Posted by: Gavin | 15 October 2013 - 1:08pm

I spent three days - one evening, one full day, one part day - in Denmark at Engelsholm School of Music and Art, which is housed in the very beautiful Engelsholm Castle in Jutrland, South West Denmark. I was one of three composers teaching there - Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland preceded me and Bent Sørensen from Denmark came after (in fact we all overlapped).

It was a very open forum where we brought our own thoughts and perspectives to the process. There were thirteen composer/students coming from various backgrounds - jazz, electronica, singer/songwriter etc. backgrounds - all very experienced in their own fields but all having a strong desire to learn from me and the other two guest composers how we compose in the "classical" style. Many of them have worked with classical ensembles already and have an interest in mixing genres.


There were a number of types of class, all of which were very flexible and they were classified by the organiser Søren Møller in the following way:

The Lab (2 hour lecture): In The Lab I was to present the students for any basic idea you have found inspiration from. This also turned into an account of the way I have worked over the years in relation to my sensibility towards performers, and the way in which an intimate knowledge of the performers character and skills can inform my craft. One interesting way of working is that all score examples were uploaded to Dropbox before and during sessions so all students had access to scores and audio files - in addition to me showing projections and playing audio examples. It meant that everyone had a computer in front of them!

I was urged to talk about my career and how I became the composer I am and to play some examples for the students. Because of the jazz background of several of the students I explained at some length, following their questions, about my move away from jazz and improvised music in  the mid-1960s towards written composition. This was of particulart concern to Søren (to left in picture below), who is undergoing a similar, though less dramatic, transition.

The Genius Bar (2-3 hours): In the genius bar students presented their works or ideas so that I could comment and make suggestions. In addition they undertook exercises based on short fragments or ideas - in my case Søren had guiven them a couple of bars from a well-known Danish song which they elaborated in their own way - but not taking more than an hour or so to do it. The results were terrific and very varied. The Genius Bar also evolved at times into a further presentation of my work. 

The Secret (90 min): In "The Secret" I basically presented examples from scores and explaining what was going on.

The idea was all about learning from me as a composer and not about learning any general theory that they could learn in school.

For me the experience was entirely successful and I enjoyed my stay immensely on both a professional and personal level. I was massively impressed by how well briefed the students were and the extent of their own knowledge. It was curious that not only was one of the students a fine bassist (Niels) but the director of the institute, Jakob Bonderup, is also a bassist and composer! 

There was one great surprise and that was when we had a very entertaining music quiz organised by Henrik in which we were put into teams. An additional memeber of my team was Alec, the son of Gail Abernathy -my osteopath in Canada - who turned out to be studying there. The last time we had met was playing croquet at a party at a friend's house in Sooke, British Columbia!!





Posted by: Gavin | 6 October 2013 - 5:01am

Marilyn Forever - music by Gavin Bryars; libretto by Marilyn Bowering

On September 13 and 14 my new opera was premiered at the MacPherson Playhouse, Victoria BC, Canada. It was produced by Aventa and conducted by Bill LInwood, Aventa's director. It was a huge success and the performances were terrific. Eivør Palsdottir was sensational as Marilyn and Thomas Sandberg performed beautifully the multifacetted role of the man (who becomes the varioous men in Marilyn's life). I got to play bass in the on-stage jazz trio, with two great players pianist Tony Genge and tenor sax Phil Dwyer, whose solos were exquisite. The staging by Joel Ivany was intelligent and insightful and the whole production was very beautiful (wonderful lighting by Kevin Lamotte). I attach photos and links to previews and reviews, one of which - by Deryk Barker - pointed out the moment, probably unique in the history of all opera, when the first person to make an entrance on stage at the very beginning of the opera is the composer (as bass player)!

Here are two previews and two reviews: 


Posted by: Gavin | 6 April 2013 - 2:30pm

Rita Cadman

Rita Cadman died on March 25 2013. She was the mother of Bill Cadman, my former sound engineer who was killed in the Lockerbie air crash and for whom I wrote Cadman Requiem. After Bill's death I got to know his whole family - his father Martin, Rita, as well as his brother and sisters. I would visit them regularly, keep in touch about what we were all doing, and I was a guest at family occasions - his brother Richard's wedding in East Fife, for example, in a small church in St Monan's - the "church closest to the sea" that became the title of a later piece of mine.

Rita's funeral, which was very beautiful, was held on April 6 in St Margaret's Church, Burnham Norton just outside Burnham Market, where they lived - on a hill, between the village and the sea.

The day was sunny and bright, though a bit chilly. I'd visited Martin a few weeks earlier this year at their house. Rita was in a home and he visited her every afternoon. He came from hospital in a special taxi and was in a wheel chair as he had a stroke a couple of weeks ago. He looked frail, but the longer he was with us his spirits improved and his memory got better and better. I spoke with him a couple of times: once when he arrived at the church, and then again at the house where there were drinks and some food. We had a friendly exchange and I explained that I was also there on behalf of my family all of whom had spent time at Burnham Market. We would usually visit at least on Anya's birthday, as she likes to be near the sea on that day, and the north Norfolk coast is the nearest coast to us. I'd also been there with Ziella and Orlanda when they were teenagers, and Zie swam in the sea with Martin, and her friend Amy. Zie had also visited Rita's eldest daughter Marian in L'Aquila, where she and her husband Mark run a language school. The funeral happened to be held on the fourth anniversary of the L'Aquila earthquake that destroyed their home and school. I also told Martin that my former manager Jane Quinn wanted to be remembered to him. I clarified who Jane was by mentioning the 1998 Westminster Cathedral Lockerbie Memorial concert. He smiled and said "ah, yes, Jane. Please do give her my love."

The whole family was there - children and grandchildren, one of whom, William had flown from Chicago where he is a professor of physics at the university and who I had first met at Richard's wedding when he was around 10 years old...

The funeral was simple and very effective. Each member of the family contributed. Richard gave a very good eulogy, Marian read a poem by John Clare, Julia spoke the Prayer of St Ignatius Loyola, and the vicar, who'd known the family since they moved to Norfolk over twenty years ago, was very good too. Richard's daughter Cecilia sang Dvorak's Lullaby, very touchingly, accompanied by her boyfriend Calum who played the organ for the whole service. In Paradisum from Cadman Requiem was played as a processional for leaving the church. Calum had adapted it so that the vocal parts written for the Hilliard Ensemble were to be on one manual, the two manuals of the organ part were combined onto one. However, the organ turned out to have only one manual, which limited the piece, and some of the pedals were a bit erratic in response (!), but Calum played manfully and it did work and felt right.

I had arrived there quite early, about an hour before the service, and sat in the churchyard, from which the sea is visible just beyond the fields to the North. I spoke at some length with the sexton, a quietly solid local man with a strong Norfolk accent, who had dug graves in over a hundred churchyards in the area, all by hand, and who had dug Rita's grave too (she is buried next to the church). He was quite remarkable. He pointed out the graves of his sister and his mother - both of which he had dug - and explained the structure of the churchyard and how this area was for people from this village, that area was for another one and so on. He'd done this for 36 years, and knew the Cadman family quite well as he also looked after the church next to their house.

Martin and Rita were devoted to each other and were almost the perfect couple. They would have celebrated their sixty third wedding anniversary this year.

The memory of Rita's funeral will live with me for a long time.



Posted by: Gavin | 5 March 2013 - 6:33am

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet in Zimbabwe Dec 5/6 2012

Richard Sisson has been working with BBC Radio Three presenter Petroc Trelawney to develop their music teaching in Zimbabwe and it was his task ("lucky task" is the term he used...) to draw together the threads for their concert at the Music Academy in Bulawayo, of which Jesus' Blood was the central part. Petroc had contacted me about the plan and I wrote a brief note of support for the students.

I was amazed that this was happening and was massively impressed by their energy and commitment! I told Petroc that they might like to know that this would be not only the first performance of the piece in Zimbabwe, but also in the whole of Africa!

In the event Petroc didn't manage to get to the performance, as he says, for various complicated reasons he was turned back at the airport when he flew from Johannesburg. He told me on December 6th though that "the African premiere of Jesus' Blood took place last night in Bulawayo, -a huge success. The second performance is tonight in front of guests including the Zimbabwe Minister of Education and Arts, and the British Ambassador. Alas I am in Primrose Hill rather than Africa, but have heard nothing but good reports and the children involved seem to have had a great time.

Richard Sisson

It was a very special occasion. We were obliged by our limited resources to build as faithful an instrumental palette of sound as we could and in the end it was no less touching for its rather home-spun colours. There were a dozen young woodwind players, 15 assorted strings, 4 guitars, tubular bells. a beautiful soft bass guitar and a gentle bed of keyboard strings to make sure the harmonies were all covered. And then there was the exquisite sound of the young singers' voices - for much of it in a perfectly tuned unison - their church traditions are very strong in Zimbabwe and their singing is matchless, vibrant and powerful when they press the tone and with the keenest, perfectly supported intonation when they sing softly and sweetly - it was really beautiful and so heartfelt.

The whole ensemble was led by a young 19 year-old pianist called Nigel (who has recently gained a distinction in his Grade VI, despite being blind). He led on a quiet procession of the players and was the first to lay down some simple textures (taken from the harp part) over the recorded voice - perhaps because of his blindness he listened in a way that was especially keen, creating a sensitive framework over which the other performers could more easily shape their contributions. He adored the piece.

It was something all together new for the music-loving people of Bulawayo and, like so many people all over the world I'm sure, they responded to the piece every bit as warmly as I'd hoped. They admired its originality and its sincerity and in its unaffected simplicity it spoke very directly to them - every one of us has a song in our heart and it's something that no one can ever take away from us, no matter what. This is a comforting message of hope that 'struck a chord' I am sure with many of the audience - Zimbabweans over recent years have known some very difficult times.

The artists were so thrilled to be offering up the African premiere and also to know that the man who had created such a beautiful piece was interested in their efforts to make it happen.


Gavin Bryars

Your description of how it was done is very touching and the performance was entirely in the right spirit. I have done a number of performances where instruments turn up that are not in the score - and the score does say that substitutions can be made freely. One fairly extreme example was when I worked with a very nicely anarchic group in Sweden, one of whose members, a guitarist, also brought along with not just one Stylophone, but a whole family (treble, alto, tenor...)!!!

The piece is unique. I would, for example, never make a "sequel" or some other variant (people wondered at the time I first wrote it - 1971 - whether I was going to start covering all the world's religions...) and in any case its very existence comes about from a series of completely chance encounters. If I'd made any decision other than those I did, the piece would never have come into existence. While I am aware of the strength of feeling people have towards the piece, I'm also conscious that just as many people really hate the piece with an almost pathological venom. When the 1993 version was released and moved up the "charts" I remember that Paul Gambaccini was running the Classic FM Saturday morning chart show, and he played excerpts each week (he kept the momentum going by pointing to the last track and saying "can you wait for Tom Waits..."). Paul told me at the time that he had a bigger response to his playing the piece than to any other broadcast he had made, and that the response was about 50/50 for and against, and in quite violent terms! Producer friends at CBC had also sent me volumes of emails about the broadcast of the whole 74-minute version in Canada. This caused something of a scandal and made the front page of the Globe and Mail for two days, and eventually the head of CBC had to write justifying its broadcast!

I performed the piece in Vilnius in November 20121 with my ensemble, plus a dozen or so Lithuanian players. After all this time I find that I am still touched by the old man's voice, and still hear fresh things in it. When we recorded the piece in New York in 1992-3 the producer Michael Riesman estimated that we had heard the loop around 14,000 times during the whole process of recording. That should mean that, since my first encounter with the voice on headphones in my one-room flat in Kilburn my experience of it may run to hundreds of thousands...


British Friends of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music

Now a new organization has come into being called British Friends of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music (UK Registered Charity 1140488) and I will be a guest at its fundraising event in London on Wednesday, March 13th at 49, Queens Gate Terrace SW7 5PN, by kind permission of the Vernon Ellis Foundation. It will start at 7pm, with a reception, followed by the concert at 7.30pm, and a light supper to follow - tickets are £50.

There will be a concert performed by two artists who have a close association with Bulawayo and the Academy. It will also provide an opportunity for the Trustees to update everyone on BZAM's achievements so far, and their plans for the future.

Earlier this year saw the launch of the Bulawayo Schools Music Project Saturday Schools, for children who have an interest in music, but have not previously had the opportunity of any formal teaching. 30 children, drawn from ten schools in the Western Suburbs and city centre will participate in a seven-week course, fully funded by BZAM. Up to 100 pupils will then be able to take part from April, when funding from our partners is due to commence. 

The concert will feature Njabulo Madlala, the Ferrier Prize winning South African baritone, who worked on BZAM community projects in May. He will sing a short programme of Lieder and African song, accompanied by William Vann. They will be joined on stage by the distinguished pianist Leslie Howard, who last year made his thirteenth appearance in Bulawayo.  Coincidentally, Leslie is an old friend of mine and played with my ensemble in the late 1980s when I had two truly great pianists, Leslie Howard and Martin Jones!!!




Posted by: Gavin | 16 January 2013 - 8:00pm

Wednesday January 16th was my 70th birthday, which was spent quietly. Anya is in Russia working on her film, Mashka is away at university, so there was just Yuri and I at home. Each Wednesday at 7 PM the fish and chip van comes to our village. And my friend Brian Morton, with whom we always spend New Year on the West coast of Scotland, had given me a unique personal bottling of a Longrow single malt whisky from the Campbeltown distilleryfor this occasion... such is life in an English village...

Posted by: Gavin | 25 November 2012 - 9:03pm


One of the many pleasurable aspects of the tour was the way that the ensemble was able to be together socially as well as in performance. In Prague, for example, we were invited for lunch at the British Embassy by the ambassador Sian Macleod. The photograph taken on the terrace, which overlooks the city, shows the band. From left to right: Morgan Goff (viola), Nick Cooper (cello), (Chloe Hanslip - violinist performing separately in the festival), Dave Smith (keyboard/horn), Orlanda Bryars (daughter), Gavin Bryars, Ziella Bryars (daughter), Salvatore Caruso (Ziella's partner), Alex Tchernakova (daughter), Yuri Bryars (son), James Woodrow (guitar), Philip Jeck (turntables), Martin Allen (percussion). Viola player Nick Barr is missing from the picture as he arrived on a later flight...

The second photo is of Gavin Bryars and the British Ambassador, Sian Macleod, in the garden of the British Embassy.

Posted by: Gavin | 23 March 2012 - 6:19pm

A new album on GB Records Mercy and Grand is released on April 23 2012. This is one of the projects that Gavin Bryars has worked on with Opera North, through the director of Opera North Projects Dominic Gray, and JIm Holmes - who conducted Gavin's second opera Doctor Ox's Experiment at English National Opera and who was, until recently, Head of Music at Opera North.

Prior to this project they worked together on Nothing like the Sun - settings of Shakespeare sonnets - and working on the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan was a natural extension. Here, while the focus is on  the Waits/Brennan songs, other music is set alongside it - Kurt Weill, folk music, fairground ballads, tangos, circus music - to place it in context.

The arrangements were chiefly done by Gavin (for Waits), Jim (for Weill) and violinist Joe Townsend (for the folk material) with other pieces being put together collectively by the band. We have a fine mix of creatively eclectic musicians, and a great singer in Jess Walker - femaile, English and classically trained, who delivers all the songs with insight and passion.

Posted by: Gavin | 21 January 2012 - 9:39pm

I wrote Biped for Merce Cunningham in 1999 and have performed the piece live many times with the company. After Merce's death in 2009 the company continued to perform his work up to the end of 2011 - a Legacy Tour. In the last period of this tour, between October and December, I played for the final performances in London (Barbican Theatre, October 8), Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM, December 8) and the final performances of all: five - four evenings and one afternoon - at the Theatre de la Ville, Paris (December 20-23). I spent a lot of time during ths whole period with my good friend Tony Creamer, the treasurer of the Cunningham Company. At the time of the London performance he visited me in my village and we had dinner in London, along with my wife and three of my children;in New York our plans for dinner didn't materialise so instead we went to see my old collaborator and friend Bill Frisell at the Village Vanguard; in Paris my wife, son and other daughter (who wasn't in London) were there too. It was an emotional time: poignant and a little sad, but at the same times a celebration of one of the greatest choreographers of all time.

1. GB taking bow

2. Bill Frisell at Village Vanguard (Tony Creamer's photo)


3. Tony Creamer hosted dinner for musicians and family during final Paris performances

Posted by: Gavin | 12 April 2011 - 11:59am

Juan Muñoz, a tribute

Juan Muñoz (died August 28th 2001)


I was extremely shocked and upset when I learned of Juan's sudden death, which happened when he was on holiday with his family on Ibiza. I was on the west coast of Canada, where we live in the summer, and a friend called me to let me know the news.

Juan and I first met when Artangel asked me to speak with him about a possible collaboration. He was in England for an exhibition at the Hayward gallery and, simultaneously, he was undertaking projects outside the gallery confines, this being Artangel's principle area of interest. One of the projects he realised was his Monument on the South Bank of the Thames, which gives the sense of being some kind of memorial but, in reality, (like many 'monuments') is a bogus testament to nothing at all. As such it provides the kind of double-take that was so much the key to many Fluxus pieces from the 1950's onwards (though I suppose a monument can hardly be said to be in 'flux'). This particular piece performed a similar function to Juan's spurious anthropology with his Posa in the elegantly presented pamphlet entitled Segment.

The project which we developed, however, was for a sound piece and I was initially curious that a sculptor should be interested in working with a musician, especially on a project for radio. We met and found inevitably that we had many things in common - he had studied at Croydon Art College with Bruce Maclean at about the time I was teaching in the Environmental Design department; there were details in his iconography which mirrored my passion for Twin Peaks (the recurring dwarf, the patterned floors) and so on. Coincidentally in 1992 I found myself devising a project for the Chateau d'Oiron in France only to find that Juan had a piece in a collective work already installed there, the Jardin Bestarium - his "siffleur" (theatrical prompter) yet another example of the dwarf, and in the same year we both, along with Cristina Iglesias (his wife) contributed to the Seville exhibition Los Ultimos Dias, designed as a counterbalance to the potentially excessive millennium celebrations already in the offing.

The idea that Juan had in mind for our collaboration was for us to create a series of pieces for radio. Naturally the idea of working with a sculptor in a non-visual medium was interesting and challenging, especially when it emerged that what we would be dealing with was the idea of describing actions which  themselves cause visual illusion and trickery, and placing them in some kind of broadcasting framework.

Our discussion about radio resurrected my long-standing interest in the work of Glenn Gould, whose highly original approach to recording techniques in record production was paralleled by a vision of radio as a creative medium ("Radio as Music"). I would place the piece that we made together - A Man in a Room, Gambling - as one of the most highly enjoyable projects that I have worked on, and for both of us it represented a mature and clearly thought through collaboration.

The original version gave us a series of short recorded pieces, ten in all, designed for radio broadcast. Juan read short texts, though each was expanded to fit a five-minute format, and I wrote string quartet accompaniments. Five of these programmes, in revised orchestrations for my ensemble, were eventually released on CD (A Man in a Room, Gambling, Point Music). We also started to perform them with Juan reading the texts live, and this was a new departure for him, and was something that made him extremely nervous but which he did with great professionalism and style. When we filmed one of these 5-minute pieces for the profile that German TV was making about me we also spoke about my idea for a chamber opera based on the life, and especially the dramatic last days, of the author of the book on card manipulation, S.W.Erdnase, which Juan used as the source for his texts. Juan was very interested in being involved with the design of this opera, which would feature live card manipulation among other things.

It makes me unbelievably sad to think now of his death. It is doubly sad because Juan was such a vitally alive person and the last occasions when I met with Juan and Cristina in June - first when they both came to the concert at the Purcell Room with my Tozai piece, and then again at the special dinner for Juan at the Tate Modern prior to the opening - were such great occasions. At the time Juan had been working incredibly hard on Double Bind, the Tate installation, as well as on the retrospective exhibition of his work to open in Washington in October 2001 and continue on to other US cities (Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago) over the next year or so.

After all the pressure that Juan had been under to complete the piece for Tate Modern, it was good to be able to spend time together in a relaxed environment. Juan was on good form and we talked about meeting up, after we would both have been away for the summer, to talk about my plan to issue all 10 of the original versions of A Man in a Room, Gambling, and also to develop the ideas we had spoken about for a chamber opera based on the last days of S.W. Erdnase (provisionally called Erdnase? Who was Erdnase?). His death put an end to this, but I will now go ahead with the release of the full set of A Man in a Room, Gambling on GB Records, of course working closely with his family and with James Lingwood from Artangel. I will also make the chamber opera at some time in the future.

Juan was an amazing person - probably the most generous and quixotic person I have ever met - and a wonderful artist. I think about him a lot and will miss him dreadfully.


It was some small consolation to be able to take an active part in the memorial event at the Tate Modern on September 30th, where many people spoke about Juan. Bill Hawkes and I played a version of The North Shore (viola and piano) as well as the piece which Alberto Iglesias - Cristina's brother and a fine composer - had written after Juan's death Lacrimae for Juan. This was originally for viola solo, but Alberto added a piano part when he knew that I would be playing piano that evening. Bill also played the adagio from Bach's G minor violin sonata (transcribed for viola, in C minor). I add the full programme below.

Memorial Evening for Juan Muñoz (Turbine Hall, Tate Modern)


Sunday September 30 2001

6.30 PM Doors open  Guests arrive through Main Entrance

Monteverdi  Fourth Book of Madrigals (recorded)

7.00 PM Tribute begins

John Berger       

Sir Nicholas Serota          

James Lingwood

Gavin Bryars: The North Shore

(Piano: Gavin Bryars Viola:  Bill Hawkes)

Juliao Sarmento

Richard Noble

Neal Benezra

Vicente Todoli

Bach:  Adagio from G minor Violin Sonata  (transcribed for viola)

(Bill Hawkes Viola)

Louise Neri

Adrian Searle        

Alberto Iglesias      


Alberto Iglesias: Lacrimae for Juan 

Piano: Gavin Bryars

Viola:  Bill Hawkes




Posted by: Gavin | 24 February 2011 - 12:29pm

Gavin's note

On March 5th we will finally put together the whole of the Anáil Dé project, which Iarla O'Lionaird and I have worked on for over three years. Anáil Dé, which translates as "The Breath of God", is based on settings of Old Irish spiritual texts dating from the 8th to the 16th century. It is a collaboration between me and the great Irish singer Iarla O'Lionáird, the finest Irish singer of his generation who, while working within the tradition of sean-nós, has also produced acclaimed work that fuses this tradition with contemporary music. Anáil Dé sets a number of texts in an early form of Gaelic, chiefly from a collection of poetry called Lón Anama ("food for the soul"). The five-part accompanying ensemble are all members of my ensemble: electric guitarist James Woodrow; violas Nick Barr and Morgan Goff; cellist Nick Cooper; and myself on double bass. 

Iarla will also sing a number of traditional sean-nós songs. Included as part of Anáil Dé is a 16th century lament, Tuirimh Mhic Fhinin Dhuibh, which I arranged and which is the first piece we did together - for Real World in 2005.

Apart from being a great singer, Iarla is also a good friend....

There is a video from a rehearsal of one of the songs in Limerick (2009)