I Thirst - Robin Walker (RVRCD66)

Robin Walker was born in York in 1953 and studied at Durham University. There he encountered David Lumsdaine, who not only helped him to acquire the craft of composition but also furnished examples of music's power to embody mythic experience while using the most economical forces, as in his Aria for Edward John Eyre, which chronicles an early exploration of Southern Australia's inhospitable Nullarbor Plain and which Walker was later to champion as conductor. Philosophical themes of this kind have remained a constant concern for Walker, even as his style has undergone dramatic evolution. A clear statement of his musical credo may be found in his contribution to the recent symposium Reviving the Muse, edited by Peter Davison (Claridge Press, Brinkworth, 2001).

After Durham, Robin Walker did three years of postgraduate research at Keble College, Oxford (into the effect of Wagner on French music before the First World War) interspersed with a short period at the Collège Franco-Brittanique in the University of Paris. He continued his studies at the Royal College of Music, lecturing part-time at King's College, London and at the Royal Academy of Music before taking up a full-time appointment at the University of Manchester in 1980. Here he founded and co-ordinated the New Music/Old Music concert series, directed the Electronic Music Studio and conducted numerous student and professional performances.

In 1981 his Dance/Still for chamber ensemble brought his first Radio 3 broadcast; this piece showed an affinity with late Stravinsky in its fine balance of opposed states of motion. At the same time, however, Walker was casting the stylistic net wide, producing, amongst other things, a haunting re-composition of the Kink's Waterloo Sunset and the violent ritualised-minimalist meditation of Seven Last Words for electric guitar and percussion. In the summer of 1983 he travelled to Bangalore to learn the art of drumming in traditional South Indian dance. Among creative spin-offs of this visit were the solo viola piece Age/a gita, performed by Yuko Inoue at the Purcell Room.

Since resigning his lectureship in 1987, Robin Walker has lived in Delph, near Oldham, on the edge of the Saddleworth moors, patiently exploring new directions in a small number of carefully crafted works. Of these The Stone Maker, a glowering 30-minute symphonic poem performed and broadcast in 1996 by the BBC Philharmonic under Elgar Howarth, is undoubtedly the most ambitious. This profoundly impressive work re-engages with the kind of large-scale symphonic momentum mastered by Sibelius, Tippett and Robert Simpson, yet without denying Walker's previous interests in the sound-worlds of Boulez and Birtwistle, and in its fusion of the ascetic and the ecstatic The Stone Maker is one of the outstanding achievements in British music of the 1990s. Still more traditional in its harmonies and textures are the string orchestra piece Hold Hands Across the Years, premièred in March 1998 by the English Chamber Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the chamber opera The Bells of Blue Island.

Robin Walker has also been drawn to projects outside the classical mainstream, including pieces for the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, various ballet and theatre productions, and a school opera based on the Odysseus legend. His music has been heard at various Festivals in this country and abroad. Future plans include a three-act opera along the Wagnerian lines: The Return of Odysseus

David Fanning

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