Anthony Gilbert


ANTHONY GILBERT was born in London in 1934. Initially working as clerk-translator and interpreter, he first studied piano at Trinity College of Music under Denis Holloway, then took up serious composition in his early twenties, studying first with Mátyás Seiber, then with Anthony Milner and Alexander Goehr at Morley College, London, and later with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood. He first attracted public attention in the 1960s with a series of brilliant virtuoso works for small ensembles, performed in the international festivals. Notable among these are Brighton Piece and Nine or Ten Osannas, the latter now commercially available on CD, and, for members of The Fires of London, Spell Respell for Basset Clarinet and Piano, and The Incredible Flute Music. During this time he began a close association with Schotts publishers, working his way up from warehouseman to Chief Editor of contemporary music and Head of Production. Leaving London for the North of England in 1970, first as Granada Arts Fellow at Lancaster University and then to teach Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, he devoted the next ten years to writing larger works. These included an acclaimed Symphony, Ghost and Dream Dancing for orchestra - in effect a second Symphony - and two operas: The Scene-Machine for Staatstheater Kassel and The Chakravaka-Bird, a BBC Jubilee commission specifically for radio transmission. Among works for contemporary chamber orchestra, his Crow-Cry for the London Sinfonietta and Towards Asâvari for solo piano and chamber orchestra, a BBC commission for Peter Lawson and the Manchester Camerata, attracted particular attention and now available on an NMC CD. During the 1980s, largely as a result of extended periods of work in Australia where he headed the Composition Department at the New South Wales State Conservatorium, he focused once again on compositions featuring solo performers - of these, Moonfaring for cello and percussion has been particularly often performed as a concert piece and with dancers, and is now available on a CD of works performed by Psappha, Manchester’s leading contemporary ensemble. Beastly Jingles, the first of a trilogy of works based on an imaginary Chinese bestiary from J. L. Borges, has been recorded by Jane Manning and Jane’s Minstrels on the NMC label. A good deal of his work during the late 80s was for the virtuoso recorder player John Turner, and included the extraordinary concerto Igórochki, now out on CD. From this period also date Dream Carousels for wind, Gilbert’s most-performed work, also on CD, and the beautiful orchestral song-cycle Certain Lights Reflecting, both inspired by writings of the Tasmanian poet Sarah Day. Certain Lights Reflecting was premièred by the late Susan Chilcott and the CBSO, has been performed by Merlyn Quaife and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and was issued in March 1995 on an NMC CD in a superb performance by Susan Bickley and the BBC SO conducted by Andrew Davis.

This productive decade also included a second and a third String Quartet. The latter, commissioned for the Arditti and subtitled super hoqueto ‘David’, is another frequently-played work, now commercially issued on CD. In the 1990s Gilbert again concentrated on virtuoso pieces, this time featuring percussion. Ziggurat, for percussion and bass clarinet, commissioned by the Duo Contemporain, made a particularly strong impression. Further architecturally-inspired works followed, notably a series relating to the great rose windows and labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral: Réflexions, Rose nord, Sinfin and Worldwhorls, also for the Duo Contemporain, and Os for oboe and vibraphone, commissioned by Melinda Maxwell. The major work of the 1990s has been his highly-acclaimed Violin Concerto On beholding a Rainbow, commissioned by the BBC and first performed in January 1999 by Anthony Marwood and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Rumon Gamba. A more recent performance is also due to be released on CD in 2005 by NMC. His last work of the decade was Vers de Lune, a song-cycle for Alison Wells and Psappha to words by Aloysius Bertrand. Since then a short work for string orchestra, Another Dream Carousel, has been completed for the Northern Chamber Orchestra for their 2000-2001 season, and a longer one, Sheer, for the English Chamber Orchestra for 2004-5. Further string works this decade include a fourth String Quartet and most recently Palace of the Winds for 11 string soloists, commissioned by the Goldberg Ensemble for their 2004 Contemporary Music tour. Unrise for 10 wind was written as a substantial birthday gift to Timothy Reynish in recognition of 25 years of fine performances, and Rose luisante for the brilliant young accordionist Milos Milivojevic. A song-cycle to Spanish texts, Encantos, has just been completed for the soprano Marie Vassiliou and Endymion.

Throughout his professional life, Gilbert has been closely involved in the promotion of performances of new music, with several long periods on the committees of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, the ICA Music Section, the British and Sydney Sections of the ISCM and the New Music Panel of North West Arts. He was Founder Member, Chairman and Artistic Director of New Music Forum, Manchester, and Founder and Artistic Director of AKANTHOS, the new music ensemble of the RNCM.

Until his retirement at the end of 1999 Anthony Gilbert was Head of Composition and Contemporary Music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Ten years later he gave up teaching altogether, with much regret.

More recent works have included a string trio entitled HumDance, dedicated to his long-standing partner, Raymonde Sassoon, a fifth String Quartet, a second version of Encantos made for Marie Vassiliou and Ensemble 10/10 and re-named Encantos 2010, a single-movement piece for cello and piano called Rapprochement commissioned by York Late Music for Simon Turner and Richard Casey, and a range of shorter pieces for solo and duo including two pieces for double bass: Songline and Outflow, and two for guitar: Dançando con Flores and Pilbara Park. A further song-cycle for Marie Vassiliou and piano, Peace Notes, to poems by Sarah Day has recently been completed, and the largest work from this later period is an eighteen-minute Dance-concerto for orchestra, sub-titled Groove by Chants, dedicated in deep gratitude to Stephen Plaistow.

More recent CD releases include the complete piano works, recorded by Richard Casey, Ian Buckle, Nicky Losseff and Panayiotis Demopoulos on Prima Facie PFCD 003, 007 and NMC D181, also Palace of the Winds performed by the Goldberg Ensemble directed by Malcolm Layfield (NMC D 174) and Doubles performed by Endymion, directed by Quentin Poole (NMC D 160). Réflexions, Rose nord has recently been released in New Zealand on Atoll ACD 212, performed by Andrew Uren and Lenny Sakofsky,and the two French song-cycles, Ondine and En Bateau, d’après Watteau are also now out on Prima Facie PFCD 004, performed by Lesley-Jane Rogers and ensemble.

Projects awaiting commissions are a short opera on pacifism and a chamber piece exploring the nature of face-to-face conflict and its resolution.

September 2012