Gavin Bryars


Arguably the most important British post-minimalist composer, this book celebrates Gavin Bryars’ 80th birthday by bringing together musicians, colleagues, and collaborators who have worked with him, each discussing one particular aspect of his work.






Arguably the most important British post-minimalist composer, Gavin Bryars has worked in classical music, jazz, free improvisation, minimalism, historicism, avant-garde, and experimental music. His style has evolved since his first piece, The Sinking of the Titanic (1969) and he remains a provocative yet accessible composer capable of working in a variety of different musical genres.

With a Foreword by Steve Reich, this book celebrates his 80th birthday by bringing together musicians, colleagues and collaborators who have worked with Bryars, each discussing one particular aspect of his work.



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About the Author

Virginia Anderson, who died unexpectedly in 2021, was born and studied in Southern California and specialised in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. The Experimental Music Catalogue was founded by her husband, the composer Christopher Hobbs, in 1969 and she and Hobbs created the Journal of Experimental Music Studies within it. Her work is widely published in academic journals. She also played clarinet, specialising in new works for E flat clarinet.

Martin Cotton was particularly involved with contemporary music as a producer at BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He has served on the committees of the SPNM, ISCM British Section, Park Lane Group and British Music Society, amongst others, and is a regular contributor to the BBC Music Magazine.

Mahan Esfahani is a harpsichord soloist, writer, and broadcaster active across the globe in both early and new music. He studied musicology at Stanford University before private studies culminating under the tutelage of the celebrated Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Ruzickova. He recorded Gavin Bryars’ After Handel’s Vesper in 2019 and premiered Bryars’ Harpsichord Concerto in 2023.

Anna Maria Friman is a Swedish singer, well-known as a member of Trio Mediæval. She gained a doctorate at York University on the modern performance of mediaeval music. Among many ensembles, she has performed with the vocal duo Red Byrd, the Estonian NYDD Ensemble and Collegium Vocale Gent.

Clarinettist Roger Heaton is a member of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble. He has played with the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Arditti and Kreutzer Quartets among many other leading groups. He regularly contributes to scholarly publications, has recorded CDs of contemporary solo repertory and is Emeritus Professor of Music at Bath Spa University.

Blake Morrison is a Yorkshire-born author who has published extensively in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: novels, poetry, memoirs, essays, libretti and plays. He is Professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Brian Morton is a Scottish writer, journalist and former broadcaster specialising in jazz and modern literature. He has worked as a presenter on BBC Radio 3 and other BBC networks. He was co-compiler of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, has written extensively on jazz for magazines and has written a biography of Miles Davis.

John Potter records for ECM and sang with both the Hilliard Ensemble and the Gavin Bryars Ensemble. His books include A History of Singing (with Neil Sorrell, Cambridge University Press), Tenor: History of a Voice and Song: a History in 12 Parts (both Yale University Press). He is Reader Emeritus at the University of York.

Audrey Riley has been active as a cellist in contemporary music since the 1980s. She has performed with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble since 2001 and is the dedicatee of Bryars’ Lauda (con sordino) and Tre Laude Dolce. A guest musician with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (2001-2011), she received her PhD in music performance from De Montfort University in 2021.

Dr Simon Strange is a trombone-playing music producer across a multitude of genres throughout his career. Simon works as a creative academic at Bath Spa University and released his first book, Blank Canvas: art school creativity from punk to new wave, in 2022.

David Wordsworth has at various times been a teacher, music publisher, promoter of composers, pianist, writer on music, and choral conductor. His association with Gavin Bryars goes back some 25 years, to begin with as his publisher, then as the conductor of several of his works, including a number written especially for him.

Leslie East is Editorial Consultant to Kahn & Averill and has contributed editorial support and advice to the publisher on various projects with particular responsibility for the revised edition of James Blades’ Percussion Instruments and their History and Giving Voice to My Music, conversations with composers of choral music.


Foreword by Steve Reich

Prologue – an interview with Gavin Bryars

  1. Vocal Music – John Potter
  2. Choral Music – David Wordsworth
  3. Opera – David Wordsworth
  4. Jazz and Improvisation – Brian Morton
  5. Experimental Music – Virginia Anderson
  6. Dance – Roger Heaton
  7. Titanic and Jesus’ Blood – Brian Morton
  8. Orchestral Music – Martin Cotton
  9. Notes from a Collaborator – Blake Morrison
  10. The Adnan Songbook – Anna Maria Friman
  11. The Flower of Friendship – The Gavin Bryars Ensemble – Audrey Riley
  12. Bryars and Art School – Simon Strange
  13. After Handel’s ‘Vesper’ and the Harpsichord’s Dual Life – Mahan Esfahani
  14. Tributes – Howard Skempton and Bryn Harrison

Epilogue: Career and Evolution – Gavin Bryars

Appendices include: Bryars’ Desert Island Discs, Catalogue of Works, Arrangements,

Discography, Index of Names


Listening to The Sinking of the Titanic, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Double Bass Concerto ‘Farewell to St. Petersburg’, Cello Concerto (Farewell to Philosophy), and One Last Bar then Joe Can Sing gave me the strong impression of a thoughtful, committed composer with a very strong personal voice – always the main issue for me.
Steve Reich

The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe?
Michael Ondaatje

…Listen to him, he’s intelligent…

…One of the ten most intelligent people on the planet…
Juan Muñoz


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