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CELEBRATING THE ART OF CONTEPORARY MUSIC COMPOSITION

COMPOSER PROFILE

  • Emily Howard

    Emily Howard

    Composer Biography

    Composer Emily Howard first garnered critical acclaim with Magnetite, commissioned by Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko, the year she was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Composers. The Financial Times wrote of her 2010 UBS Soundscapes: Pioneers commission for the London Symphony Orchestra, Solar, that it “manages to suggest galactic power on a compact scale”. Mini-opera, Zátopek!, commissioned by Second Movement and part of New Music 20x12 for the London Cultural Olympiad, received widespread critical acclaim including a 4 star review in The Guardian and being described as “a tremendous opera” on BBC 2’s The Review Show.

    Howard’s concert music is regularly performed and broadcast and highlights include international composer-focus at music festival Wien Modern 2011 featuring performances in the Musikverein (Tonkünstler Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada) and Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Sir James MacMillan). WM Festival Commission Calculus of the Nervous System was given its UK premiere by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons at the 2012 BBC Proms. Also in 2012, Ada sketches (Loré Lixenberg) received performances at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre and Mesmerism, a Diamond Jubilee commission for the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra conducted by Mark Heron with pianist Alexandra Dariescu, won the Making Music Category of the 2012 British Composer Awards.

    2013 saw the Australian premiere of Solar (West Australian Symphony Orchestra / Paul Daniel) and a further UK performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker. Howard’s songs for children BIG BUMS and Pi (a Pie?), text by Selma Dimitrijevic, commissioned by Opera North, also premiered in November 2013 while Axon, a BBC Radio 3 commission for the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena, received its world premiere at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

    Chamber works include Masquerade for basset clarinet and piano (Mark Simpson / Ian Buckle) and clarinet quintet Zugzwänge (Quatuor Danel / Nicholas Cox). In 2015 string quartet Afference for the Elias String Quartet premiered at London’s Wigmore Hall and Leviathan for Paris‐based duo scapegoat received several performances including at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and as part of a North American Tour in May 2015.

    Howard’s most recent orchestral works include sphere commissioned by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Torus (Concerto for Orchestra) co-commissioned by the BBC Proms 2016 and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society in celebration of their 175th Anniversary.

    Emily Howard studied mathematics and computer science as an undergraduate at Oxford University. She holds a Doctorate in Composition from the University of Manchester and is a Senior Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music. In 2010 she became the inaugural UBS Composer in Residence in conjunction with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Bridge Academy, Hackney, a post she subsequently mentored. In 2015 she was Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. Her music is available on several labels including Col Legno, Toccata Classics and NMC Recordings.


  • Shortlisted 2016
    Category Small chamber
    Work Afference

    About this work

    Afference is a physiological term describing how the brain receives signals from the body: how blood moves through vessels towards organs, and how nerve fibres convey sensory experiences to the central nervous system. Whilst composing Afference I have been concerned with how and when we become conscious of sensory information – things we touch, see, hear – and how this might sound. – Emily Howard

    The first movement opens in a frenzy of keening which focuses into a single viola note, whining down through microtones after each convulsive attack from the quartet. Throughout, Emily Howard uses the idea of the axon transferring an impulse to a synapse to inform the music’s trajectory, and the interplay of parts. Minute variations in vibrato, non-vibrato, on where the bow is placed (on string, on fingerboard, on bridge, or muted) inflect each interaction, creating a flickering, prismatic effect and taking us to the very edge of sound.

    The second movement is looking at the neural network of the brain as if from the outside. Entering with an icy gasp of pitches played on the bridge, the instruments gather energy and intensity, now moving up through microtones, now embarking on a long descending scurrying sequence until the cello touches its bass note, grounding the music in a consonant climax. In the aftermath, the piece becomes gradually more ghostly, slower and more dispersed as it travels far into the network. Pitches crowd ever closer, like angels on a pin-head, seek-ing ‘consilience’, a unity of knowledge, and, ultimately, silence.

    String Quartet Afference was commissioned by the Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust and The RVW Trust for the Elias String Quartet who gave the first performance in the BBC Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall, London on 4 May 2015. Afference has been recorded by the Elias String Quartet for Emily Howard’s Debut Disc Magnetite on NMC Recordings [D219].

    To listen to a clip of Afference CLICK HERE