Piers Hellawell (1956 – British)

I’ve recounted in my blog post of 29 March 2018 my chance encounter with Piers Hellawell and his music. The latter is much of what I wish for when I listen to contemporary music: its language is advanced and demanding enough – no neo-romantic, clowingly sentimental film-music like gestures here, a genre in which many prominent composers seem to revel these days – but not intractably “avant-garde” either (vade retro, Ferneyhough and Wuorinen!); busy orchestrally, very colorful and atmospheric, loud at times and dramatic, dynamic and propulsive in the outer movements. But also extremely lyrical – again, not the sentimental and mawkish lyricism of the reactionary neo-romantics, not a lyricism that whines, a passionate lyricism that scorches. I hear in his String quartet The Still Dancers some similitudes with the “world-music-inspired” works in the same genre of Terry Riley and Kevin Volans.

His String Quartet (The Still Dancers, 1992) , Double Concerto for Violin and Viola (Inside Story, 1999) and Violin Concerto (Quadruple Elegy, 1990), featured on Metronome MET CD 1059 (2002), are magnificent additions to the genre.

Hellawell is such a “non-prominent” composer that he doesn’t even get an entry on Wikipedia, and I can find nowhere, not online (always the same bio that shows up), not on his own website, and not in the CD’s liner notes, where the man was born (the only element of personal biography that I could find is that he was born in 1956) and if that makes him English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish. He’s a professor of Composition at the Queen’s University of Belfast since 1981, but that doesn’t necessarily make him Irish. An article in a 2012 issue of The Journal of Music, available online, did call him an “Irish composer”, but in a private correspondence the composer indicated that he was British, and considers Scotland to be his home.

There’s a good selection of Hellawell’s music on YouTube: the American premiere of his string quartet The Still Dancers (link will open new tab on YouTube), same group performing what seems to be his Second string quartet Driftwood on Sand.  Also his Piano Quartet The Building of Curves, and an orchestral piece, Wild Flow (premiere at the 2016 Proms).

Comments are welcome