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GILES SWAYNE was born in Hertfordshire in June 1946. After an early childhood in Singapore and Australia, photohe grew up in Liverpool and Yorkshire. He began composing at the age of ten, and in his teens was greatly helped and encouraged by his mother's cousin, composer Elizabeth Maconchy. He studied the piano with Gordon Green, Phyllis Hepburn, James Gibb and Vlado Perlemuter. On leaving Cambridge in 1968 he won a composition scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he studied with Harrison Birtwistle, Alan Bush and Nicholas Maw. In 1976-77 he visited the Paris Conservatoire to study with Olivier Messiaen. In 1980 his huge piece CRY for twenty-eight amplified voices (which is dedicated to Messiaen) was premièred by the BBC Singers under John Poole. Widely hailed as an important landmark, it has been performed four times in Britain (twice at the London Proms, in 1983 and 1994) and many times in Europe and America, and the 1985 recording was issued first on vinyl and then on CD (by NMC Records). In 1981 Swayne made a field trip to Senegal to record the music of the Jola community of Casamance (southern Senegal); these recordings are in the British Library's Sound Archive and available online. His interest in Africa and African music has greatly influenced his life and his work. Between 1990 and 1996 he lived in the eastern region of Ghana, where he built a house at Konkonuru in the Akuapem Hills - now occupied by Rita Marley, Bob Marley's widow.

Swayne now lives in London with his wife & partner, violinist Malu Lin. From October 2001 to June 2014 he taught composition at Cambridge University; for the last eight years of that period he was Composer-in-residence at Clare College.

phtoo2The Silent Land for cello and 40-part choir, premièred at the 1998 Spitalfields Festival by Raphael Wallfisch with the choir of Clare College, Cambridge under Tim Brown, was described by The Times as "a masterpiece", and Swayne himself as "the most accomplished choral composer in Britain". After the première of HAVOC at the Proms in September 1999 by the BBC Singers and the Endymion Ensemble under Stephen Cleobury, The Independent commented "Swayne is a master".

His Symphony no. 1 - a small world, commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was premièred by them in Cardiff under conductor Jac van Steen in November 2007; Leonardo's dream for alto saxophone and piano was premièred at the Purcell Room on London's South Bank by Hannah Marcinowicz and the composer in January 2008; and Agnes Wisley's Chillout Fantasy was first performed at the Barbican Hall, London in March 2008 by the Guildhall Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Peter Gane.

In 2009 Swayne completed his String quartet no. 4 (the turning Year), which was commissioned by Clare College, Cambridge, and premièred by the Solstice String Quartet at the Cambridge Festival in November 2009. Zig-zag for organ, commissioned by Leeds Catholic Cathedral, was premièred at Westminster Abbey by James McVinnie in May 2010. The joys of Travel, a song-cycle for voice and piano celebrating the horrors of package holidays, was commissioned by tenor Benjamin Hulett for a recital CD which appeared in autumn 2010; and Swayne also composed a setting of Adam lay ybounden for the advent carol service of St. John's College, Cambridge in November 2009. Hubbub, a choral setting of a poem by Kevin Crossley-Holland, was premiered by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge under Tim Brown on their USA tour in August 2010.


In November 2010 Naxos released a CD of Swayne's choral music performed by the Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross. This included The silent land of 1997 (with Raphael Wallfisch as solo cellist) and the Stabat mater of 2004, and was widely praised. BBC Music Magazine wrote "everything is held together by a sense of sustained, muscular line rare among modern British composers. A very worthwhile disc, foregrounding a composer who should be much more widely appreciated." Ross has also recorded Swayne's Coventry Carol with the choir of Clare College, and his dramatic anthem for the Ascension, God is gone up (Harmonia Mundi, 2014).

In June 2010 Swayne visited Leipzig for the première of Der Wandersmann for 12-part a cappella voices by the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Choir under their conductor Howard Arman, as part of the celebration of the bicentenary of Robert Schumann's birth. In August of that year he appeared as composer and pianist at the Tout-petit festival de musique in St Germain de Calberte in southern France, where he gave the première of a new song-cycle, Complaintes for soprano and piano, with soprano Juliette de Massy, and also gave recitals with Malu Lin (violin) and Rohan de Saram (cello). On 4th September 2010, Hubbub a setting for solo flute and choir of a new poem by Kevin Crossley-Holland was premièred in King's College Chapel, Cambridge by the choir of Clare College at the farewell concert of their outgoing Director of Music, Tim Brown.

In June 2011 the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Choir under Rupert Huber gave two performances of Swayne's 1978 classic work for 28 amplified voices and electronic treatment, CRY in Cologne and Aachen; in August he appeared again as pianist at the Tout-petit festival de musique in St Germain de Calberte, in a duo recital with violinist Malu Lin, and also gave the world première of his second book of Bagatelles. In November 2011 the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Choir, under their conductor Howard Arman, gave the world première in Leipzig of Dolorosa, the reworked and extended version (with solo cello) of Swayne's 2004 Stabat mater, with cellist Anna Carewe. After the second performance in Dessau on 13th November, Thomas Altmann, writing in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, described Dolorosa as "disturbingly beautiful".

Copyright 2021, Giles Swayne. All rights reserved.