After a period marked by highly polyphonic atonalism, in which he was noticed early on by Elliott Carter as a one of the most promising young French avant-garde composers, Nicolas Bacri has, since the 1980s, described himself as a 'conservative’ composer.
Born in Paris in 1961, Bacri has composed more than one hundred works, including orchestral works, operas, cantatas, and chamber works. He was a private pupil of Louis Saguer before entering the Paris Conservatoire in 1979. There he studied under Serge Nigg and Michel Philippot until he graduated with the premiere prix in music composition in 1983. That same year he was awarded a two-year residency at the Académie de France in Rome.
From 1987 he was the Radio France head of chamber music department; he relinquished his position in 1991 to devote himself to composition full time. Shortly after he was awarded residence at the Casa Velázquez in Madrid (1991-1993). He taught orchestration at the Geneva Conservatory from 2005 to 2011 and is now Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris.
His works have been championed by the world’s leading musicians including by the China National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Spanish National Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov, Daniel Harding, Yann-Pascal Tortelier, Renaud Capuçon, François Leleux, and Cédric Tiberghien. He has received several awards from SACEM and the Académie des Beaux Arts. In 2017, Nicolas Bacri was appointed to the rank of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.
'Among the composers of today, of those who refuse all conformist avant-garde, those are prone to tonality, Nicolas Bacri is certainly the most solid and the most influential.'— Patrick Szersnovicz, Le Monde de la musique
'Bacri escapes all forms of labels.'— Nicolas Baron, Diapason
'Bacri has become one of the most important representatives of a global plan to compose in parallel to tradition.'— Christoph Schlueren, Crecendo
After a period marked by highly polyphonic atonalism, in which he was noticed early on by Elliott Carter as a one of the most promising young French avant-garde composers, Nicolas Bacri has, since the 1980s, described himself as a 'conservative’ composer. His work is rooted in tonality and classical forms, an aesthetic he has defended in several polemical books which remain controversial with the French avant-gardists. A great admirer of the Second Viennese School, Bacri does not reject atonality as such but utilises it as an expressive device. In this way his music has a strong aesthetic relationship with the most emblematic of non-serial composers of the twentieth century including Shostakovich, Britten, Menotti, Bernstein, Copland, Corigliano, Adams.
Bacri studied music analysis and composition with Françoise Gangloff-Levéchin, Christian Manen and Louis Saguer prior to his entry at the Paris Conservatoire, from which he graduated with premiere prix in music composition in 1983. There he studied under Claude Ballif, Marius Constant, Serge Nigg and Michel Philippot. From 1987, Bacri was head of the chamber music department at Radio France, a position he relinquished in 1991 to devote himself entirely to composition. Shortly after, in 1993, he held a two-residency at Madrid Casa de Velázquez.
His early works, which culminate with the First Symphony (1983-4, dedicated to Elliott Carter), are rooted in a constructivist post-Webernian aesthetic. Later compositions, beginning with the Cello Concerto (1985/87, dedicated to Henri Dutilleux), focus on melodic continuity, an element of composition Bacri felt was generally ignored in the works of the post-war period.
From the 1990s onward, he continued to explore all possibilities offered by examining ‘the sudden or progressive eruption of ‘modernity’ in ‘tradition’ - and vice-versa’. His interest in the musical past, however, is an earnest and constantly renewing exploration of his own musical mind. His style is not interested in nostalgia or pastiche, but rather in the ‘re-foundation’ of the qualities of twentieth-century music in the twenty-first, unashamed of its traditional roots.
The composer of more than one hundred and forty works in many genres, Bacri is highly distinguished in France both as a composer and curator. He has received such recognition as the Prix de Rome (1983-85), four awards from SACEM (Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music), the André Caplet, Georges Wildenstein and Pierre Cardin prizes from the Académie des Beaux Arts, the Prix Pineau-Chaillou from the City of Nantes, the Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Académie du Disque in 1993, and held a two-year residency with the Casa de Velazquez in Madrid (1991-93). From 1987-1991, Bacri was Artistic Director of Chamber Music at Radio France (where he programmed more than 70 concerts per year). From 2005-2011, he taught orchestration at the Geneva Conservatory (HEM/HES) and now serves as Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris. In 2017, Nicolas Bacri was appointed to the rank of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.
He has been commissioned by some of Europe’s leading institutions and ensembles including, most recently, the French Ministry of Culture, Radio-France, Orchestre des Jeunes de la Méditérannée, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Tapiola Sinfonietta, and Pro Quartet.
Since a breakthrough performance of his Violin Concerto op. 7 in 1985 at Radio France, Bacri's orchestral works have been championed internationally – by the China National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony, Spanish National Orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Tokyo Philharmonic, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Many of these performances have been with the world’s top conductors and soloists; just a few names include Semyon Bychkov, Daniel Harding, Yann-Pascal Tortelier, Renaud Capuçon, François Leleux, and Cédric Tiberghien.
His music has been widely recorded, but two particular highlights in recent years include his Melodias de la Melancolia with Josep Pons and the Orquesta Nacional de España, sung by Patricia Petibon; and Lamento performed by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernmann, Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi – both recorded on Deutsche Gramophone.