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About Michael Nyman
Michael Nyman was born in Stratford, East London on 23 March 1944. He was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1961-64 - academic studies with Dr Peter Fletcher, composition with Alan Bush and harpsichord with Geraint Jones. Between 1964-67 Nyman was a Ph.D student in Thurston Dart’s newly-founded music department at King’s College, London, where he studied both popular English baroque music and the principles of scholarly editing which enabled him to produce the first modern edition of Purcell’s Catches (Stainer and Bell, 1967) and a new edition of Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (Eulenberg, 1973). At Dart’s recommendation, Nyman spent the academic year 1965/6 as a British Council exchange student collecting folk music in Romania.
In the mid 1960s Nyman stopped composing, partly through his association with the so-called ‘Manchester School’ - Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle - which led, directly, to his writing the libretto for Birtwistle’s opera Down by the Greenwood Side in 1969 and, indirectly, through the musicologist David Drew, who was part of the Goehr circle, to his becoming music critic to The Spectator in 1968. It was in that year that he casually used the term ‘minimal music’ for the first time and in the following 10 years he both reflected and shaped a certain school of though in contemporary music. (Most of his important reviews, articles and interviews, from The Spectator, New Statesman, The Li stener and Studio International have been published in Michael Nyman: Collected Writings by Ashgate in 2013). In 1974, as a spin- off from his journalistic work, Nyman published the still-classic book on new music, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond.
1976 was a key year in Nyman’s career. Through a commission from Birtwistle to write music for Goldoni’s Il Campiello, the opening production at the National Theatre, he became a composer again, and the Campiello Band became the basis of the Michael Nyman Band, which for almost four decades has been the laboratory for much of his music. Two soundtracks composed in that year can now be seen as symbolising the populist and structuralist poles of Nyman’s subsequent work: Robert Young’s Keep It Up Downstairs and Peter Greenaway’s 1-100, the unused, replaced, soundtrack for which appeared on Decay Music, on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records. Needless to say, it is Nyman’s collaboration with Greenaway, as fellow-artists rather than as filmmaker/soundtrack composer, that has brought Nyman’s music into prominence, from The Draughtsman’s Contract of 1983 to Prospero’s Books, their last collaboration from as long ago as 1991. Nyman has subsequently worked with Patrice Leconte, Jane Campion (The Piano), Neil Jordan (The End of the Affair), Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland, The Claim and A Cock And Bull Story and Andrew Niccol’s increasingly relevant Gattaca in 1997.
More recently his work as a soundtrack composer has confined itself to silent films from the late 1920’s: Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice, new soundtracks to three Dziga Vertovs - notably Man with a Movie Camera, The Eleventh Year and A Sixth Part of the World and, in 2011 Battleship Potemkin. The majority of Nyman’s work, however, was written for the concert hall and the opera house: a bunch of operas, starting with The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat in 1986, through Facing Goya (2000) to Man and Boy: Dada (2003), five string quartets, eight concertos and, since the end of 2012 he has been working on a network of 19 symphonies.
His 10 song cycles take texts from Shakespeare, Neruda, Octavio Paz, Paul Celan, Milton, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Mexican ‘folk’ poets, amongst others. He has written scores for a number of choreographers, including Lucinda Childs, Stephen Petronio, Karine Saporta and Shobana Jeyasingh. He has also worked with musicians from outside the western/classical/experimental traditions, such as the Orqestra Andalusi de Tetouan, Rajan and Sajan Misra, U. Shrinivas, Estrella Morente, Seijin Noborakawa, Ute Lemper, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Paolo Fresu, Mike Giles, the Flying Lizards, Dagmar Krause, Sting, Damon Albarn, David McAlmont and Alva Noto.
Nyman produced his first non-musical artwork in 1973 (a limited edition artist’s book, Bentham and Hooker, published by Felipe Ehrenberg’s Beau Geste Press) and his first film, Love Love Love (edited by Peter Greenaway to All You Need Is Love in 1967.) In 2008, he published his first photography book Sublime (Volumina Editions), and his first major exhibition of film and photography was held at the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill in 2009. His 80 or so short films, collected under the title Cine Opera, have been growing on a more or less daily basis since 2008. He has also collaborated with several contemporary artists, including George Brecht, Bruce McLean, Mary Kelly, Carsten Nicolai and Kultlug Ataman.
In 2010 his his first long form film NYman with a Movie Camera was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. This is a continuing project in which all the images of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera are replaced by images shot by Nyman on a scrupulously strict basis both in terms of subject matter and timing. An eleven- screen installation of NYman was featured at the Edinburgh Festival and Art Basel Miami in 2013 and at the Zona Maco art fair in Mexico City in March 2014. It will travel to Tufts University in Boston in January 2015.
2014 was also the year of Nyman’s 70th birthday celebrations and he is continuing his plan, devised in December 2012 of writing a series of 19 symphonies. and three major commissions will be performed: Symphonic and Symphony No 11: Hillsborough Memorial has been commissioned by the 2014 Liverpool Biennial to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough disaster and will be performed by the RLPO in Liverpool Cathedral on 5 July 2014, with mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge and Liverpool Philharmonic Youth and Training Choirs, conducted by Josep Vicent. Other commissions for this year are Aztecs in Liverpool (a visual companion piece to Hillsborough Memorial); War Work based on visual material from First World War, and Symphony No. 12: Habla de la ciudad at the Cervantino International Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico, on 12 October Guanajuato to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Octavio Paz.
Michael Nyman’s music has been released by Virgin, EMI, Decca, Warner Classics and Sony and is now represented exclusively by his own record label, MN Records.