15 July 2014 sees the British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle celebrate his 80th birthday. Concert halls, opera houses and festivals around the globe will be marking this milestone. The main focus in the UK will take place later this month at the Barbican Centre in London, with a series of concerts and events under the banner Birtwistle at 80. And on 25 June Oxford pays its own tribute, when Birtwistle will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Music at the annual Encaenia ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre, and in the evening Ensemble ISIS and the Christ Church Cathedral Choir will perform some of his music in the presence of the composer.
A central part of the Barbican festival is a day-long symposium and study afternoon on Sunday 25 May, which has been convened by Professor Jonathan Cross, in association with the BBC and the Institute for Musical Research. Jonathan himself opens the afternoon with a talk entitled ‘Why Birtwistle’s Music Matters’, and the day ends with the composer in conversation. Entry is free to anyone holding a ticket for any concert in the festival.
At Evensong in the Cathedral on 25 June at 18.00, the Cathedral Choir under Professor Stephen Darlington will sing one of the ‘Three Motets’ from Birtwistle’s millennial opera The Last Supper. At 19.15, also in the Cathedral, Ensemble ISIS under the direction of Dr John Traill will perform for Birtwistle Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum, Cortège, Linoi and a selection of piano works. Admission is free and all are welcome.
As part of the wider coverage of the Birtwistle at 80 celebrations, you can:
– read a short piece by Jonathan Cross in the Official BBC Proms Guide 2014 on Birtwistle and his fellow octogenarian, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies;
– read Jonathan’s ‘Listening Guide’ to Birtwistle for Sinfini Music;
– listen to Jonathan’s contributions to a series of Barbican podcasts exploring Birtwistle’s music and ideas;
– listen to Jonathan’s discussion of the opera Gawain, being staged at the Barbican by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 16 May, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on the very evening of Birtwistle’s birthday, 15 July.