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Mark Bowden

This new commission by RPS-award-winning composer Mark Bowden is inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s extraordinary history of humankind, Sapiens, and will receive its world premiere at the Purcell Room in December 2018.


Mark studied at Huddersfield and the Royal College of Music. His music often comes with a bundle of extra-musical connections, embracing far-reaching literary and philosophical ideas, but its impact is a physical one. Mark creates music of great expressive power and his confidence handling large forces and forms is unmistakable. He has enjoyed residencies and fellowships with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rambert Dance Company, Aldeburgh Music, Handel House Museum, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, the Visby International Centre for Composers in Sweden and the MacDowell Colony in the US.

Mark is currently Professor of Composition at Royal Holloway, University of London and chair of the British section of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In 2015 he was awarded the Welsh Music Guild’s Glanville Jones Award and in 2016 he received a British Composer Award.

Mark Bowden on Sapiens:

Ideas for pieces seem to bombard me from all directions - literature and art, people, tech and the environment all play their part, as does music itself of course. The idea for this piece came whilst reading Yuval Noah Harari's wonderful books Sapiens and Homo Deus. In these thrilling works Harari takes us on a 200,000 year journey as he makes sense of how our foraging ancestors came together to create cities and kingdoms, gods, nations and human rights. Sapiens is a bold, wide-ranging and provocative text which challenges everything we thought we knew about what it means to be human, whilst in Homo Deus Harari speculates about where humanity is headed and how we might get there.

The books have inspired in me a palette of musical shapes and ideas which I will use to create a musical response to Harari's ideas. It will be a programmatic piece of sorts, taking literary ideas as a starting point in the tradition of Strauss, Berio and Hans Abrahamsen, but it will move far beyond a simple description of the books. Rather, my piece will be a response to some of the wonderful stories Harari describes whilst also having its own tales to tell.

In terms of the form, I have wanted to write a saxophone concerto for London Sinfonietta principal player Simon Haram for some time, ever since we first worked together on a Sinfonietta Short a few years ago. Simon asked me to write a larger-scale work for him in the future should the opportunity arise. I think the idea of a concerto, a soloist set against an ensemble, is an ideal idiom in which to explore ideas about humanity and the individual's place within human society.

Harari’s work is the sort of writing which, in the words of one critic, ‘sweeps the cobwebs out of your brain; radiates power and clarity, making the world seem strange and new.’ I intend to make this piece do the same!

Support this commission

From as little as £100 per year, you can help make new music happen and support this commission as a London Sinfonietta Pioneer.