1952 - 2021
The music of Simon Bainbridge is noted for its fine balance of innovation and craftsmanship, qualities which have earned the composer the Grawemeyer Award and the inaugural British Composer Award for Inspiration.
Audacious in outlook yet subtle in delivery, a typical piece will begin life as philosophical proposal whose solution is to be arrived at through music, experimenting with musical form and often engaging with the physical space in which it is performed.
Whilst always seeking to break new ground, many of Bainbridge’s works simultaneously acknowledge the influence of musical forebears, among them Hildegard von Bingen, Gustav Mahler and Miles Davis.
Critical Acclaim...a dynamic balance between classicism and disruption, between sheer aural pleasure and a driving life-force. - Tamara Bernstein, Toronto Star [on Scherzi]
...some of the most ambitious and daring British works of recent times. - Matthew Rye, The Telegraph
What always makes this composer’s works so rewarding is the clarity of texture, the purposefulness of direction.... There’s not a hint of intellectual showing-off, just an inexorable sense of logic enhanced by unabashed lyricism. - Annette Morreau, The Independent [on Landscape and Memory]
The music moves with infinite subtlety from unadulterated plainchant to electronic fantasy; as if the past is leaking through the pores of the present…there was a numinous thrill in this music. - Tom Service, The Guardian [on Chant]
The effect was mesmerising, creating a timeless sculptural structure, at one level static, at another flowing. - Stephen Pettitt, The Financial Times [on Chant]
Simon Bainbridge (1952-2021) was born in London. He studied composition with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music and with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood. The success of Bainbridge’s Spirogyra at the 1971 Aldeburgh Festival led to a string quartet being written for the legendary Yale Quartet, commissioned by André Previn for the 1972 South Bank Summer Music Festival.
A series of large scale works followed during the 1980s and 90s, including Fantasia for Double Orchestra (1983), Double Concerto (1990), Toccata for Orchestra (1992), the horn concerto Landscape and Memory (1995) and Three Pieces for Orchestra (1998). In 1997 Bainbridge won the Grawemeyer Award for Ad Ora Incerta (1994), an orchestral song cycle for mezzo soprano and bassoon on poems by Primo Levi. The composer returned to the writer’s work in 1996 in his Four Primo Levi Settings composed for the Nash Ensemble. Both works have been recorded by NMC Records.
Chant, a re-working of Hildegard of Bingen for 12 amplified voices and orchestra, was given its premiere in York Minster by the BBC Singers and BBC Philharmonic in 1999. In celebration of its seventieth anniversary in 2000, the BBC Symphony Orchestra commissioned Scherzi. The piece was subsequently performed at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 2005 and by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2007, conducted by Oliver Knussen. Voiles (2002), for solo bassoon and 12 strings, was commissioned by Radio France for soloist Pascal Gallois, and performed by him in France and the UK. Orpheus, a short song setting the poetry of WH Auden, was premiered at the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival.
In 2007 the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson gave the first performance of Diptych, a thirty-minute work described by the Independent as "music that fascinates by its quietly mutating colours and almost heroic restraint”. Later that year, Bainbridge completed Music Space Reflection, a work for 28 players inspired by and intended to be performed inside buildings designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Following its premiere at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester the piece was performed in Copenhagen, London and Toronto.
Bainbridge composed works for the US-based Gramercy Trio (Piano Trio), the Hilliard Ensemble (Tenebrae) and for the thirtieth anniversary of the Endymion Ensemble (Two Trios). In 2012, his dramatic evocation of Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights for soloists, chorus and orchestra, was premiered at the BBC Proms.
In addition to his compositional career, Simon Bainbridge was a highly respected teacher. He was Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music from 1999-2007. He received a Professorship from the University of London in 2001 and was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 2002. He taught and lectured at the Juilliard School in New York, the Boston Conservatory of Music, Yale University and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 2009, he held a residency at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. In 2016 he was awarded the first-ever British Composer Award for Inspiration, in recognition of his tireless work in education.