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Music’s power to find poetry in science, and magic in the mathematical, has been an important strand in much of Tim Watts’s recent work. His opera, Kepler’s Trial, which tells the story of the witchcraft trial of the astronomer Johannes Kepler, was described as ‘musically and dramatically compelling’ (seenandheard-international.com) at its 2017 production at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s opera exhibition. This project sparked an interest in the relationship between music and astronomy that has since led to a series of astronomically inspired compositions. Between 2019 and 2022 Tim was artist-in-residence at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.
The four Kepler-Motetten, commissioned by the University of Tübingen, Germany, turn Kepler’s metaphorical chorus of planets into a score for the vocal sextet, Gesualdo Six; the anthem, The Ordinances of Heaven, celebrated the opening of Ely Cathedral’s 2019 Science Festival; Starfruit for narrator and sextet was commissioned for the 2019 King’s Lynn Festival and tells the story of the ‘big bang’ and the early universe up to the formation of stars. A cantata for the countertenor, Iestyn Davies and the Britten Sinfonia, A World in the Moone, was due for premiere in 2020 and is currently awaiting a post-pandemic premiere.
A number of his works, including the opera, Kepler’s Trial, set his own words, but his song cycles have also found inspiration in the contemporary poetry of Don Paterson (White Shadow), and in the early twentieth-century texts of poet-composer Ivor Gurney (Equal Mistress) and Wilfred Owen (SHEER, commissioned by the Wilfred Owen Society to mark the centenary of the poet’s death in 2018). The cycle, Six Songs to Orpheus, written for tenor, Andrew Kennedy, sets texts by poets connected with the output of Benjamin Britten to form a commentary on the relationships between word and music, poet and composer.
In his most recent works, Tim has explored the use of text as a collaborative 'catalyst'. His string quartet, At the End of the Storm, is inspired by favourite poems and prose of the four members of the Castalian Quartet who gave its premiere in 2022. It takes its title from the lyrics of the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone', which was selected by the quartet's Liverpool FC-mad second violinist. The Third Sea is a 'sea-voyage in song', which goes one step further in bringing the performers into the creative process by constructing a progression from the 'dry land' of conventional notation to the 'open seas' of text-based improvisation. The Kathleen Ferrier Award-winning countertenor Hugh Cutting sang the premiere at London's King's Place with the composer at the piano alongside violinist Leo Appel, cellist Laura van der Heijden, and Vanessa Paloma Elbaz in the role of narrator.
Tim is a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He has written frequently for the college’s choirs and his Advent anthem, The Birth of Speech, was recorded by the Chapel Choir for Signum Classics. He is also a professor at London’s Royal College of Music. He studied composition with Jeffery Wilson, Hugh Wood and Robin Holloway and trained as an accompanist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he was supported by an award from The Countess of Munster Musical Trust.
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