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James Dillon
1950 -

Image © Dylan Collard

James Dillon is one of the UK’s most internationally celebrated and performed composers. His work spans all genres from solos to chamber music, orchestral to opera. The recipient of a number of prizes and awards including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis and the Japan Foundation Artist Scholarship, he has also won an unprecedented four Royal Philharmonic Society awards, and was most recently awarded a BASCA British Composer Award for Stabat Mater dolorosa in 2015. He has been a guest lecturer at many universities throughout the world, and was named 2001 New York University Distinguished International Visitor. In 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Huddersfield and in the same year he was appointed Professor of Composition, University of Minnesota.


In 1983, Dillon’s First String Quartet received its premiere from the Arditti Quartet at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The Arditti Quartet has remained closely involved with the composer, having premiered and widely performed Dillon's subsequent quartets, and Huddersfield is one of the many festivals to regularly feature Dillon's music, most recently as Composer in Residence in 2014.

Nine Rivers, an enormous three-and-a-half hour sequence of works composed over more than two decades, was first performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2010 and has subsequently been heard in New York and at the 2013 Holland Festival to great acclaim. Nine Rivers was conceived, not as a cycle, but as a collection of works with certain 'internal symmetries'. The nine works are scored for various forces, ranging from the solo percussion and electronics of La coupure, through ensemble pieces such as East 11th St NY 10003, to the largest works - Viriditas, for sixteen solo voices, and Oceanos. This last piece, the 'ocean of oceans', is Nine Rivers' delta, bringing together all the forces previously deployed throughout the series and including more than fifty musicians and live electronics. Dillon says that he embarked upon the Nine Rivers project in part to escape the frustratingly 'atomistic' nature of a composer's activities. The intricate references of this complex meditation on time range from environmental concerns to the nature of musical language connected through the metaphor of the river.

Nine Rivers is indicative of Dillon’s tendency to think in terms of large-scale, complementary forms. In the mid-1980s, Dillon began a 'German Triptych', a set of works based on the idea, the composer says, of 'illumination as the emanation from darkness', a recurring theme in Western art.  Überschreiten from 1985 was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, this was followed in 1987 by helle Nacht, Dillon's first work for large orchestra. Richard Toop described this piece as 'a music full of figures which, like the stars, are intense, yet seem almost infinitely far away'. The 'German Triptych' was completed with the 1996 flute concerto Blitzschlag. Other grouped works include: L'évolution du vol, a song cycle for female voice and chamber ensemble; the violin series that makes up Traumwerk and The Book of Elements, a cycle in five volumes for solo piano. Most recently Dillon has completed a set of instrumental Triptych’s, for ensembles based in Leuven, New York and Oslo.

His music has been published exclusively by Peters Edition since 1982.



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