© Nick Miller
Brief Biography: Born in South Africa, but now an Irish citizen, Kevin Volans’ musical idiom has been shaped by an unusually diverse range of experiences, including studies with Stockhausen in Cologne, field trips to South Africa to study traditional music, his own involvement with the New Simplicity movement, his collection of contemporary art and African textiles, friendships with composers like Morton Feldman and Gerald Barry, as well as a love of virtuoso piano music which he performs, broadcasts and records. While having an easily recognised, unique voice, Volans’ music resists compartmentalisation. He is as comfortable working in conventional genres as embarking on innovative collaborations with artists of other disciplines such as novelist Bruce Chatwin, choreographers Jonathan Burrows, Siobhan Davies and Shobana Jeyasingh, and visual artists William Kentridge and Juergen Partenheimer. A committed modernist, he lives by the tenet: Nothing is given - there should be no received language.
For a complete biography, click here.
|Key Works: |
- She Who Sleeps with a Small Blanket
(1985; percussion solo)
- String Quartet No 1 ‘White Man Sleeps’
(1986; string quartet)
(1994; two pianos)
- String Quartet No 6
(2000; string quartet, taped string quartet)
- Trio Concerto (2005; cello, piano, violin, orchestra)
- Partenheimer (2008; ensemble)
- Symphony: Daar kom die Alibama (2010; orchestra)
- Piano Concerto No 3 (2011)
|Career Highlights: |
- 1986-9 Composer-in-Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast
- 1992 Kronos Quartet disc featuring White Man Sleeps reaches No 1 in classical charts
- 1993 premiere of The Man with Footsoles of Wind, Almeida Opera
- 1995 Piano Concerto commission from BBC Proms
- 1999 fiftieth birthday concert at London’s South Bank Centre
- 2001 international tour of Zeno at 4am, a dramatic collaboration with William Kentridge
- 2006 Commissioned by San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to write a piano concerto for Marc-André Hamelin
- 2008 Collaboration in the UK and Germany with Jurgen Partenheimer
- 2010 premiere of Symphony: Daar kom die Alibama at Edinburgh International Festival (festival commission)
- 2011 BBC Prom commission and premiere of Piano Concerto No 3
Critical Acclaim:One of the planet’s most distinctive and unpredictable voices.— Kyle Gann, Village Voice 1998One of the most remarkable musical minds of our time.— Christopher Ballantine, International Record ReviewA composer of staggering gifts.— Annette Morreau, The IndependentWhite Man Sleeps is a contemporary classic lasting a smooth 25 miutes.— Donald Hutera, The Times
Kevin Volans was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1949. After completing a B Mus at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg he went on to study in Cologne, principally with Karlheinz Stockhausen, (later becoming his teaching assistant) Mauricio Kagel (music theatre) and Aloys Kontarsky (piano).
In the mid-70’s his work became associated with the “Neue Einfachheit” (New Simplicity) – the beginnings of post-modernism in music. In 1979 following several field recording trips to Africa, he embarked on a series of pieces based on African compositional techniques which quickly established Volans as a distinctive voice on the European new music circuit. During this time he was active as a concert pianist and made several trips to Ireland to perform and later to visit friends.
In 1986 he was short-listed for the Head of Department for University College Cork. Despite not getting the job, his love of the country made him decide to settle in Ireland, and he took up a post as Composer-in–Residence in Belfast. In 1989 he moved to Donegal and applied for Irish citizenship. In 1994 his citizenship was granted.After moving to Ireland Kevin Volans began a productive collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. White Man Sleeps for string quartet (1986), Hunting: Gathering (1987) and The Songlines (1988) were all written for them, and given performances in festivals ranging from the Salzburg Festival to the Montreal Jazz Festival, Berliner Festwoche, Tokyo, Adelaide Festival, and New Music America, bringing his work to a very wide audience. The Kronos discs, White Man Sleeps and Pieces of Africa broke all records for string quartet disc sales – the latter was number one on the US Classical and World Music charts for 26 weeks, outselling all but Pavarotti.
In the 1990’s Volans gave increasing attention to writing for dance, collaborating with Siobhan Davies, Jonathan Burrows, Shobana Jeyasingh in Britain as well as numerous other companies around the world.
In 1999 the South Bank (London) hosted a fiftieth birthday celebration of his work in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. John Allison wrote in The Times :”When it comes to composers, only a few today could be called true originals, and Kevin Volans is one of them.”
Latterly, he has turned his attention to writing for orchestra and as well as collaborating with visual artists.
In 2009 for his 60th birthday celebrations, there were concerts in Dublin (Project Arts and IMMA), Madrid, London (the Wigmore Hall's "Kevin Volans Day"), and South Africa. Recent commissions include a piano concerto (no. 3) for Barry Douglas and the BBC Symphony (BBC Proms), a triple percussion concerto for SISU and the Kringkastensorkestret (Oslo), a new string quartet for the Callino quartet and 3 books of small piano pieces. In October his solo percussion concerto will be premiered in Stockholm by Jonny Axelsson and the KammerensembleN..Interview with Kevin Volans on WNYC