EMILY HOWARD
About: Emily Howard
emily howard biography image

"Writing music tends to be a solitary act. I find it deeply rewarding creatively to balance this necessary 'alone-time' by collaborating and having conversations with people who have wide-ranging interests and experiences. You never know when somebody is going to say something that will spark the imagination, and it is often, even usually, in the most unexpected situations. Increasingly I make time to engage in regular discussions with mathematicians, poets, scientists and writers and my music reflects and responds to these stimuli by embracing a diverse range of extra-musical influences, including ideas from science, mathematics, philosophy, poetry, sport and chess, often simultaneously. It’s the resulting collision and union of disparate ideas from diverse sources that excites me, and the subsequent translation of these hybrid ideas into sound is essentially the crux of my creative process. Personal connections with musicians and ensembles are equally important to me and shape each individual piece."

Emily Howard

Work in progress includes:

The Music of Proof, a collaboration with mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and the Piatti String Quartet to premiere at New Scientist Live 2017; a sci-fi chamber opera in development with writer Selma Dimitrijevic and director Dan Ayling supported by Arts Council England and Aldeburgh Music; and a new large-scale work for orchestra.


About the Music

NMC Debut Disc Notes

BBC Radio 3 Record Review
Podcast Summer 2016

"Howard’s is a voice of undeniable poise and power."

The Arts Desk, 2016

"Howard excels in creating vast orchestral textures to conjure the breadth and mystery of the universe"

BBC Music Magazine, 2016

Emily Howard’s music is known for its particular connection with science. She first won critical acclaim with Magnetite (“a structural tour de force” – AllMusic), commissioned by Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko, the year she received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Composers. Her works are commissioned, performed and broadcast internationally by festivals and ensembles including the BBC Proms, New Scientist Live, Wien Modern, the London Symphony Orchestra and Bamberger Symphoniker.

Commissioned for premiere at the BBC Proms 2016, Torus (Concerto for Orchestra) gained wide critical acclaim and was described by The Times as “visionary” and by The Guardian as “one of this year’s finest new works”. Howard’s NMC Debut Disc Magnetite was released in Autumn 2016 and won four-star reviews in The Observer and BBC Music Magazine. BBC Radio 3’s Record Review described it as “a confident, major orchestral debut”, hailing its “scientific ideas brilliantly articulated”. The CD also features her string quartet Afference short-listed for a British Composer Award 2016.

Orchestral writing is key to Howard’s work. LSO UBS Soundscapes: Pioneers commission Solar (“manages to suggest galactic power on a compact scale” – The Financial Times), received its world premiere with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon at the Barbican Centre in 2010. In 2013 Solar was given its Australian premiere (West Australian Symphony Orchestra / Paul Daniel) and had a further performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker; Axon, a BBC Radio 3 commission for the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena was first performed at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester the same year. Further orchestral highlights include performances of Magnetite in the Musikverein (Tonkünstler Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada), Solar and Calculus of the Nervous System in the Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Sir James MacMillan) during Howard’s international composer-focus at music festival Wien Modern 2011. WM Festival Commission Calculus of the Nervous System was given its UK premiere by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons at the 2012 BBC Proms while Mesmerism, a Diamond Jubilee commission for the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra with pianist Alexandra Dariescu, won a 2012 British Composer Award. More recently short orchestral work sphere received premiere performances given by the Bamberger Symphoniker conducted by Alondra de la Parra in Germany, March 2017.

Vocal music is another area of enormous interest. New Music 20x12 mini-opera, Zátopek!, a Second Movement commission for the London Cultural Olympiad, text by Selma Dimitrijevic, was described as “a tremendous opera” on BBC 2's The Review Show. Dramatic vocal work Ada sketches, text by Laura Tunbridge, received performances at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre given by Loré Lixenberg in 2012. Since then Howard has developed and led Ada sketches audience-interactive events with mathematician Lasse Rempe-Gillen at the Science Museum (Critics’ Choice, Time Out, London), the Oxford Mathematical Institute (Ada Lovelace Symposium 2015) and with the Oxford e-Research Centre at the Science in the City Festival, Manchester European City of Science 2016. Other vocal works include Howard’s 2013 songs for children BIG BUMS and Pi (a Pie?), commissioned by Opera North, and most recently the wordless ‘three-part song’ Threnos (2015) recorded by Lucy Goddard and Simon Whiteley and described in BBC Music Magazine as exemplifying “a deep concern for the human and the raw power of sound”.

Howard’s chamber music includes Masquerade written for clarinettist Mark Simpson 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. Most recently Chaos or Chess, for solo microtonal tuba, was developed in collaboration with Berlin-based tubist Jack Adler-McKean at the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music 2016 and premiered as part of Howard’s 2016 BBC Proms Extra Composer Conversation.

A graduate in mathematics and computer science from Oxford University, Howard holds a Masters in Composition from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and a Doctorate in Composition from the University of Manchester and is a Senior Lecturer in Composition at the RNCM. 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 then mentored. She was Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence at the University of Liverpool's Department of Mathematical Sciences in 2015. Howard is a Visiting Researcher at the University of Oxford’s e-Research Centre and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering, University of Liverpool. Her music is available on several labels including Col Legno, Toccata Classics and NMC Recordings.

Composer Portrait: Emily Howard
emily howard profile image

Emily Howard’s music is full of surprises. It holds that in common with many of the ascendant generation of British composers who, collectively but in their profoundly different ways, are radically changing our assumptions about how contemporary music is heard and understood. But Howard’s music surprises more than most because of its diverse range of inspiration.

Howard studied mathematics and computer science, and a glance at her extensive catalogue suggests these worlds have remained present to her, with titles such as Magnetite, Cloud Chamber and Calculus of the Nervous System. Her appointment in 2015 as Leverhulme Artist in Residence at Liverpool University’s Mathematics department enabled her to pursue these interests more formally, resulting in, among other things, a new collaborative chamber work series entitled Orbits which brings together instrumental musicians with mathematicians working on chaos theory.

Orbits continues Howard's tendency to use science not merely as a source for evocative labels and experimental soundworlds but rather to incorporate scientific ideas into the compositional ideas driving each piece, thus providing the listener with both an imaginative and more technical means of access to the music. This was a feature of the work Magnetite, which cemented Howard’s reputation, premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008. Here the idea of magnetism is less the subject or ‘inspiration’ of the work than a description of the compositional method, where vast, confidently delineated textures are established and played against each other – the experience amounts almost literally to hearing the attraction and repulsion of gravitational centres.

But science is merely one part of Howard’s artistic horizon, her music embracing poetry and philosophy as well as less orthodox fields such as sport and even chess, such as in Zugzwänge for clarinet quintet, which takes a position where a player is forced to choose between two losing moves. In all cases, it is the direct application of the ideas that is so striking.

Howard’s compositional profile also differs from many of her contemporaries in its emphasis on large-scale orchestral works, a factor that reflects not just her gifts for assembling complex textures and rendering them with glittering clarity, but also the boundlessness of her ambitions. Besides her Concerto for Orchestra, Torus, receiving its premiere at this year’s Proms, next year will see the premiere of sphere, written for the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.

Besides her innovative attitude to musical form, Howard also has an experimental approach to musical storytelling. This has found expression most recently in such works as the mini-operas Ada Sketches (about the mathematician Ada Lovelace) and Zátopek! (on the marathon runner Emil Zátopek). Her international profile has grown – besides next year’s Bamberg premiere, a second Orbit series will be performed in Germany; she was also composer in focus at the prestigious Wien Modern Festival in 2011. Meanwhile at home, Howard's music is becoming an increasingly familiar feature of British concert life, with NMC due to release a portrait CD of orchestral works in September.

Profile © Guy Dammann