As one of Britain’s most innovative and celebrated composers, Michael Nyman’s work encompasses operas and string quartets, film soundtracks and orchestral concertos. Far more than merely a composer, he’s also a performer, conductor, bandleader, pianist, author, musicologist and now a photographer and film-maker. Although he’s far too modest to allow the description ‘Renaissance Man’, his restless creativity and multi-faceted art has made him one of the most fascinating and influential cultural icons of our times.
At this stage of a long and notable career, he might forgivably have been content to rest on his considerable laurels. Yet instead of looking back on a lifetime of achievement that ranges from his award-winning score for the film The Piano to the acclaimed opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, via a string of high-profile collaborations with everyone from Sir Harrison Birtwistle to Damon Albarn, he’s still looking forward – pushing the boundaries of his art with a diverse and prolific burst of creativity as energetic and challenging as any new and iconoclastic young kid on the block.
Last year saw the premiere of a new documentary, Michael Nyman Composer In Progress, an intimate portrait of his artist life as a composer as well as his more recent work as a filmmaker and photographer.
Also in 2010, Nyman continued his association with works by pioneering Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. In January, Nyman followed his previous score for Man With A Movie Camera (2002) with scores for two films, The Eleventh Year and A Sixth Part of the World, both made in the late 1920’s. MN Records has released music from both scores on a single CD, Vertov Sounds.
In October, Nyman premiered his painstaking shot-for-shot reconstruction of Vertov’s film, NYman With a Movie Camera, which uses footage from his personal film archive shot over the past two decades to create a modern-day take on experimental documentary filmmaking.
Never one to sit around in an ivory tower, his diary bulges with a full international touring schedule with the Michael Nyman Band as well as a series of unique one-off performances with a variety of collaborators. Nyman first made his mark on the musical world in the late 1960s, when he invented the term ‘minimalism’ and, still in his mid-twenties, earned one of his earliest commissions, to write the libretto for Birtwistle’s 1969 opera Down By The Greenwood Side.
In 1976 he formed his own ensemble, the Campiello Band (now the Michael Nyman Band) and over three decades and more, the group has been the laboratory for much of his inventive and experimental compositional work.
For more than 30 years, he had also enjoyed a highly successful career as a film composer, the role in which – sometimes to his slightly rueful regret – he is probably best known by the general public.
His most notable scores number a dozen Peter Greenaway films, including such classics as The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; Neil Jordan’s The End Of The Affair; several Michael Winterbottom features including Wonderland, A Cock And Bull Story, and The Trip; the Hollywood blockbuster Gattaca – and, of course, his unforgettable music for Jane Campion’s 1993 film, The Piano, the soundtrack album of which has sold more than three million copies. He also co-wrote the score for the 1999 film Ravenous with his friend and sometime protégé, Damon Albarn. More recently, his music was used in the 2009 BAFTA award winning and Oscar nominated film, Man on Wire. Also, his score for the film Erasing David earned praise and won an award for Best Original Soundtrack at London’s East End Film Festival in 2009.
His reputation among highbrow critics is built upon an enviable body of work written for a wide variety of ensembles, including not only his own band, but also symphony orchestra, choir and string quartet. He has also written widely for the stage. His operas include The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (1986), Facing Goya (2000), and the critically lauded Man and Boy: Dada (2003). He has also provided ballet music for a number of the world’s most distinguished choreographers.