Brian Irvine (composer)

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Brian Irvine (born 2 January 1965) is a composer from Northern Ireland. "Irvine's avantgarde music is characterised by its ambition, adventure, wit and eclecticism, his compositions surrealistically juxtaposing free jazz, rock, rap, thrash, tango, lounge and contemporary classical elements."[1] Irvine was Associate Composer with the Ulster Orchestra (2007–2011) and Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Ulster.

Born in Belfast his body of work reflects an obsessive love of music creation in all its forms and includes operas, orchestral works, large-scale participatory work, film scores, multi media installations, dance works as well as ensemble, solo, and chamber pieces. His music is a highly personal concoction of contemporary classical, cartoon, improvisation, cartoon, punk, thrash and trash.

“Some of the most exhilarating and imaginative music you'll ever hope to hear……musical play in the highest sense: exuberant, spontaneous and irresistibly alive.” Stephen Brookes, Washington Post.

" Brian Irvine’s body of work is an example of the musical treasures half hidden in the cracks between the categories, smart music in a culture that often over rewards the dumb and/or the well connected…. an animated musical experience, full of frenetic time changes, fearsome collisions, and instant recoveries, wild excesses, and tender reveries……exquisite, exhilarating stuff.”     - The Guardian

“Mr. Irvine is a great composer who draws from various sources and streams: Ives or Copland-like Americana to more dissonant European extremes one of the most successful combinations of modern classical and modern jazz without any of those stale third stream cliches that only hard-nosed critics complain… a gem.” Downbeat Magazine, USA.

He is Co-Artistic director of Dumbworld (a multi award winning production company he formed with filmmaker John McIlduff in 2009) and was the first Associate Composer with the Ulster Orchestra (2008-2012). In 2015 he became the first ever Music Laureate for the City of Belfast and in December of that year was named as the winner of the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Composers Award. For the last four years he has been Associate Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Ulster.

He has been nominated for four British Academy (ASCAP) Awards and his Welsh National Opera commission: The Tailors Daughter won the award for Opera in 2008. He has also won the BBC Radio 3 Jazz Award, MCPS Joyce Dixey Award, Major Individual Artist Award (Arts Council of Northern Ireland) and the 2011 Irish Allianz Arts and Business Award for “best use of creativity in the community” for the community opera “Shelter me form the Rain” . In 2012 together with his Dumbworld collaborator he was appointed Northern Ireland’s lead artist in the London 2012 Cultural Olympics and created NEST - a giant sonic sculptural installation NEST which was created from 3000 collected objects donated from homes all over Northern Ireland, a symphony orchestra and a specially created 300 person community choir.

“Brian Irvine takes polystylism to new planes rupturing taxonomic barriers while scaring the bejaybers out of the diehards." Sunday Times He has collaborated and been commissioned by many international artists and organisations including Welsh National Opera (UK), BBC Radio 3, RTE National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland), BBC Concert Orchestra (UK), (UK), Red Note Ensemble (UK), Valle d'Aosta Symphony Orchestra (Italy), Northern Sinfonia (England), National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (UK), Northern Ireland Opera, Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Scotland), Northern Ireland Opera (UK), Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra of Chicago (USA), Channel Four (UK), Ulster Orchestra (UK), 4-Mality percussion ensemble (UK), Irish Chamber Orchestra (Ireland), PRS Foundation and the London 2012 Olympics Festival (UK) to name but a few.

Much of his output has involved close collaborations with artists from a diverse range of disciplines including: Seamus Heaney (poet, Ireland), Eduard Bersudsky (sculptor), Jennifer Walshe (composer/vocalist), John Mcilduff (filmmaker/director), Joanna Macgregor (piano), Jari Nemenin (filmmaker/director), Joel Simon (filmmaker/animator), Matthew Robbins (animator/artist), LAU (BBC Folk Award Winners), Ivor Cutler (poet, singer), Keiji Haino (guitar, Japan), David Holmes (producer/composer/DJ), Paul Dunmall (saxophone/reeds/bagpipes), Darragh Morgan (violin) and Owen McCafferty (playwright).

Together with his own ensemble (BBC Radio 3 Music Award winners) he has toured extensively throughout USA, Russia, France, Portugal, Germany, Scotland, Malta, Cyrus, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands appearing at some of the world’s leading international music festivals/venues.

In 2014/2015 the series of 5 short operas: Things We Throw Away were performed in 40 locations throughout the streets of Dublin and Belfast and the animated orchestral children’s oratorio Bluebottle was premiered by 500 singing children from Wicklow and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin. Recent orchestral works include: a collaboration with poet Seamus Heaney: Praise Aloud the Trees (25’) for double orchestra and choir commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the large scale work for orchestra and violin: A Mon Seul Desir which was premiered by Darragh Morgan (violin) and RTE National Symphony Orchestra as part of the RTE featured composer series at the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

He has just completed a tour of Ireland, Northern Ireland, London and Scotland with a new chamber work - 13 Vices - a collaboration with composer/vocalist Jennifer Walshe and is currently working on a new large scale opera based on the life of Rosemary Kennedy. 13 Vices has recently been selected to represent the UK in the 2017 New Music Biennale in Hull (City of Culture) and at the South Bank in London.

Irvine's students include Ed Bennett, Dave Kane, Steve Davis and Brian Robinson.


  1. ^ Trevor Hodgett: "Irvine, Brian", in: The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, ed. H. White & B. Boydell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), vol. 1, p. 538.

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