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Name: Andrew Toovey

PhD: Music Composition

Thesis Title: Viscerality in music: Directness as a form of communication.

In his book, Decentering Music (OUP 2003), Kevin Korsyn elegantly summed up the main aspect I wish to develop in my compositional research. In this critique of contemporary music, he suggests the disciplines of musicology, ethnomusicology and music theory are ‘confronting a crisis of discourse’. Contemporary classical composition is demonstrating similar aspects of complex historical changes, through globalisation and commodification of knowledge. A distinctive feature of the early 21st-century world is that at no point in history has music experienced such a diversity of compositional styles. Arnold Whittall, in his article, Problems of reference, (Musical Times, 2004) describes this as ‘contemporary music’s search for a firmer ground as the topic of what might constitute a mainstream at a time of persistent stylistic plurality’. On the question of whether there is a sound, style or composer truly defining the present time I believe that plurality may be what defines the current state of classical composition.

My research takes the notion ‘confronting a crisis of discourse’ as its central research question. I will create a significant body of multi-stylistic compositions exploring the juxtaposition of techniques drawn from a diverse range of both contemporary and historical aesthetic approaches. Central to the research are a range of collaborations with artists who share similar methodologies and preoccupations. 

Drawing upon visual art as a means to create my musical language is something prevalent in my earlier work including MA and MPhil degrees, completed some time ago, and centered upon developing a composition response to abstract expressionist artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, using structure, timbre and shared aesthetic as means of shared connectivity. More recently, the stylistic juxtapositions exploited in my Viola Concerto serve as a significant precursor to my current research preoccupations. During the PhD, I will develop my composition knowledge and through artistic collaboration, demonstrate how looking outside one’s own discipline can lead to differing perceptions of composition. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Professor Joe Cutler

Dr Michael Wolters

Professor Christopher Dingle

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire - Birmingham City University (BCU)



A selection of feature publications: (Boosey and Hawkes, New Voices/BMIC, ABRSM) and feature commissions (from over 60 compositions to date)

2014: Two chamber ensemble commissions from The Broken Consort and Ensemble Reconcil Wien, and four piano pieces written for various acclaimed pianists.

2013: Ubu’s Journey - orchestral piece (Commissioned and performed by the BBC for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra)

2005: Viola Concerto (premiered by Lawrence Power and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, commissioned by the BBC)

2005: Music for the Painter Jack Smith (Brighton Festival)

2004: Going Home (Szymanowski String Quartet)

1999: Dutch Dykes (De Ereprijs)

1998: Self-portrait as a Tiger! (Ensemble Reconsil Wein)

1997: The Juniper Tree chamber opera (Commissioned by The Broomhill Opera Trust)

1992: Ubu opera (Commissioned by Music Theatre Wales/Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada, further new productions in Hamburg and Saarbrucken)

1991: Red Icon (Orchestral commission from the BBC)

1989: Black Light for chamber ensemble and Adam for mixed ensemble

1988: Winter Solstice for high voice and seven instrumentalists

1986: Ate for chamber ensemble

My Children’s compositions published by ABRSM/Faber/Trinity College exam board.


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities: New Composition performances 2016/17/18

Wringing out the Knots (Dutch Interior)
(2018) - 6 minutes for voice and accordion (setting of Mark Storey)

Queer Sensibility (2018) 5 minutes for piano duet (four hands)

Knob - for voice and orchestra (2018) - 3 minutes (setting of Richard Cutler)

The Poetic Consciousness (2018) - 12 minutes for voice and violin (7 settings of Colin Blundell)

Fast, slow, faster - for orchestra (2017) 8 minutes

Nearly there (2017) 8 minutes for piano solo and spoken text.

Almost (2017) 12 minutes for voice and violin (7 settings of Emily Dickinson)

The moods (2017) 9 minutes for voice and violin  (7 settings of J B Yeats)

Skein (2017) 16 minutes for violin and piano 25 minutes 

500 Treble Notes (2017) 10 minutes for piano solo

500 Triads (2017) 16 minutes for piano solo

Preludes and Schrott (2017) 15 minutes for piano solo

Contrecto (2016) 30 minutes for harmonium and tabla

Holding You - 11 string players, Project Instrumental. 5 minutes.

Performance during the Frontiers Festival March 2016.

Verboten (Forbidden) - Thallein chamber ensemble. 3 minutes.

Performance during the Frontiers Festival BCU February 2016.

The Way it is now – 7 songs for voice and viola. 

Performance in composer forum concert BCU.

Ej upp (No Entry in Swedish)– solo alto recorder (Chris Orton) 6 minutes.

Performance during the Frontiers Festival. BCU May 2016.

Euonia - Thallein chamber ensemble. 7 minutes

Performance during visit to Beijing Modern Music Festival, China.  May 2016.

First Out - Piano Piece for Ian Pace. 6 minutes

Performance at York Late Music Festival. May 2016.


Other Research Interests:

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Andrew Toovey (b London 1962) studied composition with Jonathan Harvey, Michael Finnissy and briefly with Morton Feldman. After completing his BMus degree at Surrey University he gained an MA and MPhil at the University of Sussex, specialising in composition and aesthetics. His PGCE studies were undertaken at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Toovey's work embraces widely diverse influences, from music such as that by Feldman and Finnissy, or from the poetry of Artaud, Cummings and Rilke, and reflects his passion for 20th-century visual art, especially that by Bacon, Beuys, Davies, Hayter, Klee, Miro, Newman, Rauschenberg, Riley, Rothko and the Outsider Artists. It has been performed throughout the UK, Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and has featured at the Bergen, Brighton, Gaudeamus, Huddersfield and ISCM festivals and at the Darmstadt and Dartington International Summer Schools. It is also frequently broadcast, on BBC Radio 3 and by various European radio stations.

Toovey, who has been Artistic Director of the new music ensemble IXION since 1987, was associate composer with the Young Concert Artists Trust (YCAT) from 1993-5 and he was composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre, Canada for four years, writing two operas and other music theatre works in that time. His education work includes projects for Glyndebourne Opera, English National Opera, Huddersfield Festival, the South Bank Centre and the London Festival Orchestra, and he has been composer-in-residence at Opera Factory and the South Bank Summer School. He has also taught school music in a part-time capacity, and now teaches composition at Birmingham Conservatoire, where he has recently been awarded an M3C grant for his PhD composition studies.

His many awards include the Tippett Prize, Terra Nova Prize, the Bernard Shore Viola CompositionAward and an RVW Trust Award. Largo released two portrait CDs of his music (Including the orchestral piece Red Icon and the opera The Juniper Tree) in 1998. Many other pieces appear individually on CD labels such as NMC, ABC Classics, Nova, BMIC, ABRSM, Sound Circus and Kairos Music. Some of his music is published by Boosey and Hawkes, while pieces can be heard on his own YouTube channel or on this website. Scores can be downloaded free of charge.

In a Tempo Magazine profile article Michael Finnissy wrote: “Toovey consciously places himself outside what he regards as useless or outmoded conventions, whilst reserving the right to draw on, allude to, shoplift from absolutely anywhere. Not only are Toovey’s musical sympathies unusually diverse and deliberately unaligned to the ready-made categories of our recent past (minimalism, neo-Romanticism, new complexity), but the fundamental stylistic “gesture” can be as readily compared to the visual arts as to any music - to the work of Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg or Stanley Hayter”

Since 1982 he has written around 100 pieces for orchestra, large ensemble, chamber groups and many solo instruments as well as opera. Recent works include Verboten, Holding You and Euonia (a self-contained group of ensemble pieces), First Out, Preludes and Schrott, all for solo piano, the sequence The way it is now for voice and viola, Contrecto for harmonium and tabla and Pump Triptych for solo clarinet. He is currently composing an opera based on James Purdy’s novel Narrow Rooms to a libretto by Michael Finnissy.

Andrew Toovey is a visiting composition tutor at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

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