Richard Barrett (Swansea, 1959) is internationally active as composer and performer, and also teaches at the Institute of Sonology in Den Haag and at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts at Leiden University. His work encompasses a range from free improvisation to intricately-notated scores, and from acoustic chamber music to innovative uses of digital technology. Recent compositions include close-up for electroacoustic sextet, written for Ensemble Studio6; everything has changed/nothing has changed for orchestra, given its premiere by the SWR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Rundel in February 2017; and the first instalment of natural causes, a work in progress for the ensemble Musikfabrik, given its premiere in May 2017. Current projects include new works for ELISION, with whom Richard Barrett has been working regularly since 1990, and for the Los Angeles-based ensemble gnarwhallaby. Ongoing performative collaborations include with Paul Obermayer (in FURT), Evan Parker, and several other improvising ensembles such as SKEIN (with Achim Kaufmann, Frank Gratkowski, Wilbert de Joode and others) and Colophony (with Jon Rose and Meinrad Kneer). Richard Barrett’s principal composition teacher was Peter Wiegold, and he currently resides in Belgrade. His work as composer and performer is documented on over forty CDs, including seven discs devoted to his compositions and nine by FURT.

Zachary Woolfe in the New York Times, 25 June 2015


One measure of the esteem in which the British composer Richard Barrett is held at Spectrum, the Lower East Side performance space? An excerpt from the score for “tendril,” his 2013 piece for harp and electronics, is printed on the front of the space’s new T-shirts. A more traditional measure is the three-concert series Spectrum is devoting to Mr. Barrett’s work. It began on Wednesday with a riveting program featuring members of the ensemble TILT Brass. This was, for New York listeners, an all-too-rare dip into a vivid, expressive, communicative repertory. “I think it’s fairly easy to follow what’s going on,” Mr. Barrett said by way of introducing the first piece, “Aurora” (2010). That’s not entirely right — these are dense, complicated scores — but it captures the fundamental accessibility of his music.

“Aurora” places a fluegelhorn (Tim Leopold) and an alto trombone (Will Lang) in a conversation that’s sometimes babbling banter, sometimes uniform pronouncement, with shiningly clear tones and muddy plops. A sinuous, seductive duet, “tendril” (with the harpist Milana Zaric and Mr. Barrett) layers electronic strumming over the sound made by rubbing the harp’s strings. Ending with a forlorn nightscape of faint howls and echoing plucks, the piece has a deeply satisfying sense of a narrative, the unfolding of which is both surprising and somehow inevitable. I was less persuaded by “Katasterismoi” (1999), a queasily lurching 10 minutes of prickly metallic reverb, but the other purely electronic piece, “Equale” (2013, composed by Mr. Barrett and Kees Tazelaar), was a luminous dirge suffused with the sounds of brass instruments. Composed as a memorial to the composer Luigi Nono, it subtly evokes the natural world (birds, human voices heard as if underwater), the music continually seeming to vanish before flickering back to life.

Inspired by performers of Japanese Noh theater, “basalt” (1991), for trombone (Christopher McIntyre), is a monologue of musty grumblings, sudden shifts and ragged breaths. Part of a series of pieces that include improvisation and flexible indications for performers, the febrile “codex XII” (2013), for all the evening’s players (and Gareth Flowers on trumpet), careers from austerity — Morse code pulses in a single trumpet — to animated collective musical conversations.

Clear without being simple, it was splendid. Go to the rest of the series. And buy a T-shirt.