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Martyn Harry


Associate Professor

Professor Martyn Harry is a contemporary classical composer. He is Professor of Composition at the Music Faculty here in Oxford, as well as Annie Barnes Fellow in Music at St Anne’s College Oxford and the John Bennett Lecturer in Music at St Hilda’s College, where he is the co-founder of the [email protected] Centre for Experimental Music.

Martyn Harry's most frequently-performed works include his early Heimat for double mixed chorus which was premiered by the BBC Singers under Stephen Jackson and later broadcast on BBC Radio 3´s "Music in Our Time"; Still Life for ensemble, which has been broadcast by Eos under Charles Hazlewood on Classic FM, BBC Radio 3, NDR 3 and WDR 3; Regenstimmen for solo harp, premiered in the Purcell Room as part of the PLG Young Artists Series and performed since throughout Europe; Fantasy Unbuttoned, which since its official world première from the London Sinfonietta under Markus Stenz at the State of the Nation has been broadcast numerous times on BBC Radio 3’s “Here and Now” programme; Digging Deeper, performed countless times and all over the world by Piano Circus; The Enigma Of Arrival, a powerful orchestral piece commissioned by Northern Sinfonia and premiered in the Sinfonia’s “Late Mix” series; George Meets Arnie For Tennis, which was recorded by The New Music Players for release on CD and received its English premiere at The Sage Gateshead; and Empress Quartet, which was premiered and toured throughout the Northern Arts throughout Great Britain by the Allegri Quartet.

Martyn won a music scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, studying composition with Alexander Goehr there and at the same time, privately, with Hans Keller. He completed his doctorate in composition at City University, where he was supervised by Simon Emmerson, Douglas Young and Robert Saxton. Martyn Harry won a Performers´ Rights Scholarship to participate on the Performance and Communications Studies Course under Peter Wiegold at the Guildhall School of Music in 1989-90, where he first developed his interest in Music Theatre. The year there culminated in the first performance of his music theatre work Flight [Icarus Drowning] for actors and ensemble to a libretto from Jonathan Fenton.

After that point he took part in the first performances of numerous music theatre works as an actor in both England and continental Europe, including the title roles of Peter Wiegold´s Malcolm and John Miles´ Bostin Slaggart, the role of "Darsteller" in Yves-Miro Malgoire´s Jandls großes e - eine Umsetzung, "Second Traffic Policeman" in his own work Signal Failure, and as a member of the audience in Bernhard König´s Talk for its performances in Cologne, East Berlin and Den Haag .

In 1990 Martyn Harry won a DAAD Scholarship to study with Professor Mauricio Kagel in Cologne and lived in Germany from 1990 to 1995. One of the first works arising out of this intensive study of music theatre with Kagel was the Two March Studies (1991) for actors and three ensembles, which received its première in the 1991 Rheinische Musikfest and was broadcast on WDR 3. Two March Studies was widely misunderstood. Its premiere coincided with the first day of the ground war of Operation Desert Storm, leading to criticism both publically and privately. Martyn’s Scholarship was not renewed and he found himself looking for paid employment in Germany.

In 1992 Martyn moved to Hamburg and joined the international recording company, Sony Classical. By the end of 1993 he had been appointed Executive Producer, New Music at Sony Classical, tasked with the job of launching a new music label (codename: ACML) in response to the success of composers such as Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki.

Martyn produced the first two breakthrough albums of Bang on a Can, Industry and Cheating Lying Stealing, as well as albums of music by Valentin Silvestrov, Howard Skempton, Geoff Smith, Nikolai Korndorf and Ensemble Bash. In 1995 Sony Classical shut down the German company, moving its headquarters to New York, and Martyn was transferred to London, before leaving the company in 1996. After a successful period in London as a freelance composer, Martyn became the Northern Arts Composer-in-Residence at Durham University in 2000, becoming Head of Composition there in 2003.

The demands of creating operas and music theatre works have encouraged Martyn to work closely with students on productions in a university environment (research-led teaching). By developing innovative new Opera and Music Theatre courses at Durham and Oxford, he has created eight ‘avant-garde’ operas for performance to children in schools in collaboration with CTC and Garsington Opera. He has also produced the UK premieres of Kagel’s Staatstheater and Cage’s Circus on Finnegans Wake. His longstanding collaboration with the children’s theatre companies CTC, Theatre Hullabaloo and Action Transport Theatre culminated in two national tours of his children’s opera My Mother Told Me Not To Stare in schools and theatres across the UK in 2010 and 2012.

His ‘instrumental theatre’ works include The End of the Line for three singers and four instrumentalists, which was premiered at the Huddersfield Festival; Keep The Plates Spinning for two percussionists, actors, ghetto blasters and applauding audience, performed by Three Strange Angels at BMIC Cutting Edge; Signal Failure for actors, ensemble and computer graphics, which has been performed many times in England, Holland and Germany, and revived at The Sage Gateshead in 2003; and the infamous Restraint for Handcuffed Pianist and pre-recorded tape, which has been broadcast twice on BBC Radio 3’s “Here and Now” programme, and performed throughout Britain. Martyn has also worked extensively in film and multi-media settings. He orchestrated the film scores for Imsomnia (Christopher Nolan), Spivs, Happy Here and Now as well as the choral music for The Descent.

Martyn’s most recent concert works include his powerful galgenhumoreske for orchestra which was premiered at the Barbican Centre in London; and At His Majesty’s Pleasure whose world premiere recording by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts was released on CD by Sforzando Records.

Martyn has just embarked on a new two-hour cycle of piano pieces, 48, for pianist Jonathan Powell. The official world premiere of the first of these piano pieces, the baseball-inspired Beltway Series, will took place in New York at Spectrum. Martyn now lives and works in Oxford with his wife, Emma, the dedicatee of his Wild Boar Quintet, and his eight year old son, Mo.

Martyn’s arrangement of Berg’s Bruchstücke has just been premiered at the Musikverein in Vienna by the Alban Berg Ensemble and broadcast on Austrian Radio. He is currently working on a new children’s opera, Vehicles, to be toured around the UK in October 2019, a choral work for Exaudi and a string quartet for the Villiers Quartet.

Last updated: Jul 2019