Morgan Hayes (b.1973)

Morgan HayesBorn in 1973, Morgan Hayes reflects the cultural pluralism of his generation in his open and relaxed attitude to many kinds of musical expression. At the same time, he has pursued a single-minded artistic vision that has won him admirers from among the ranks of enthusiasts for modernism as well as those of the broader musical community, and an impressive list of performances to date, in Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and the USA, as well as in the United Kingdom.

A composer since the age of ten, he had already confidently laid the foundations of his own musical style by the time he won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995, following studies with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. From each of these teachers he had acquired distinctive skills. Yet it is arguable that the essential decorum of his music – its innate sense of rhythmic poise and melodic profile – is already present in youthful essays such as Only Jesting for piano (1991) or Snapshots (1994). Intensified through refinement of detail and of structure, it blossomed in his first widely acknowledged scores for ensemble, Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the former evoking through an idiosyncratic blending of microtonality and exuberant rhythmical prose the harshly bright landscape of Israel, the latter a condition of matter graphically portrayed in musical terms likewise uniquely the composer’s own.

Since then, in a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, Hayes has shaped and extended his musical vision to encompass a diversity of forms and expressive modes within a highly original musical language. For the glutinous aspect of Viscid, Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, substituted brightness and verve, echoes of which may be heard in the raw vibrations of Slippage, one of four remarkable pieces composed and premiered in 1999. Though separately conceived, together they amount to a summative statement of Hayes’s still-developing language: languidly floating in Alluvial, with dominant timbres of piccolo and E flat clarinet; unstable and explosive in Divided Nettings; and light and luminous with a streak of obsessive insistency in Buoy. Add to these the blend of unusual colours in Trio (2000) for piano, violin and bass clarinet, and the intriguing ‘mixed double’ of contrabassoon and mandolin with strings in Balustrades (2001), plus the exuberant textual exchanges of two works for flexible orchestration premiered in 2000, Boaz and Dislocated Chorales, and the picture emerges of a composer whose breadth of imagination is a continuing source of fascination and musical discovery.

An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed an impressive oeuvre of solo music that brilliantly exploits the instrument’s potential as catalyst and confessional in both intimate and virtuoso manner. Outstanding contemporary soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell have each identified with facets of its wit, humour, nostalgia and playful energy, qualities also richly present in the piano parts of two vocal works, No Glints in It (2000) written for soprano Loré Lixenberg, and My Compass (2001), for soprano Sarah Leonard. An admirer of the quixotic artistry of Glenn Gould, not least his recording of the Goldberg Variations, Hayes in several keyboard works has turned to the music of Bach and that of other baroque masters including Rameau (in Le Lardon) and Purcell (in Weaving) as source-material for creative fission. This impulse for exchange and interchange with a strongly contrasting musical presence relates, in turn, to Hayes’s fascination with the art of keyboard improvisation, and its extension to the applied musics of stage, dance and film.

As 2001–2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with the distinguished photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival. In a continuing engagement with the visual arts, Hayes also provided music for the exhibition Jacqueline Morreau: Reflections on Water Music at the Morley Gallery in summer 2003 and further extended his range of reference with an iridescent transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s ‘Ether Festival’ in March of that year.

Meanwhile, the successful premieres and recordings of the clarinet concerto Dark Room by Mark van de Wiel and the London Sinfonietta at the 2003 Bath Festival, and the violin-and-piano duo Opera, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic of that name and written for Darragh Morgan ( and Mary Dullea, signalled a new phase in the composer’s creative development. Lute Stop for solo piano was premiered by Sarah Nicolls in December 2003 as part of the BMIC’s ‘Cutting Edge’ season, and in August 2005, at the BBC Promenade Concerts, the composer’s debut orchestral work Strip, played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Joseph Swensen, was heard for the first time. Two other major works were heard the following year: the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by the young Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki, and Senedd Sound, specially written for outdoor performance at Richard Rogers’ new Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff, as the focus of the 2006 ‘Urban Legacies’ conference.

The creative use of space as an element of musical form – in this case the unique interior of Christ Church, Spitalfields – was also the inspiration for Original Version, premiered in June 2007. The same month also saw Hayes’s first contribution to the distinctively English medium of the string orchestra, with Futurist Manifesto, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales concluded in 2008 with Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter.

February 2009 saw the first performance of a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground, at the Artrix, Bromsgrove. In April, Dictionary of London, part of the NMC Songbook, was premiered at Kings Place, London, also the venue in June for the premiere of Shatner’s Bassoon, commissioned by Endymion as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations. E Vesuvio Monte, an account of the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79, was premiered in June 2010 at the Aldeburgh Festival by the vocal group Exaudi.

© 2010 Stainer & Bell Ltd

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