto Academy Symposium in Finland.
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). These are distributed in UK by New Note, in North America by Allegro Corporation, and in Japan by Wada. Black Box released a recording of his three string quartets (2002). CBC Records released an album of his orchestral music (Violin Concerto, By the Vaar, The Porazzi Fragment, Three Songs for Holly Cole) - to be re-released shortly on GB Records. . 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.
The Gavin Bryars Ensemble, founded in 1981, regularly tours internationally, including appearances in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Austria, Japan and Australia, as well as giving occasional concerts in UK.
Gavin Bryars is Associate Research Fellow at Dartington College of Arts, UKGavin 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.