New book and recordings celebrate Birtwistle at 80

5 June 2014

Recent months have seen many welcome releases for admirers of Harrison Birtwistle and his music, with a new book and several recordings to celebrate his 80th birthday in July.

Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks – A conversation diary with Fiona Maddocks was released by Faber and Faber in May. Interviewed over six months in 2013, Harrison Birtwistle talks openly to distinguished writer and critic Fiona Maddocks and offers rare insights into the challenges and rewards that have shaped his life and work.

Read extracts from the book on The Guardian a full and detailed review in The Spectator.

“Running like an interrupted endless melody through this utterly engaging set of conversations with Fiona Maddocks is Birtwistle’s ongoing work on his new piano concerto. We are offered rare and privileged access to the composer’s routine, to his daily struggles with ideas, materials and himself. Maddocks shapes a beautiful narrative across the turning seasons, punctuated by the ever-changing fate of Harry’s quince tree.” – Jonathan Cross for Sinfini

In February Signum Classics released an overview of Birtwistle’s choral music conducted by Nicholas Kok and featuring the BBC Singers, Nash Ensemble and baritone Roderick Williams. Spanning works from 1965 to The Moth Requiem which was premiered in late 2012.

“This vital new collection of choral works offers a handsome snapshot of one of England’s foremost living composers, Harrison Birtwistle, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in July. Mr. Birtwistle’s characteristic melodic angularity and rhythmic complexity are duly represented in six pieces written between 1965 and 2012, including two strikingly evocative recent triumphs — the buoyantly mystic “Ring Dance of the Nazarene” and the shadowy, haunting “Moth Requiem” — with all of it sung supremely well.” - Steve Smith in The New York Times

Released in April 2014, cellist Adrian Brendel and friends have recorded some of Birtwsitle’s recent chamber music for ECM Records, including his Niedecker Settings for soprano (Amy Freston) and recent Piano Trio.

“Approaching his 80th birthday in July, Sir Harrison Birtwistle is still regarded as an uncompromisingly dissonant modernist, but this gripping disc of fairly recent chamber and vocal music is unexpectedly playful, tender, mysterious, mellow, sparse and elegiac. The performers are top notch and the interpretations intense and cogent.” Richard Morrisson in The Times

Finally, Gawain received a welcome release in May in a new edition by NMC. Recorded during the 1994 revival at Covent Garden, this disc captures the second version of the opera with a list of stellar performers including Sir John Tomlinson and Francois Le Roux.

“Howarth and his fine cast provide a definitive experience.” – Andrew Clark for The Financial Times

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