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Michael Nyman

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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.