"Howard's is a voice of undeniable poise and power" The Arts Desk
"seethes with invention" BBC Music
“energetic impact and imaginative breadth” The Wire
From the ambitious, driving cantata The Anvil (2019) – the thickly tapestried piece commissioned to mark the Peterloo bicentenary and recorded by the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Singers, Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir and Hallé Ancoats Community Choir (2023; Delphian) – to the crystalline Magnetite (2007), widely performed across the world, Emily Howard's (b. 1979) distinctive language distills musical elements into their purest form. Working in the liminal space between music and maths the British composer is founder-director of PRiSM, RNCM's Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music, dedicated to understanding what it means to be human and creative today.
A harmony of the spheres for our times, Antisphere (2019), commissioned by the Barbican for Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, is ‘triumphant and strange, a shimmering klaxon that sounds like the workings of some near-future mechanism’ (New Scientist). Howard's geometry-inspired series also features the 2016 Proms commission Torus (‘visionary’, The Times), which was the orchestral winner at the 2017 British Composer Awards and has been recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins (2023; NMC). DEVIANCE (2023), a work for Zubin Kanga's Cyborg Pianist (NMC D279) takes its structure from the brainwaves of listeners to Torus. Folding melodies and bristling rhythms imbue Howard's vocal works, such as Elliptics (2022) – a meditation on love and death, and what we hope will survive – and the sci-fi chamber opera To See The Invisible (2018), commissioned by and premiered at Aldeburgh Festival.
Howard’s lyricism has led to marvellously uncanny results that take vast leaps in pitch and volume in their stride. … The result is triumphant and strange, a shimmering klaxon that sounds like the workings of some near-future mechanism.
Bethan Ackerley, New Scientist May 2023
The UK born Emily Howard, who studied maths and computer science before training as a composer, makes no secret of her deep fascination with the abstractions of geometric form and intricacies of mathematical processes. Yet her compositions are taut and suspenseful in their development, robustly delineated and often edgy, even rugged in character. Listeners who share her interest in those initiating ideas may find pleasure in tracing encrypted correspondences … but Howard’s music may equally be enjoyed for its energetic impact and imaginative breadth.
Soundcheck, The Wire April 2023
“For all involved, the first performance of The Wernicke’s Area was an extremely moving experience”
Hugh Morris, The New York Times 3 November 2022
Few world premieres from recent years have left an impression comparable to that of Torus at the BBC Proms in 2016: confirmation, if such were needed by then, of Emily Howard’s status as a leading younger composer. The work’s appearance, moreover, was a further stage in her emergence which had commenced just over a decade before and has since continued apace, with important commissions from major British and European organisations paralleled by her commitment – individually and collectively – to research the intrinsic properties of sound. … Where Howard is headed will be fascinating to hear. Along with her own composing, she is also directly involved in research. Just a few years ago she started PRiSM, which encourages collaborations between music students, scientists and mathematicians, focusing on the real links between them – given that pattern making is common to both music and maths. There is, then, a great deal to anticipate throughout what is certain to be a productive and groundbreaking decade for this most ambitious and forward-thinking of contemporary British composers.
Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone Contemporary Composer Series, September 2021
Howard’s two most recent big pieces – both glowingly reviewed in The Times – have dealt with very emotional subjects. One was the opera To See The Invisible, premiered at last year’s Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk. That was a satirical parable depicting a bleak world in which people who don’t conform to societal norms, perhaps because they are mentally ill, are condemned to become invisible for a year. The other work, hurled out by 325 performers at this summer’s Manchester International Festival, was an even more powerful social statement. The Anvil: An Elegy for Peterloo was a 36-minute oratorio depicting the horrific massacre of political campaigners on the streets of Manchester in 1819. Reviewing in The Times, Geoff Brown praised Howard for her “ferocious skills, instrumental panache and confidence”.
Richard Morrison, The Times ‘A composer who counts’, 13 September 2019
Emily Howard’s distinctive music is notable for its granular use of instrumental colour, powerful use of text and inventive connections with shapes and processes. Her works - spanning large-scale word settings, orchestral music and chamber works, opera and multimedia installations – are commissioned, performed and broadcast all over the world. Three portrait albums have been released to date: The Anvil (Delphian, 2023), an oratorio to mark the Peterloo Massacre, recorded by the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Singers and Hallé Choirs ('Howard’s musical style, jangly and adversarial, entirely suits her subject,' The Times); Torus (NMC, 2023), featuring BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and BBC Symphony Orchestra ('There’s a sense of confidence that the means are always precisely suited to the expressive end,' Gramophone) and Magnetite (NMC, 2016). The latter's title track, dating from 2007, and recognised for its 'ear-catching harmonies commuting between the granitic and the silvery,' (The Telegraph) was commissioned, premiered and recorded by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Born in Liverpool and now based in Manchester, Howard graduated in mathematics and computer science from Oxford University before studying composition at the RNCM and the University of Manchester. Her breakthrough came with the aforementioned Magnetite, an ode to the ancient magnetic mineral that features melodies that trace, and ultimately escape, a crystalline lattice shape, creating music that appeals to both professional and amateur ensembles for its 'hefty, resolute, ceremonial' (Gramophone) impact. The work has been widely performed across the world, from Austria (Tonkünstler Orchestra; 2011) to Australia (Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; 2021).
The success was followed by Torus (‘Visionary’, The Times), a 2016 BBC Proms commission that won the orchestral category of the 2017 British Composer Awards, which was to be the first in an on-going series of orchestral works that use Howard's distinctive structures. sphere (Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, 2017) has been described as an ‘extraterrestrial interlude’ (Gramophone), while its dark twin Antisphere (‘triumphant and strange, a shimmering klaxon that sounds like the workings of some near-future mechanism’ New Scientist) was commissioned by the Barbican for Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra to open their 2019-20 season. The life of Torus continues through a melding of science and music: DEVIANCE (2023), a multimedia work for Zubin Kanga’s Cyborg Pianist (NMC, 2023) takes its structure from the findings of an experiment developed to measure the brainwaves of listeners to Torus.
At the heart of Howard's work is a powerful interest in social justice. The Anvil, her cantata for choirs and orchestra about suffrage and suffering, was premiered at Manchester International Festival in 2019 and marked the bicentenary of the Peterloo massacre, while her opera To See The Invisible questions society's treatment of the vulnerable and displaced. The work was premiered at the 2018 Aldeburgh Festival, as part of Howard's residency. Dramatic vocalise Ombra (2022) is central to The Wernicke’s Area (‘an extremely moving experience,’ The New York Times), a mixed media installation exploring complexities around living with epilepsy, arising out of an international multi-disciplinary collaboration between ANU Productions, Trinity College Dublin, RNCM PRiSM and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Howard’s music is able to create an overwhelming emotional effect, as in the recent work Elliptics (2022), for soprano, countertenor and orchestra. Setting a text by Michael Symmons Roberts, the work is a meditation on love and death, and what we hope will survive, exploring loss in a very personal sense (loss of a loved one) as well as in a global sense (loss of nature, our climate crisis).
Also active as a curator, Howard is founding director of PRiSM, the Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music at the Royal Northern College of Music, dedicated to understanding what it means to be human and creative today. Howard holds a Personal Chair in Composition at the RNCM; she was elected Honorary Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 2019. Howard has received two BASCA British Composer Awards and recognition from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. She is represented by Cathy Nelson Artists & Projects. All works are published by Edition Peters, part of Wise Music Group.