Awards for Artists
Image of Frank Denyer
Photo credit: Emile Holba

Frank Denyer

Frank Denyer (born 1943) is a composer who has for over four decades been incorporating new instruments of his own design and adaptation into his work. The potential of his instruments and their development has become a vital part of the compositional process.

Driven by a lifelong preoccupation with music that transcends the accepted categories of both traditional and contemporary styles, his work is exploratory but characterised by an acute sensitivity to acoustic sound. Commentators invariably comment on the radical originality of his work.

Awarded a PhD in ethnomusicology in 1977, he developed a lifelong interest in African and Asian musics through professional fieldwork, academic research and his own compositions. Between 1976 and 1999, Denyer worked closely with shakuhachi player Yoshikazu Iwamoto in a partnership that significantly expanded the instrument’s tonal and technical range. From 1992 to 2010 he was joint co-director and pianist with the Barton Workshop, helping to create their repertoire of influential, experimental music.

His own music is largely designed for the concert hall but he has welcomed performances in more challenging architectural spaces, as well as the recording studio. Denyer has now made instruments in every major category and has significantly expanded minor instrumental categories almost unwittingly.

His music can be found on many different record labels including Tzadik, Mode Records, Continuum, Another Timbre and Etcetera.

At the age of 75 this award comes at a crucial time. First, it is encouragement to take up the challenge of the new ideas implicit in my recent work and gear up for the next stage. Secondly, it will make possible a performance of ‘Melodies’, with a hand-picked team of musicians. This 90 minute work written forty years ago was not previously performed due to its unusual technical demands regarding tuning and intonation. I am relieved too that I will now be able to properly preserve and care for the collection of new musical instruments made for my music over the years. The news that I had been nominated for this award came out of the blue and was therefore doubly delightful.

Examples of work

After the Rain, 1983

Shakuhachi, violin, 3 ocarinas, percussion.

15 minutes 33 seconds duration (extract 2m)

Commissioned by the Dartington Ensemble.

Contained in a Strange Garden, 1989

For mei and percussion.

10 minutes 35 seconds duration (extract 2m)

Commissioned and played by Robin Canter and James Wood.

Broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 1989.

Towards the Darkness, 1988/89

3 double-basses, 3 tin whistles and percussion.

28 minutes 30 seconds duration (extract 2m)

Played by the Barton Workshop, conducted by the composer.

Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices, 2010

Violin, viola, Indian santur, percussion, voices.

16 minutes 13 seconds duration (extract 2m)

Played by Marieke Keser, Elisabeth Smalt and the Barton Workshop, conducted by the composer.