When Michael Nyman published his study Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (1974), he could hardly have foreseen his own contribution to that 'beyond'. Disaffected with the then current orthodoxies of international modernism, Nyman had abandoned composition in 1964, preferring to work as a musicologist. Later he wrote criticism for several journals, including The Spectator, where, in a 1968 review of Cornelius Cardew's The Great Digest, he became the first to apply the word 'minimalism' to music.
That same year, a BBC broadcast of Steve Reich's Come Out opened his ears to further possibilities, and a route back to composition began to emerge. In 1968 he wrote the libretto for Harrison Birtwistle's Down by the Greenwood Side. Later, Birtwistle commissioned him to provide arrangements of 18th century Venetian songs for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni's Il Campiello, for which Nyman assembled what he would describe as 'the loudest unamplified street band' he could imagine.
Nyman kept the Campiello Band together after the play's run had finished, adding his own propulsive piano-playing to the mix. A band needs repertoire, and Nyman set about providing it, beginning with In Re Don Giovanni, a characteristic treatment of 16 bars of Mozart. The Band's line-up mutated, amplification was added and the name changed to the Michael Nyman Band. This is the laboratory in which Nyman has formulated his compositional style around strong melodies, flexible yet assertive rhythms, and precisely articulated ensemble playing. If works for the Michael Nyman Band have dominated his output, the composer has written for a wide variety of ensembles, including symphony orchestra, a cappella chorus and string quartet. He has written several stage works, notably The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1986); and has provided music for such distinguished choreographers as Siobhan Davies, Shobana Jeyasingh, Lucinda Childs, Karine Saporta and Stephen Petronio.
His music has reached its largest audience by way of his film scores, most famously for Peter Greenaway, with whom he collaborated on eleven movies. Other directors with whom he has worked include Jane Campion (The Piano), Volker Schlöndorff (The Ogre), Neil Jordan (The End of the Affair), Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland, The Claim, 9 Songs and A Cock and a Bull story), Dorota Kedzierzawska (Jestem). And Laurence Dunmore (The Libertine). He also collaborated with Damon Albarn on the music for Antonia Bird's Ravenous. Nyman has provided music for a fashion show, the opening of a high-speed rail link and a computer game, the music/multi-video event The Commissar Vanishes, based on David King's book about Stalinist manipulation of photographic documents and the opera Facing Goy (2000), which is a taut thriller taking genetics as its subject matter.
In 2002 Michael Nyman and the Band returned to the Royal Festival Hall performing the soundtrack to Dziga Vertov's 1929 classic black and white film Man With a Movie Camera. Performed with The Commissar Vanishes, the film documents the full spectrum of Soviet urban life with dazzling inventiveness. Also in this year Nyman, together with U.Shrinivas (electric mandolin) and the singers Rajan and Sajan Misra, presented an evening of music SANGAM, a joint project that represents a period of collaboration between Nyman and the Indian master musicians. Commissioned by the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Nyman's first violin concerto was premiered in Hamburg in August 2003, performed by violinist Gidon Kremer and the Festival Orchestra under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies.
Nyman revised his opera Facing Goya for the Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe, in 2002. This marked the beginning of a three year period as 'Composer in Residence'. Man and Boy: Dada, an opera based on the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters', with a libretto by Michael Hastings was to be the next opera. Taking over from this success a new production directed by Lindsay Posner was premiered at the Almeida Theatre, London in 2004. Man and Boy: Dada transferred to America in December of the same year. Love Counts, also with libretto by Michael Hastings completed the trio with its German premiere in March 2005. The relationship with the London's Almeida theatre continues into july 2006 when a new production of Love Counts will take place.
Recent premieres have included: I was a Total Virgin, a collaboration with Hanif Kureishi commissioned by London Sinfonietta and premiered at FuseLeeds06, Beckham Crosses/Nyman Scores, commissioned by BBC Radio3 programme Between the Ears. Acts of Beauty, commissioned and performed by Sentieri Selvaggi, at the Mantova International Literature Festival. The Photography of Chance (written in memory of John Peel) commissioned for the Ahn Trio and performed at Salt Lake City in November 2004. The dance work Flicker commissioned by the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Theatre had its premiere at the Royal Northern College of Music in February 2005. Melody Waves, commissioned by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra,was performed at the Barbican, London IN April 2005. Future works are to include two BBC commissions: the first to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, while the second is for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. He is currently writing a percussion concerto for Colin Currie, a cello concerto for Nina Kotova and a piece for orchestra and choir commissioned by BBC Symphony Orchestra that will premiere at the Barbican in March 2007.
Michael's latest venture is the launch of his own record label - MN Records. The label opened in Spring 2005 with 'The Piano Sings' the composer's debut solo piano album. This was followed by a recording of the acclaimed opera Man and Boy:Dada, his latest soundtrack for director Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, and the initial three titles in a series of definitive edition/new recordings of his most celebrated soundtrack work under the heading 'The Composer's Cut'.
©Nick Kimberley 2005