Steve Martland (1959-2013)

Maverick English composer dies aged 53

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The English composer Steve Martland died in his sleep on the night of 6 May, aged 53.

Talented from a young age, the Liverpool-born composer studied under the Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen, whose influence can be heard in Martland’s often aggressively scored and rhythmic music, typically involving amplified instruments such as saxophones, trumpets, guitars and drums.

His first big work, Babi Yar (1983), was premiered on both sides of the Atlantic almost simultaneously, in the US by the St Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin, and in the UK by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Cleobury.

Martland presented himself as an anti-establishment maverick, deliberately writing music which could not be pigeon-holed in any particular genre. Described by one critic as a ‘purveyor of a loud-mouthed mix of minimalist, Stravinskian, jazz and rock manners’, Martland consolidated his reputation with such works as Drill (1987), Horses of Instruction (1995) and Beat the Retreat (1995). His music was performed particularly by groups such as Bang on a Can, and his own 11-member Steve Martland Band, whose members, including the leading percussionist Colin Currie, were drawn from the worlds of pop and jazz as well as contemporary classical.

His strongly rhythmic music was particularly attractive to choreographers, and several of his works were staged as dances including Drill at the Sydney Opera House, Crossing the Border (composed 1990) by the Dutch National Ballet, and Danceworks (1993) which was premiered by the London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

By the late 1990s, a more subtle and sophisticated sheen became evident in his music, and Martland’s collaboration with The King’s Singers and Evelyn Glennie resulted in Street Songs (1997). He went on to compose several choral works, including Christmas carols which have been recorded by the BBC Singers (Signum).

In 2002 he was reported in The Independent as saying: ‘Creativity is everything that is against what's going on in the world right now. It's to do with tolerance and understanding other people.’