Volans, Kevin

b. Pietermaritzburg, 26 July 1949


Kevin Volans was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1949. After completing a B Mus at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1972, he furthered his studies at the University of Aberdeen. From 1973 until 1981 he lived in Cologne, studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen, later becoming his teaching assistant (1975-76). During this time he also studied music theatre (with Maurizio Kagel), piano (with Aloys Kontarsky) and electronic music (with Johannes Fritsch). 


In the mid-70’s, his work became associated with the “Neue Einfachheit” movement (New Simplicity). From 1976 to 1979 Volans made 4 field recording trips to Africa, after which he composed a series of pieces based on African compositional techniques, which quickly established him as a distinctive voice on the European music circuit. In 1981 he returned to South Africa where he taught composition at the University of Natal. He was awarded the DMus in composition from the same institution in 1985. In the same year he returned to Europe, where he lived as a freelance teacher and composer in Paris and Cork. In 1986 he accepted a post as composer-in-residence at the Queen’s University (Belfast) where he remained until 1989. He was also composer-in-residene at Princeton University in 1992. In 1995 Volans became an Irish citizen, resides today in Dublin. 


In 1986 Kevin Volans began a productive collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. White Man Sleeps for string quartet (1986), Hunting: Gathering (1987) and The Songlines (1988) were written for them, and were performed at music festivals all over the world, bringing his compositions to international attention. The Kronos discs, White Man Sleeps and Pieces of Africa were immensely popular – Pieces of Africa was number one on the US Classical and world music charts for 26 weeks. 


In the 1990’s Volans became increasingly interested in writing for dance, collaborating with numerous dance companies around the world. Latterly, he has turned his attention to writing for orchestra, as well as collaborating with visual artists. Volans has recently been commissioned by the Chicago Institute of Contemporary Art, the Duke Quartet, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra, among others.



Orchestral works: 

One Hundred Frames (1991) 20'

3(pic)2(ca)2(Ebcl)2(cbn)/4231/2perc/hp.pf(cel)/str; commissioned by the Ulster Orchestra Society with funds from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Gallaher Ltd; first performance: 6 December 1991, Ulster Hall, Belfast;

Ulster Orchestra; Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor 


Concerto for Double Orchestra (2001)

Work in progress; commissioned by BBC Symphony Orchestra 


Works for Soloist and Orchestra: 

Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1995) 21'

Solo Instrument: Piano; 3(2pic)33(Ebcl)2+cbn/4231/2perc/3db; commissioned by the BBC for Peter Donohoe and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble; first performance: 18 October 1995, De Doelen Rotterdam; Peter Donohoe, piano; Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Daniel Harding, conductor 


Cello Concerto (1997) 22'

2(pic)2(ca)2(1Ebcl)2(cbn)/4220/hp/str; commissioned by the Bayerische Rundfunk/musica viva with financial support from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society; first performance: 12 December 1997, Munich

Wenn-Sin Yang, cello; Bavarian Radio Orchestra; Marek Janowski, conductor 


Viola Concerto (work in progress) ca. 20’

3333/4321/ piano/hp/1 perc/str; commissioned by the BBC Symphony for Kim Kashkashian; first performance: February 2001 Barbican, London 


Dramatic Works: 

Correspondences (1990) 75'

Bharatha Natyam dance opera based on the life and work of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920); string quartet and baritone;

commissioned by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company; first performance: 16 October 1990, The Palace Theatre, London; Llewellyn Rayappen, baritone; Smith Quartet 


The Man With Footsoles of Wind (1988-1993) 90'

chamber opera, originally conceived by Bruce Chatwin; based on the life and works of Arthur Rimbaud; text: libretto by Roger Clarke; 1(pic)02(Ebcl:bc)/210+btbn.0/2perc/pf(cel)hp/str; commissioned by Dancelines Productions and the English National Opera Contemporary Opera Studio, with assistance from the Arts Council of Great Britain; first performance: 2 July 1993, Almeida Theatre; Almeida Opera, Almeida Ensemble, Brindisi Quartet; cast including Thomas Randle, Meurig Davies, Susan Bisatt 


Zeno at 4 am (2000-2001) ca. 40’

Theatre piece conceived by William Kentridge; Libretto by Jane Taylor; for shadow puppets, actors, bass, string quartet and chorus; commissioned by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; first performance: 18th May, Lunar Theatre, Brussels as part of Kunsten Festival des Arts 


Large Chamber Ensemble: 

Into Darkness (1987, rev. 1989) 12'

cl/tpt/perc(mba,vib 1 or 2 players)/pf/vn.vc; commissioned by SAMRO for London New Music; first performance: 28 January 1987, Purcell Room, London; London New Music 


Chevron (1990) 25'

211+bcl.1/111+btbn.0/str4t; commissioned by the Rambert Dance Company with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain. Dance entitled "Wild Translations";

first performance: 24 May 1990, Theatre Royal Brighton; The Mercury Ensemble; Roger Heaton, conductor; Choreographed by Siobhan Davies 


Kneeling Dance (1992) 8'

6pf; commissioned by Piano Circus with financial assistance from the Southern Arts Board; first performance: 13 November 1992, Southampton; Piano Circus 


L'isle Joyeuse (Debussy) (arr. 1995) 6'

3(pic)2+ca.3(bcl)2+cbn/4231/2perc/db; commissioned by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble; first performance: 18 October 1995, De Doelen, Rotterdam; Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Daniel Hardling, conductor 


Double Violin Concerto (1999) 26'

Solo Instrument: 2 violins; 1(pic)111/1110/perc/pf/str( - 5 stringed dbl bass needed; commissioned by the Sonorities Festival, Belfast; first performance: 4 May 1999, Queen's University; London Sinfonietta; Rebecca Hirsch and Joan Atherton, violins; James Wood, conductor 


Works for Winds/Brass: 

Leaping Dance (1984 arr. 1995) 8'

fl.ob.ca.2cl+2bthn.2bn/2hn; first performance: August 1996 for Chandos CD;

Netherlands Wind Ensemble 


This Is How It Is (arr. 1995) 10'

fl.ob.ca.2cl+2bthn.2bn/2hn; extract from The Man With Footsoles of Wind; first performance: August 1996 for Chandos CD; Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Wim Steinmann, conductor 


Small Chamber Ensemble: 

Nine Beginnings (1976 rev.1985) 10'

two pianos; first performance: 1 June 1979, Beginner Studio, Köln;

Gerald Barry and Kevin Volans 


Matepe (1980) 10 - 20'

two harpsichords and rattles; first performance: Ostasiatische Museum, Köln;

Kevin Volans and Paul Simmonds, harpsichords; Manos Tsangaris, rattles 


White Man Sleeps (1982) 22'

2 hpsd, viola da gamba, percussion; first performance: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Kevin Volans and Paul Simmonds, hpsd; Margriet Tindemans, viola da gamba; Robyn Schulkowsky, percussion 


Walking Song (1984) 6'

fl.hpsd/virginal or pno. four hand-clappers/finger clickers; sponsored by the Kulturamt, Köln; first performance: Durban Art Gallery; Alain Barker, flute; Kevin Volans, harpsichord; Matteo Fargion and Angela Impey, hand-clappers 


Leaping Dance (1984) 6'

two pianos; first performance: 25 August 1985, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Gustave Fenyö and Peter Seivewright, pianos 


Kneeling Dance (1984) 10'

two pianos; first performance: 25 August 1985, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Gustave Fenyö and Peter Seivewright, pianos 


String Quartet No 1 - White Man Sleeps (1986) 24'

String quartet; first performance: 13 July 1986, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Kronos Quartet 


Movement for String Quartet (1987) 8'

String quartet; commissioned by Jill Addleson and Durban Arts; first performance: 8 April 1987, Durban Art Gallery 


String Quartet No 2 - Hunting: Gathering (1987) 22'

String quartet; commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Doris and Myron Beigler and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; first performance: 11 December 1987, Herbst Theater, San Francisco; Kronos Quartet 


String Quartet No 3 - The Songlines (1988 rev. 1993) 26'

String quartet; commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Viking Press Inc; first performance: 26 November 1988, Lincoln Center, New York; Kronos Quartet 


String Quartet No 4 - The Ramanujan Notebooks (1990 rev. 1994) 26'

String quartet; first performance: 16 December 1990, Almeida Theatre, London;

Smith Quartet 


Wanting To Tell Stories (1993) 27'

pno.cl.vla.db; commissioned by the Siobhan Davies Dance Company;

first performance: 13 May 1993, Brighton Festival; Siobhan Davies Dance Company; Andrew Ball, piano; Roger Heaton, clarinet; Bridget Carey, viola; Alan Taylor, double bass 


String Quartet No 5 - Dancers on a Plane (1994) 30'

String quartet and taped natural sounds; jointly commissioned by BT Plc and the National Federation of Music Societies; first performance: 8 October 1994, Barnes Music Society; The Duke Quartet 


Cicada (1994) 26'

two pianos; commissioned for the Double Edge Piano Duo by the Mary Carey Foundation; first performance: 25 April 1994, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 


String Quartet No. 6 (2000) 24’

For double string quartet; commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland and the City Music Society (London); for the Duke Quartet 


Works for Soloist and Instruments: 

Untitled (1996) 14'

for piano solo and offstage wind ensemble; fl.ob.ca.2cl.2bn/2hn; first performance: August 1996 for Chandos CD; Kevin Volans, piano; Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Wim Steinmann, conductor 


Solo Instrumental Works: 

March (1996) 5'

commissioned by the Guardian Dublin International Piano Competition with funds from the Arts Council of Ireland; first performance: May 1997, National Concert Hall, Dublin 


Newer Music for Piano (1981, rev. 1992) 8'

Solo piano; first performance Theater Am Turm, Frankfurt (1981);

Kevin Volans pf 


Walking Song (1984 trans 1986) 6'

Solo organ; first performance: 1986, Dublin; Gerald Barry, organ 


She Who Sleeps with a Small Blanket (1985) 16'

percussion solo; first performance: 22 October 1985, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Salzburg; Robyn Schulkowsky, percussion 


Striding Dance (1992) 3'

Piano solo; Volans transcribed by Yvar Mikhashoff; from Act II, The Man With Footsoles of Wind; first performance: 1 June 1992, Buffalo; Yvar Mikhashoff 


Asanga (1997) 8'

Percussion; first performance: 30 September 1998, Fylkingen, Stockholm;

Robyn Schulkowsky, percussion 


Akrodha (1997/8) 27'

percussion; commissioned by the Swedish Concert Institute; first performance: 18 March 1999, Stockholm New Music Festival; Jonny Axelsson, percussion 


Music for Dance: 

Duets (1995) [with co-composer Matteo Fargion] 45'

tape; alternative orchestration: piano and tape; commissioned by the Jonathan Burrows Group, dance title "The Stop Quartet"; first performance: 7 May 1996, Vooruit, Gent, Belgium; Kevin Volans, piano 


5:4 (1996) 18'

percussion and tape; commissioned by Frankfurt Ballet, dance entitled "Walking Music"; first performance: 31 January 1997, Schauspielhaus, Frankfurt; Robyn Schulkowsky, percussion 


Things I Don't Know (1997/8) 30'

tape; commissioned by the Jonathan Burrows Group; first performance: 29 April 1998, Laban Centre, London 


Wild Air (1998) 60'

commissioned by the Siobhan Davies Dance Company with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland / An Chomhairle Ealaion and the Arts Council of Great Britain; first performance: 7 May 1999, Oxford Playhouse 


Surface (1999) [with Juergen Simpson, electronics] 28'

harpsichord and tape; commissioned by the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, dance entitled "Surface Tension"; first performance: 1 February 2000, Nottingham Playhouse; Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company; Carole Cerasi, harpsichord 


Electronic Music: 

Studies in Zulu History (1977-1979) 34'

electronic tape (stereo - originally quadraphonic); first performance: 1982, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 


Kwazulu Summer Landscape (1979) 64'

tape of natural sounds (stereo - originally quadraphonic); first performance: 10 May 1979, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York 


Cover Him With Grass (1982) 17'

tape of natural sounds (stereo); first performance: 1982, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 


Choral Music: 

One Day Fine (2000) 4 min.

1 large and 2 smaller choirs; commissioned by Grahamstown New Music Festival

(suitable only for Xhosa speakers) 


Works for Television: 

Blue, Yellow (1995) 12'

part of String Quartet No 4; commissioned by Tall Stories for BBC2; first Broadcast: 28 December 1995, BBC2 


Plane-Song (1994) 30'

specially commissioned music for a BBC / Arts Council television film, directed by Deborah May, MJW Productions; string quartet and taped natural sounds (recorded by Volans in Southern Africa); commissioned by BBC / Arts Council;

first performance: 11 April 1995, Sound on Film, BBC2; The Duke Quartet 


Chamber Ensemble: 

2 Songs (1970)

soprano and pf (text E.E. Cummings); unperformed 


Grafik (1971)

graphic score, realised 1974 by Richard Toop; 2pf.(8 hands) fl vl vcl; first performance: Universität Köln 1974 


Module (1973)

graphic score with instructions, 4 players; unperformed 


Delay in Glass (1979) 20'

2 singers, Irish harp, 2 pf., tape; first performance by Barbara Thornton, Ben Bagby, Gerald Barry and Kevin Volans; Beginner Studio, Köln 1 June 1979 


Renewed Music/Reviewed Music ca. 12'(1979)

6 percussionists; premiered at the WDR Cologne; conductor Bernard Kontarsky;

Feedback Verlag 


Mbira indeterminate length min. 10' (1980)

2 re-tuned harpsichords and rattles; first performance at the Ostasiatische Museum Koeln; Kevin Volans, Paul Simmonds hpschd and Michael Ranta perc.; withdrawn 


Journal (Walking Song) ca. 16' (1984)

Chamber ensemble 12 players; first performance: Kevin Volans and Isabella Stengel (solo pianos); members of the Durban Symphony Orchestra and Michael Hankinson (cond); withdrawn 


White Man Sleeps (1986 arr. 1995) 22'

three guitars; arr. By Bernd Goldau 


Piano Music: 

Monkey Music ca. 10' (1976 rev. 1981)

solo piano; written for Herbert Henck for the opening series of concerts

of IRCAM, Pompidou Centre, Paris; second version with speaker premiered at the ICA London


6 Etudes for piano (3 rhythmical and 3 structural); premiered by Jill Richards (2003/2004)

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