Anthony Gilbert

Composition for me is a compulsion. Since my youth, I’ve heard so much really bad music forced upon the helpless listener that by my early twenties the need to at least provide an alternative became overwhelming. I’m not aiming to compete with the mighty composers of our time – it’s composition, not competition, that drives my imagination. Nor, despite accusations I’ve heard levelled against composers of my approach, should I be regarded as ‘elitist’. There is nothing wrong with trying to set high standards, or to challenge, in any of the arts. A further accusation, of course, is of ‘amateurism’, because like many other composers in my field I compose whether commissioned to do so or not. I flatly refute this accusation; my approach to composition is completely professional at every level. Further, unlike some colleagues, I do not respond to unpaid ‘commissions’.

An essential part of my philosophy is ‘looking outwards’. Contemporary British ‘classical’ music now has become very in-turned, cautious, anxious not to stray too far into alien territory. Mine, by contrast, explores a range of non-European ideas and cultures, as well as those of, particularly, France and Spain. I grew up a polyglot, and see no reason to shut the doors which that background opened to me: a background to a vast and rich ‘other’ landscape. This is not being ‘perverse’, pace the view of one well-known media commentator.

Ultimately, for me, the only honest thing to do in composing is to write straight from the heart and guts, whilst closely involving the brain. Trying to assess what my audience would like to hear, to be ‘accessible’, would to me seem cheap and patronising; it would also in the final analysis be pointless, since an audience consists of a body of individuals, each with his or her own perceptions, likes and needs. This music should be found stimulating, rich and new, not easy-peasy. One is not putting out fodder for cattle. AG

Forthcoming performances

Festival of music by Anthony Gilbert and Adam Gorb, 20th-21st June 2018,

Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

Works by Gilbert as follows:

1.15 pm 20th June (performers tbc):  

Six of the Bestiary for Saxopbone quartet

Moonfaring for Cello & Marimba 

7.30 pm 20th June, RNCM New Ensemble

Dark Singing, Dancing Light for bassoon and strings

Encantos, 2010 for soprano and ensemble

La Douceur for ensemble (world première)

2pm, 21st June (performers for first 2 pieces tbc)

The Flame has Ceased (in memory of John McCabe) for trio

HumDance for string trio (world première)

Return of the St Louis for wind trio (Trio Volant)




Gilbert handled the instrument with an inventiveness that begs the question why more composers haven’t delved beyond its deceptive simplicity. Not just microtones, but singing through the recorder, finger vibrato and glissandi are absorbed into the work quite unselfconsciously. The last of the five movements, a rapid moto perpetuo, has the bass recorder deliberately over-blown to produce a constant stream of chords and harmonics.

Like his mentor, Gilbert has harnessed a wide spectrum of folk influences from Balinese gamelan to Japanese ritual lament, for his own distinctive purposes. To have made something so individual from something so rooted in tradition without bowing to current fads or fashions is commendable. Apart from Turner, Martin Roscoe and his players presented the work with a mixture of ease and excitement which suggests that this is an avenue the Camerata might well investigate further when the Haydn Symphonies run out.” Geoffrey Thomason, Guardian

Towards Asavari “…penetrates the essentials of its raga-based material… This is music of considerable spirituality, rather more potent stuff than much of today’s skin-deep mysticism.” BBC Music Magazine

Rose luisante …a ten-minute piece of beguiling beauty, its slowly-refracting harmonies sensuous, it variations on a curling chant haunted by Eastern modes and spectral, toccata-like dances” Times

On beholding a rainbow is a piece of great lyrical beauty and one of the great violin concertos of the late 20th century…for all its technical complexity Gilbert’s music is first and foremost of great expressive strength.” Hubert Culot

Igorochki “The spare instrumentation is perfectly judged to allow the recorder to be heard in this playful music…Unique, and surely one of the most treasurable new recorder concertos; it should be played everywhere that a cimbalom player can be found.” Musical Pointers