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GWYN PRITCHARD

Biography

Note: A brief biography suitable for concert programmes, publicity, etc is available here

 

Gwyn Pritchard was born in 1948, started composing at the age of twelve, and in 1966 entered the Royal Scottish Academy of Music where he studied the 'cello and composition.  During his student years he wrote a Viola Concerto, and a number of works that still receive regular performances, most notably Music for Doublebass & Harp (included on a portrait CD on the Sargasso label), and Five Miniatures for Solo Violin.  After a short period as Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral School he worked as a freelance 'cellist in London, and was then employed by the BBC, firstly as an orchestral 'cellist, and later to be the subject of a documentary film, Young Composer, for which he was commissioned to write Spring Music. 

For a brief period he divided his time between composing and working as a ‘cellist, but in the late 1970s, after performances of Objects In Space and Mercurius at London's South Bank brought his work to the attention of a wider public, he decided to commit himself exclusively to composition and conducting.  Since then much of Pritchard's compositional activity has been based outside the UK.

In 1979 Nephalauxis was performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival.  This was the beginning of a fruitful musical relationship with many Polish musicians and festivals that was to develop over the following decade, culminating in his being a Featured Composer alongside Lutoslawski at the International New Music Week held in Southampton.  Several of his works were performed at the festival, including the première by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra of the major orchestral piece La Settima Bolgia

In 1982 he founded Uroboros Ensemble which includes some of Britain's leading instrumentalists, and since then he has composed several pieces for the group, including Moondance, Lollay-Lollay, Chamber Concerto, Madrigal, and Features and Formations.  As their conductor he continues to perform and broadcast with them in Britain and abroad, and as their Artistic Director has commissioned several new works, and introduced much unfamiliar music to British and other audiences in Europe.

Since the early 1990s Pritchard has enjoyed an ongoing association with leading instrumentalists based in Switzerland (mostly in Basel) for whom he has composed several substantial pieces: Janus, Wayang, Break Apart, Demise (which involved him for the first time in electronics), culminating in the 'cello concerto The Fruit of Chance and Necessity which was performed in Basel at the 2004 ISCM World New Music Days.  His light-hearted theatrical birthday tribute to the Basel Percussion Trio Das Mysterium der Heiligen Dreifatligket was incorporated into La Revue Burlesque by the famous Teatro Dimitri which toured in numerous countries in the late 1990s.  In 2008, to celebrate Pritchard's sixtieth birthday, the Basel Symphony Orchestra promoted a concert which, included two of his works, and in 2009 the bassoon quartet Quadriga toured Conflux extensively in Switzerland.  In 2015 the percussion ensemble Decibells commissioned Earthcrust II, and in 2016 Ensemble Ö! gave a substantial portrait concert in Chur which included five of his works.  Pritchard has also conducted Swiss groups including The Basel Soloists touring Britain and Canada, and Ensemble Interplay in Italy.

Italy has also figured prominently in Pritchard's career.  In 2003 he founded the Reggello International Festival of Contemporary & Classical Music in Tuscany, and as Artistic Director invited ensembles and soloists from many parts of the world to participate, often programming music which is seldom heard in Italy.  He also directed the RIF Composers' Competition, hosted by the festival.  In 2008, to mark his sixtieth birthday, a major concert series in Florence selected Pritchard's music for performance alongside the work of Elliott Carter, whose hundredth birthday was being celebrated; in subsequent years the same promoters continued to include Pritchard's work regularly in their summer concert series.  Other significant performances in Italy include Nightfall, commissioned by Ex Novo Ensemble under Claudio Ambrosini and performed in Venice in 2011.

Since the early years of this century Pritchard has received a considerable number of commissions and performances in Germany and Austria, including Song for Icarus, Ariel Dreaming, Colouring In and Gravity.  Subsequently, his music has been represented at numerous German festivals and concert series, including Musikfabrik in Cologne, several festivals in Berlin (the home of Pritchard's main publisher, Verlag Neue Musik) and other German cities from Thuringia to the Rhineland.  Portrait concerts have been given in the Austrian city of Salzburg by the Österreichisches Ensemble für Neue Musik, the piano trio Res being specially composed for the occasion, and repeated at the Wien Modern festival.

2018 was Pritchard's 70th birthday year, an occasion marked extensively in Germany.  The new orchestral piece Forest was premiered in Weimar by the Jenaer Philharmonie under Markus Frank, having been commissioned by the Weimar Spring Days for Contemporary Music, a festival to which, since 2008, Pritchard has returned regularly, as composer, conductor and competition judge.  There were further birthday celebrations in Germany, with events in Bonn, Essen, Cologne, Duisburg, Berlin, Mannheim and Erfurt; these included performances of the specially commissioned works Bagatelle, Realms Apart and Quintet. Beyond Germany there were notable celebratory events in Bergen, Norway, in Daegu, S Korea, and in London, including a substantial portrait concert of nine pieces, performed by Pritchard's own group, Uroboros Ensemble.

Pritchard's music is performed around the world, and has been represented at major international festivals such as Warsaw Autumn, Wien Modern, Huddersfield, ISCM World Music Days, International New Music Week, Weimarer Frühjahrstage für zeitgenössische Musik, Daegu Contemporary Music Festival (S Korea), in Berlin at the Zepernicker Randspiele, Klangwerkstatt, Pyramidale, Potsdam Intersonanzen and numerous others in Europe and beyond.  It has been performed in many European countries, in the USA, Canada, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and of course in Britain.  It has also been widely broadcast, often under his own direction, on many radio and television networks, including the BBC, who  commissioned The Firmament of Time in 2008 for performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  Other international commissions have included Harmoniemusik for the Dutch group Orkest 'de ereprijs', In the Silence of Turned Earth for soprano and violin soloists with string orchestra for the Sofia Soloists in Bulgaria, Kommos for Ensemble Eclat of S Korea, and Nighfall for Ex Novo Ensemble of Venice.  

In 2013, along with his friend, composer Andrea Cavallari, Pritchard founded London Ear, a festival of contemporary music.  It has presented performers and composers from many countries, and also included the world premieres of Pritchard's Three Songs of Mass and Motion and Evolution, performed by the London Sinfonietta. 

Since 2008 Pritchard has taught composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, which conferred on him the title of 'Professor' in 2017.  As a teacher and lecturer he has been invited to many academic institutions, including The Royal Academy of Music, The Birmingham Conservatoire, The Basle Conservatoire, The Eastman School of Music and several universities in Britain and American.  He has also taught composition extensively to private students and in workshops in Britain and abroad.  He has written, introduced and participated in programmes for BBC Radio 3, and has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of musical publications.

© R. Whitson, 2018

 

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