Henryk Górecki made his early reputation as a leader of the Polish avant-garde in the late 1950s. The simple yet monumental style for which Górecki is today renowned emerged in the 1970s, rooted in his deep awareness of Polish folk culture and religious heritage.
As a result of Poland's increasing political emancipation in the late 1980s, Górecki's music travelled more widely and attracted new performers and audiences in the West. It was not, however, until the record-breaking success of his third symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, in a recording by Dawn Upshaw and London Sinfonietta, that his music reached an extended audience outside his native Poland. Since then the directness and emotional impact of his music have established him as one of the major figures of contemporary music.
'My life has been largely determined by chance.'
85-year-old Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt has developed a highly personal style of music using consonant, tonal materials organised in cells, each a few bars long, which are repeated ad libitum. Many of his pieces use harmonies drawn from the Romantic period: almost as if a moment from a Schubert sonata has been frozen in time and held circling before the performer can release it. As a result, his style of Minimal composition is truly European and has been little influenced by North American Minimalists whose works draw more often on rock, jazz, and world music. The piano dominates his output and he points to a strong physical connection with the sound of the instrument: 'My hands grasp at what my mind cannot "grasp": I believe in my hands.'
Paweł Szymański was born in Warsaw in 1954. Since the late 1970s and his Partita Ii he has focused on a single stylistic idea: creating a new context from elements of traditional musical language. The building blocks of Szymański's music are firmly rooted in the past with identifiably Baroque references. He then processes this source material in the second phase of the creative process, giving it a new structure and inviting the listener to a play on musical conventions.
Paweł Szymański 's music is highly sophisticated and always subject to strict technical discipline, yet it enthralls the listener with its variety of emotions and moods, ranging from sensuous sound-play to metaphysical musings.
Born in England, Hellawell has for many years taught composition at Queen's University, Belfast, where he now holds the chair in composition, having been made composer in residence at the age of only 24. He is well known for his work The Hilliard Songbook, which gave rise to the Hilliard Ensemble's seminal ECM album of that name in 1996, in the words of the Independent, 'one of the most enduring of their many commissions'.
'Since the mid-1980s I've reacted strongly against the ornate surfaces of much instrumental music of our time. I seek in my work a more direct expression, particularly in my rhythmic and harmonic materials, yet I welcome the diversity that comes from uniting disparate, even dangerous, elements under one roof.'
Welsh-born composer Hilary Tann has made her home near the Adirondack Mountains in up-state New York, where she teaches as the John Howard Payne Professor of Music at Union College.
Regularly commissioned and performed both in the US and in her native land, her music is influenced by her love of Wales, her strong identification with the natural world, and a deep interest in the traditional music of Japan, in particular the ancient Japanese bamboo flute, the shakuhachi.
Her childhood in south Wales instilled a love of nature which has informed all her compositions; and the presence of the Welsh landscape and that of her adoptive home is evident in such works as Adirondack Light and With the heather and small birds.
Australian composer Matthew Hindson was a featured composer at the 2003 Festival. Directness and immediacy are common features of his work, with popular music influences as diverse as Metallica and the Baroque. As a result, elements such as driving repeated rhythms and loud dynamic levels are typical of his scores, but here we also hear a more reflective side.
'…gaudy, exuberant music… Mr Hindson's score makes a wonderful racket… shamelessly big and juicily orchestral… broodingly and sometimes achingly intimate…'