Peter McGarr

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Peter McGarr (born 28 May 1953) is a UK classical composer and teacher, working in the English experimental tradition and inspired by Northern English landscape and culture.


Born in Openshaw, Manchester, and attended Ducie Technical High School for Boys, now Manchester Academy. McGarr studied Music and Dance at Mather College (now part of Manchester University) and is self-taught in composition. For several years he taught steel pan, achieving the Outstanding Performance Award from Music for Youth for his steel band 'Orchestral Steel', appearing in the School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 1984[1] and 1986[2] He has received the Butterworth Prize for Composition[3] from the Society for the Promotion of New Music and has been nominated for Music Teacher of the Year, the British Composer Awards, the Paul Hamlyn foundation Awards and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship. He has led composition workshops at the Edinburgh International Festival[4] and also engaged extensively with musical activities involving the elderly and people with dementia.

Style and influences[edit]

McGarr has been influenced by the sounds and culture of the Northern English people and landscape[5] He uses theatre, extended techniques and everyday sounds to 'Sustain rapt melody that seems to scrutinise the tintinnabulations of nature for signs of hope or doom'.[6] His musical style 'Integrates tremolo sounds into a subtle patchwork of changing harmonies.'[7] He follows in a long tradition of British artists and poets who have interpreted the British people and landscape.

Works and commissions[edit]

He has received performances and commissions from many leading musicians, orchestras and festivals including The BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall,[8] BBC Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta (Conductor Pierre Andre Valade)[9] Joanna MacGregor,[10] Ensemble Bash,[5] Three Strange Angels[11] Passacaglia,[12] oboeworks,[13] Cappella Nova[14] CoMa,[15] Exmoor Singers of London[16] The Crossing (USA)[17] City Chamber Choir[18] Scottish Flute Trio[19] Tempest Flute Trio,[20] Kevin Bowyer[21] Ruth Morley,[22] Sarah Brooke,[23] Emily Andrews,[24] Sarah Field[25] Brodsky Quartet, Tubalate,[26] Black Dyke Band.

In 2007 he was commissioned by the Tallis Festival to write a 40-part companion piece to Thomas Tallis's 'Spem in alium'. The resulting work, 'Lindisfarne Love Song' (also called 'Love You Big as the Sky) included poems about Lindisfarne, diary notes and the detailed geography of the area including shipwrecks and lighthouses. An on-line campaign has since started, Lybats, to secure a performance of the piece on its 'Spiritual home' of Lindisfarne[27]

In 2008 the Bath International Music Festival commissioned its largest ever piece; a choral work from McGarr, to celebrate the festival's 60th anniversary. The work was 'Homesongs' and scored for over a 1,000 voices.[28]

Recent projects include an opera for percussionist Chris Brannick, soundtrack to a film-installation by Richard Dawson and a Music-theatre work for 12 percussionists.

His music is published by Faber Music,[10]

British Composer Awards[edit]

He won the 2013–14 British Composer Awards (Making Music Category) for his piece 'Dry Stone Walls of Yorkshire', written for orchestra with soundtrack and features field recordings made on Saddleworth Moor.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Peter McGarr is the only son of Joan McGarr, a school secretary from Audlem in Cheshire and William McGarr, a shipbuilder, coal miner and mouth organ player from Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne (both deceased). He was brought up in the Openshaw district of East Manchester, where he lived for many years. In 2005 he and his wife, Janet Tye, moved from the city to live in the lancashire/Yorkshire borderlands on the edge of Saddleworth Moor.

Selected works[edit]

  • Creating a Wildflower Garden (Wildflower Street) for orchestra
  • Dreaming England for mixed choir
  • Lindisfarne Love Song (Love You Big as the Sky) for 40-part choir
  • Sweet Steel Alone for solo tenor steel pan
  • Tidelines for Javanese gamelan
  • Night Scented Stock for percussion and piano
  • Audlem Sonatas for solo percussion
  • Sound Asleep for percussion quartet
  • Vanishing Games for oboe quartet
  • The Buried Dreams of Our Lives for baroque ensemble
  • Something Lost for flute and piano
  • Eleven Nights with Glenn Gould for solo piano

Selected recordings[edit]

  • Something Lost (Sarah Brooke, flute; Elizabeth Burley, piano / British Music Label BML031)
  • Dreaming England / Beautiful Days (Exmoor Singers of London : conductor James Jarvis)
  • Vanishing Games (Oboe Quartet : oboeworks. / Dinmore Records DRD 066)
  • Fieldthread (Flutes d' Accordes / Amalie Records ALACD 1202)
  • Memory Trace (Tuba Quartet; Tubalate / TCD 5)
  • Homesongs (Collected soundtracks / Broken Scissor Records BSR 01457)
  • Sound Asleep (Ensemble Bash / SignumSIGCD 294)


  1. ^ "The Leading Issu Site on the Net". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ ButterworthPrizeforComposition[dead link]
  4. ^ "Dundee – Events". Caird Hall. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^>Culture>Music>Mercury prize 2002
  7. ^ Keith Potter (7 January 1997). "Flash in the pan – Arts & Entertainment". The Independent. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Proms – Cloudspell Seasons". BBC. 1 January 1970. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  9. ^ "Valade, repertoire". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Joanna MacGregor Explores Unbeaten Tracks! – News & Reviews – Joanna MacGregor – Composers – Faber Music". 6 October 2005. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  11. ^ "Classical Music :: The Classical Source :: Feature Review: fffade away :: Classical Music". The Classical Source. 29 January 2006. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  12. ^ "Passacaglia- Bio, Albums, Pictures – Naxos Classical Music". 25 June 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  13. ^ "Oboeworks oboe quartet – oboe and string trio – chamber music, concerts". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  14. ^ "Scottish Arts Council – Archive – Choirs at Christmas". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "Canterbury Group Travel site – E&A Details". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  16. ^ [2][dead link]
  17. ^ Gearhart, Steven (19 May 2009). "The Crossing: Month of Moderns 2". ChoralNet. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ http://www.scottishflutetrio/#/repertoire/4530952903
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Kevin Bowyer/Glasgow University Chapel Choir – News and features". 1 February 2006. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  22. ^ "s•o•u•n•d event – Ruth Morley, flute; Scott Mitchell, piano – 25 November 2007 @ 3pm". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Emily Andrews flautist past events page". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  25. ^ [3][dead link]
  26. ^ [4][dead link]
  27. ^ Jim, Honest (11 December 2007). "LYBATS". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  28. ^
  29. ^

External links[edit]