Emily Howard

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Emily Howard
Emily Howard 2016
Born (1979-02-23) 23 February 1979 (age 43)
Alma materLincoln College, Oxford; Royal Northern College of Music; University of Manchester
Notable work
Antisphere (2019); The Anvil (2019); Torus (2016); Magnetite (2007)

Emily Howard (born 1979) is a British composer whose work is best known for its inventive connections with mathematical shapes and processes.

Early life[edit]

Howard was born in Liverpool, England. After completing a degree in mathematics and computer science at Lincoln College, Oxford, Howard studied composition at the Royal Northern College of Music (MMus) and the University of Manchester (PhD).


In 2008, Howard was commissioned to write a work for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to mark Liverpool's recognition as a European Capital of Culture in 2008. The resulting piece, Magnetite, received critical acclaim, and Howard went on to win an award from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

In 2010, Howard became the inaugural UBS Composer in Residence in conjunction with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Bridge Academy in Hackney, writing Solar (2010) for the LSO conducted by Nicholas Collon, a work that the Financial Times praised for its ability 'to suggest galactic power on a compact scale'.[1] In 2011, Howard's music was the focus of Wien Modern, which saw performances of Magnetite in the Musikverein (by the Tonkünstler Orchestra under Andrés Orozco-Estrada), Solar and Calculus of the Nervous System (2011) in the Wiener Konzerthaus (performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra with Sir James MacMillan).

Meanwhile, Howard continued to explore musical wordplay and wrote the operatic biopic Zátopek!, commissioned by Second Movement as part of New Music 20x12 for the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad, and the Ada sketches, premiered at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre. In the same year, Mesmerism, a Diamond Jubilee commission for the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra with pianist Alexandra Dariescu, won a British Composer Award.

Howard's work increasingly blurred the boundaries between art and science, although, as Simon Rattle once remarked 'her music doesn't feel the least bit mechanical – she has her own very particular sound world'. Howard collaborated with mathematician Marcus du Sautoy to create string quartet Four Musical Proofs and a Conjecture, which was premiered at the New Scientist Live Festival in 2017. In recent years, Howard has explored what she terms 'orchestral geometries', with several large-scale works that evoke shapes and processes. Torus, a 2016 BBC Proms commission, was described by the Times as 'visionary' and won the orchestral category of the 2017 British Composer Awards. Antisphere, the latest in the unofficial series, was commissioned by the Barbican for Rattle and the LSO, and opened the 2019-20 season.

That same year The Anvil: An Elegy for Peterloo, for orchestra, chorus and soloists with a text by Michael Symmons Roberts, was performed by Kate Royal, Christopher Purves, three Hallé Choirs, the BBC Singers and BBC Philharmonic under Ben Gernon at the Manchester International Festival, who described Howard as one of British music's 'most original voices'.[2] Howard's music was also the subject of the Barbican's high-profile Life Rewired season in 2019, which explored artistic responses to society and technology. Howard curated 'Ada Lovelace: Imagining the Analytical Engine', an evening of new music and discussion in honour of mathematician Ada Lovelace.

Howard's first full-length opera, To See The Invisible (2018), was an Aldeburgh Festival commission with a text by Selma Dimitrijevic after a short sci-fi story by Robert Silverberg. The Telegraph remarked that the opera demonstrated that 'Howard’s idiom has a cool confidence and clarity of its own'[3] while the Times observed that the achievement 'raised hopes for Howard’s future work'.[4]

Alongside her artistic commitments, Howard is active as a researcher and teacher. In 2015, she was Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.

In 2017, Howard co-launched PRiSM, the RNCM Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music. In addition to her role as Director of PRiSM, Howard is Professor of Composition at the RNCM,[5] where she has taught since 2010.

In 2019, Howard was a TORCH visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford and was elected honorary fellow of Oxford's Lincoln College.

Howard is based in Manchester and is represented by Cathy Nelson Artists & Projects.[6] All works are published by Edition Peters.

Selected discography[edit]

Magnetite (NMC), NMCD219 (2016)

Zátopek! (NMC), NMCDL2012-10 (2012)

Sky and Water featured in John McCabe: Farewell Recital (Toccata Classics), TOCC0139 (2011)

Wild Clematis in Winter featured in The NMC Songbook (NMC), NMCD150 (2009)

Outback in A Garland For John McCabe (Divine Art), DDA25166 (2018)

Masquerade for basset clarinet and piano featured in Prism: New Works for Clarinet (NMC), NMCD139 (2011)

Cloud Chamber featured in Paul Vowles's recital disc (Prima Facie), PFCD035 (2015)

Music style[edit]

Howard uses a broad range of sonic colour, at times exploring the extremities of instrumental and vocal timbre. Architectural shape and narrative arc are important elements in her writing. The overlap between music, maths and computer science is reflected in some of the titles, for example Calculus of the Nervous System (2011) and the 2013 children's work Pi (a Pie?). Her interest in chess is also referenced in Chaos or Chess (2016), which borrows its title from a line written by poet Geoffrey Hill. Word-setting and word play are equally important features in Howard's oeuvre, such as the recent use of Ada Lovelace's text in the ‘But then, what are these numbers?’ (2019).


Howard’s father used to play in the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra with Simon Rattle. The composer was British Junior Girls Chess Champion from 1990-1996.

Selected works[edit]

Works for orchestra[edit]

  • Antisphere (2019)
  • sphere (2017)
  • Torus (2016)
  • Axon (2013)
  • Calculus of the Nervous System (2011)
  • Solar (2010)
  • Magnetite (2007)

Chamber orchestra[edit]

  • Mesmerism (2011)
  • Lachrymose (2006)
  • Passacaglia (2002)

Orchestra with choir[edit]

  • The Anvil (2019)

Opera and vocal[edit]

  • To See The Invisible (2018)
  • Zátopek! (2012)

Solo vocal[edit]

  • But then, what are these numbers? (2019)
  • Threnos (2015)
  • Ada sketches (2011)
  • Songs from Dickens (2010)
  • Wild Clematis in Winter (2008)


  • Two Songs after Friday Afternoons (2013)
  • Ite Fortes (2006)


  • Carillon (2013)
  • Settle (2010)
  • Obsidian (2010)
  • Broken Hierarchies (2008)
  • Dualities (2005)


  • Four Musical Proofs and a Conjecture (2017)
  • Afference (2014)
  • Deconstruction V (2012)
  • Zugzwänge (2012)
  • Broken Hierarchies II (2009)
  • The Summoning of Mephisto (2007)


  • Outlier (2018)
  • Chaos or Chess (2016)
  • Orbits (2015)
  • Leviathan (2015)
  • Masquerade (2009)
  • Cloud Chamber (2006)
  • Sky and Water (2005)

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Elgar Violin Concerto, Barbican, London". Financial Times. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  2. ^ "The Anvil". Manchester International Festival. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  3. ^ Christiansen, Rupert (9 June 2018). "To See the Invisible, Aldeburgh Festival, review: oddly compelling". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  4. ^ Morrison, Richard. "Opera review: To See The Invisible at Snape Maltings, Suffolk". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  5. ^ "Emily Howard - Royal Northern College of Music". RNCM. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Cathy Nelson artists and projects - Emily Howard". www.cathynelson.co.uk. Retrieved 24 August 2020.

External links[edit]