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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 00:44 GMT
The modern music maestro
Tate Modern gallery
Sir Harrison composed the fanfare for the opening of the Tate Modern gallery
Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who has been made a Companion of Honour, is a leader in the world of modern classical composition.

His work is often seen as assured and dramatic but can be difficult for the uninitiated, due to its discordant and atonal qualities.

Born in Accrington, Lancashire, he began composing at the age of 11.

His proficiency as a clarinettist won him a scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1952.

There he made contact with a highly talented group of contemporaries including Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle
Sir Harrison Birtwistle, photo courtesy of Etcetera records
Influenced by contemporary music, they formed the New Music Group, dedicated to performing works of the European avant garde.

Sir Harrison's first published work was Refrains And Choruses for wind quintet in 1957, when he was working as both teacher and composer.

In 1965 he decided to concentrate solely on his writing, and sold his clarinets, introducing electronic sounds into his work by the end of the decade.

He used these in the The Mask Of Orpheus, which took him more than a decade to write, from 1973 to 1984. It was staged by The English National Opera in 1986.

He went on to become musical director of the National Theatre.

Heckling

He is currently director of composition at the Royal College of Music in London, the Henry Purcell professor of composition at King's College London, and composer in residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the South Bank Centre.

He is a sponsor of the Shadow Arts Council, set up in 1999 by theatre director Sir Peter Hall to champion the arts and to challenge the government's arts policy decisions.

Sir Harrison, who lives in Wiltshire, recently composed a special fanfare for the royal opening of the Tate Modern gallery in London.

His work is not always universally accepted.

Sir Benjamin Britten walked out of the premiere of his Punch And Judy in 1968, while Gawain faced organised heckling by traditionalists at Covent Garden in 1994.

Sir Harrison's most recent works include Exody, premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim, and Panic.

The second received a high profile premiere at the Last Night of the 1995 BBC Proms with an estimated worldwide audience of 100 million.


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30 Dec 00 | Entertainment
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