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)


Posted by: Gavin | 3 February 2011 - 6:24pm

The Morrison Songbook sets texts by my long time collaborator Blake Morrison. Blake had written a number of poems intended to be set as madrigal texts for my First Book of Madrigals. Thirteen poems were used for that collection using those that were written from the male point of view. For a concert in London (November 2010) I re-wrote seven of these madrigals for tenor (John Potter) and members of my ensemble (James Woodrow, electric guitar; Morgan Goff, viola; Nick Cooper, cello; and myself on double bass). When we performed these songs again in Orléans some two months later, my other singer Anna Maria Friman was with us. She had taken time out from the ensemble when she was pregnant and came back after her twin boys were six months old. I decided to have two of the songs sung by her, which were not specifically male in orientation, and the others by John. These worked quite well and I remembered that, shortly after writing the madrigal poems, Blake had included them in his Selected Poems but alternated the male poems with female one. So I am now adding some of these other poems, for Anna, to give her six songs and John seven. The additional songs will be added later this year



Posted by: Gavin | 22 January 2011 - 7:58pm

1. BCGBCD18 Mercy and Grand

A live recording of Opera North's Project' on the songs of Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan from the ensemble's final concerts in Leeds at the end of its 2008 tour.

 UK Release April 2 2012


2. BCGBCD19 

Recording in the Faroe Islands of two works for solo voices, choir and chamber orchestra,following a performance in Nordic House, Torshavn, plus a short piece for choir to be recorded in February 2012..

The pieces are: From Egil's Saga, written in 2004 for the Faroese bass Rúni Brattaberg setting texts in old Icelandic by Egil Skalgrimmson; Trondúr í Gøtu, commissioned for the unveling of a statue of the 10th century Faroese hero in 2008, for Rúni Brattaaberg and Eivør Pálsdóttir (who will sing the principle part in my new opera on Marilyn Monroe to be premiered in January 2013); and Hitt Blinda Li∂i∂ (The Company of the Blind) for choir, guitar and double bass, setting a poem by the 20h century Faroese poet Christian Matras. The chamber orchestra is the Faroese ensemble Aldubáran and the choir is Eystanljo∂



This is planned to be an orchestral album featuring a live recording from Holland of The War in Heaven, a big piece for soprano (Anja-Nina Bahrmann), counter tenor (Maarten Engeltjes), choir and orchestra, conducted by Brad Lubman. It was recorded by Netherlands radio in the Mukiekgebouw, Amsterdam. I am in discussion with Mainz Opera House about the possibility of adding to this the Epilogue from my third opera G, recorded Mainz, with solo bass Hans-Otto Weiss and conducted by Gernot Sahler

4. BCGBCD21 Anail Dé

A project with Irish singer Iarla O'Lionaird - section on "Other Ensembles" for more information on this work.áil-dé


5. BCGBCD22 I Tatti Madrigals

Discussions are under way about recording, with Singer Pur, all the pieces that I have written as commissions for the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies, near Florence. These set texts by Petrach, Bronzino, Battiferri and Michelangelo Buonarotti il Giovane.




Posted by: Gavin | 5 January 2011 - 10:43am

The new project with Edouard Lock looks to the Baroque and involves a reworking of music from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, just as our previous collaboration, Amjad, took the Romantic ballet - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty as its source. As Edouard has said, baroque musical structures tend to lend themselves well to contemporary dance and offer points to which contemporary choreography can attach itself, while avoiding period mannerisms. Our very first collaboration, 2 in 1995, had looked at a different area of the baroque, putting works by Rameau alongside music that I had written related to that music, scored for traditional and amplified harpsichords.

The music is played live by a small ensemble, four players, directed by pianist Njo Kong Kie, who also directed Amjad. The other instruments are viola (Jennifer Thiessen, who also performed with Amjad), cello (Jean-Christophe Lizotte) and saxophones (Ida Toninato - who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, though I am replacing the tenor with baritone sax, as this is Ida's preferred instrument - and mine!).

In addition to the dancers of La La La Human Steps there is also a guest soloist for a number of performances - Diana Vishneva, the great (arguably the greatest) Russian ballerina of our time.


It opened in Amsterdam, January 5th 2011, and elsewhere in Europe until mid-March. After that it will tour extensively throughout the world over the next couple of years. See Schott Calendar on my web site for details.