Param Vir

b. 1952

British

Summary

An award-winning composer of opera and instrumental works, Param Vir’s music fuses Western tradition and Eastern aesthetics. Born in Delhi, he grew up in a household suffused with the sounds of Indian classical music and began composition lessons at the age of 14. In 1983 he moved to England to pursue his studies with Peter Maxwell Davies at Dartington and later with Oliver Knussen at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has a particular affinity for dramatic genres and amongst his most performed works are the operatic double bill Snatched by the Gods and Broken Strings, commissioned by Henze for the Munich Biennale, and the full length opera Ion which premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival. Among his concert works, Horse Tooth White Rock, The Theatre of Magical Beings and Hayagriva each draw their inspiration from ancient mythologies, while the vast orchestral canvas of Between Earth and Sky evokes the disorientating beauty of the sculpture of Anish Kapoor.
Critical Acclaim
...[the] sound-world is utterly individual [and]…moves at its own dangerously leisurely pace. Well, so do Bruckner and Birtwistle, and the way the audience was held in breathless silence at the climax…suggests Vir knows perfectly well what he is doing. - Rodney Milnes, Opera

(Horse Tooth White Rock) ...gripping - a superbly crafted...path from violence to transcendental calm, ending in a symbolic and sublimely lyrical canon for cor anglais and cello over hushed strings.
- Richard Morrison, The Times

Biography

Param Vir was born in Delhi in 1952. His mother was a poet and distinguished vocalist, his father an electronics engineer and mathematician, and Vir’s formative years at home were steeped in Indian classical music. Piano lessons began at the age of nine and composition lessons followed at 14. It was through these avenues that Param Vir was first introduced to contemporary music in the western idiom - an introduction that immediately kindled a belief and passion in the young composer that has never abated, and continues to inform his entire creative output.

Vir’s early compositions attracted the interest of Peter Maxwell Davies who invited him to the Dartington Summer School on a scholarship in 1983. Under Maxwell Davies’ encouragement, in 1984, Param Vir moved to London to study composition. The move was immediately successful – within three years, he had won the Benjamin Britten Composition Prize (Aldeburgh), the Kucyna International Composition Prize (Boston), the Tippett Composition Award (Dartington) and the Performing Right Society Composition Prize (London).

From the 1990s Param Vir distinguished himself as an opera composer of considerable talent and originality. His two one-act operas – Broken Strings and Snatched by the Gods – were commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for the 1992 Munich Biennale, in a production by Pierre Audi and Netherlands Opera. The following year, Param Vir received the Ernst von Siemens composition prize (Munich). As a measure of its success, the double bill has since been performed in numerous productions; by Almeida Opera (1996), Scottish Opera (1998), Berlin State Opera (1999) and Musikwerkstatt Wien (1999). In 2001, the original Pierre Audi production was revived by Muziektheater Transparant and performed in Antwerp, Rotterdam and Rouen.

Param Vir’s first full length opera – Ion – was commissioned by Aldeburgh Almeida Opera and received its first performance at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2000. The first full production of the opera was staged in 2003 in a co-production between Music Theatre Wales, the Berliner Festwochen and Opera National du Rhin. The premiere launched the latter’s 2003/4 season with a series of seven performances, before touring to the Berlin Festival, the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and touring around the UK.

Horse Tooth White Rock
, a large orchestral work based on the life of the eleventh century Tibetan saint Milarepa, was commissioned and first performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Peter Maxwell Davies in 1994. Since then, it has been performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 2005 BBC Proms and by the Flanders Philharmonic at de Singel in Antwerp.

Other notable works include Ultimate Words: Infinite Song, for baritone solo, percussion sextet and piano, which was commissioned by the 1997 Berlin Festival. The piece is inspired by the writings of the Second World War Danish resistance hero Kim Malthe-Bruun. The Theatre of Magical Beings
was commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 2003 and described by one critic as a "virtuosic and hugely enjoyable, life-affirming work”. This was followed in 2005 by Hayagriva, which was given its first performance by the Schönberg Ensemble at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ.

In 2006 the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rumpf gave the first performance of Between Earth and Sky. Inspired by Anish Kapoor’s Chicago sculpture Cloud Gate, the piece was praised by the Sunday telegraph which commented that "even in quiet, rapturous reflection at the end, the music is held in place by a structural backbone that suggests fruitful engagement with the work of Kapoor”.

In recent years, Param Vir’s works have been performed by soprano Patricia Rozario, Jeremy Huw Williams, cellist Rohan de Saram, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Fulcrum Point Chicago, Klangforum Wien, Stichtung Octopus (NL), Latvian Youth Choir, BBC Singers, Orchestra of the Swan, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, and at venues and festivals including King’s Place, the Barbican, BBC Proms and Beethovenfest Bonn. A complete list of the composer’s works can be found at paramvir.net.

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