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Composer of the Month

Andrew Powell

Andrew Powell CotM graphic.jpg

In a multi-faceted career that spans more than five decades, Andrew Powell has collaborated with some of the best-known names in the business: from Kate Bush and Elaine Paige through to Terry Riley and Pierre Boulez. His work as a record producer, arranger, session player, conductor and composer of film scores is so extensive that it could serve as a potted history of Britain’s post-sixties music scene. As he approaches the landmark of his 75th birthday, we celebrate the rich and colourful life and work of this fascinating composer.


Formative years

While at school Powell demonstrated a precocious talent which was nurtured by teachers such as concert pianist Malcolm Troup and legendary percussionist James Blades. During this time, he studied with the avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew and attended composition classes at Darmstadt led by Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti. Powell went on to study at King’s College, Cambridge, and during his undergraduate years he co-founded the live electronics group Intermodulation with Roger Smalley and Tim Souster and was a member of experimental rock group Henry Cow.

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Powell (centre), Fred Frith (left) and Tim Hogkinson (right) rehearsing with Henry Cow at King’s College Cambridge.

Soon after graduating, Powell’s first professional gig was as a soloist at the BBC Proms and he subsequently performed with major orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra where he worked with Boulez.

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Powell conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios

In the studio

All this went on while Powell pursued a parallel life as a session player and arranger for major artists including Steve Harley, Leo Sayer, Donovan, Al Stewart, Pilot, Mick Fleetwood, Chris Rea and the Alan Parsons Project. His career as an arranger, which began with Cockney Rebel’s debut album The Human Menagerie, includes records by Chris de Burgh, Kansas and Elaine Paige which he also produced. Perhaps Powell’s most revered studio work was as producer and arranger for Kate Bush’s first two albums The Kick Inside and Lionheart which helped launch the singer to international stardom.

Total Eclipse (written for the Alan Parsons Project)Andrew Powell
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At the movies

Powell, who has had a lifelong passion for the cinema, wrote his first film score as a schoolboy and further developed this interest during his Cambridge years. His first full length feature film was Ladyhawke (starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick) and his many film and TV credits include scores for the movies Rocket Gibraltar and Closed Circuit.

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Powell with MAX expert Carlo Laurenzi in Studio 3 at IRCAM, Paris.

On the concert platform

Andrew Powell wrote his first piece when he was just five years old, and his mature catalogue of concert works dates all the way back to 1966 when he conducted his first performed orchestral work with his school orchestra. Powell created several works for Intermodulation in the late sixties as well as music, including Dorian Terilament, for the group Come to the Edge. However, during the next twenty years he had limited time outside of his rock and film commitments to dedicate to concert music. Notable amongst his output of that period was Total Eclipse for mixed choir and large orchestra, Suite for Brass Quintet with Piano (1985), Falstaff which was premièred by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in Paris in 1998 and Plasmogeny II (1999) for trumpet, live electronics and tape which he created for his close friend, John Wallace.

Dorian TerilamentAndrew Powell
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FalstaffAndrew Powell
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​Powell’s decision in 2003 to move back home to Wales had a profound impact on his work. Having learnt the language, he began setting the work of Welsh poets, producing his Tair Cerdd Sanctaidd in 2006 and later collaborating with Menna Elfyn who wrote the libretto of Y Dyn Unig (2010).

Preiddiau'r CymryAndrew Powell / Menna Elfyn
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HwiangerddAndrew Powell / Menna Elfyn
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Tair Cerdd Sanctaidd is one of a number of works Powell has written for brass and was premiered by the Parc & Dare Band which also gave the first performance of his Concerto Melyn Coch (2001). Prominent among many other concert works are Glasiad y Dydd dros Ben Dinas, premiered at the 2008 City of London Festival, Points upon a Canvas (2011), written for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Will Etienne and Isabeau Never Meet? a suite for orchestra and male choir which was first performed by the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Powell Points Upon a Canvas (excerpt)Andrew Powell
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Birthday celebrations

Andrew Powell’s 75th birthday will be marked by the launch of the Wallace Collection’s CD of his music for brass and electronics including Plasmogeny II through to his most recently completed piece, To a Walrus.

Plasmogeny IIAndrew Powell
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