'A livewire impossible to pigeonhole' The Times
Tansy Davies (b. 1973) characterises the role of the solo saxophone in her 2004 work Iris as that of ‘a shaman, or one who walks between worlds’. In doing so she also describes herself – a musician whose boundary-breaking curiosity makes her a truly distinctive voice. With a background as a horn player, electric guitarist and vocalist, Davies studied composition with Simon Bainbridge at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and with Simon Holt at Royal Holloway. In 2004 Davies’s neon, a gritty collage of twisted modernist funk written for the Composers Ensemble, quickly became her calling card and continues to be performed internationally.
The recipient of a 2009 Paul Hamlyn Award, Davies has written works for numerous world-class orchestras, including Tilting (2005) for the London Symphony Orchestra and Wild Card, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 2010 Proms. Her music has been championed internationally by ensembles including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Orkest de Ereprijs, Ensemble intercontemporain, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, and The Israel Contemporary Players, and at festivals including MaerzMusik, Leeds Lieder, Ultima, Présences, and Warsaw Autumn.
Brilliantly imaginative and often gloriously offbeat, Davies’s work has taken its inspiration from sources as diverse as the architecture of Zaha Hadid (the 2004 trumpet concerto Spiral House), the work of Anselm Kiefer (Falling Angel), and the photography of Claude Cahun (2021’s Monolith: I Extend My Arms for Britten Sinfonia). Davies’s long fascination with the music of the Troubadours finds expression in her Song of Pure Nothingness and Troubairitz, the 2010 song cycle for soprano and percussion that gave its name to a portrait disc on Nonclassical.
In 2011, Davies’s anthem Christmas Eve was performed at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in King’s College, Cambridge and broadcast worldwide. As With Voices and With Tears – a setting of Walt Whitman for choir, string orchestra and electronics – was nominated for a 2011 South Bank Show Sky Arts Award. Davies’s collaboration with Norwegian choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard and composer Rolf Wallin, Omega and the Deer, premiered at the 2011 Oslo International Dance Festival. 2012 saw the premiere of a concerto for piano and ensemble, Nature, by Huw Watkins and the BCMG under Oliver Knussen, as well as the release of ‘Spine’, an all-Davies disc on the NMC label.
Davies’s critically acclaimed debut opera Between Worlds – a bold and highly individual response to the events of 9/11 to a libretto by Nick Drake – was premiered by English National Opera in 2015 in a production by Deborah Warner. It was later awarded the 2016 British Composer Award for Stage Work. Re-greening for large singing orchestra was premiered at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, who later performed the work at the 2015 BBC Proms. Forest, a concerto for four horns and orchestra, co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra and the Warsaw Autumn Festival, was premiered in February 2017. In 2018 chamber opera Cave, commissioned by the Royal Opera House, was premiered by Mark Padmore, Elaine Mitchener, and the London Sinfonietta.
Davies has taught at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and was Associate Professor of Composition at the Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington, Indiana. Recent projects include Plumes (2019) for Royal Northern Sinfonia and Soul Canoe for Asko|Schönberg – the latter commissioned as part of a season-long residency at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2018/19. In 2022 Davies composed Stone Codes for percussionist Konstantyn Napolov and the Orkest de Ereprijs for November Music. Future projects include a new work for Asko|Schönberg, premiering April 2024.