Vic Hoyland

Academic Career

Vic with Diego Masson at the CBSO centre

Vic with Colin Matthews (NMC Director) at the CBSO Centre

Emily Gottlieb's shoe-box design for Lab 2

A personal memory by Jonty Harrison

Vic was a postgraduate student at York University when I arrived there as an undergraduate in 1970. During the next 6 years I became increasingly aware of his ability as a composer, playing in performances of his works Piaf and Jeux-thème and conducting the York Festival premiere of Ariel. Along with our tutor, Bernard Rands, and some of his other students, we both were in a music theatre group which went under the dubious name of Clap; later, I worked on sound with Northern Music Theatre, which Vic founded with the conductor Graham Treacher and the then young composer, David Sawer.

I was therefore delighted when Vic came to Birmingham. His first Haywood Fellowship commission was Head and 2 Tails. Foxed and Bitch (text by David Hirst, of the Drama Department), were written for our MDD students, and coupled with Vocem’s Dumb Show formed the three part entertainment. This was the first of many Birmingham evenings featuring Vic’s works. The Other Side of the Air, Chamber Concerto, EM, Jeux-thème, Andacht zum Kleinen, Michelagniolo and The Attraction of Opposites have all been performed here, many of them at the Barber Festival of Contemporary Music (1986 – 95). I conducted the University Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Vixen in Symphony Hall, and BCMG, the Ensemble in Association, also championed his music, performing a number of his works (some commissioned by them), including Of Fantasy, Crazy Rosa, Piano Quintet, Chamber Concerto, Pierrot, and this evening’s work, Hey Presto!

As an active composer, Vic has been an invaluable model for Music students at Birmingham over the past thirty years. The strength, vitality and intellectual rigour of his music are plain for all to hear, with its long lines, rhythmic energy and beguiling surface beauty. Alongside this, hundreds of students will remember his committed teaching – his utter conviction of the value of music (contemporary and not so contemporary!), his belief in music as sound as well as abstract thought, and his youthful enthusiasm (extending to sudden outbursts of manic animation in both lectures and workshops) in driving his message home. In parallel with his growing reputation as a composer, his University career advanced to Senior Lectureship, Readership and, in 2002, Professor of Composition (thereby establishing a new Chair).

As in his earlier career at York, Vic has put his commitment to contemporary music very firmly on the line at Birmingham, by encouraging students to aim for the highest standards while tackling challenging repertoire, not only in the New Music Ensemble and the Orchestra, but also (and particularly) in the realm of music theatre. During the 1980s, he was deeply involved in the Music, Drama and Dance programme and worked closely with late David Hirst on co-productions with Drama and Italian students, which then were presented in Ferrara.

Vic’s passion for music theatre also led to a tradition of outstanding Hoyland productions on an epic scale, including Berio’s Passaggio and Stockhausen’s Momente, a work of huge scope, lasting over ninety minutes, done almost entirely ‘in house’; however, Angela Tunstall, as in Passaggio and Laborintus II, was Vic’s preferred soloist. This show led to another production of this same work in the mid 90s, this time in collaboration with BCMG and Birmingham Conservatoire, which was performed at the Adrian Boult Hall, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; the performance was also recorded by the BBC and later broadcast on Radio 3. The most recent venture of this kind was a spectacular evening of ‘spatial music’ at the Q Club, Birmingham, last year (See Squares Circles Labyrinths in Productions). Renaissance motets (courtesy of CEMPR), framed Stockhausen’s Carré for four choruses and orchestras (University Philharmonic Orchestra) and a new, Hoyland-staged version of Berio’s Laborintus II (New Music Ensemble and Vic’s Music Theatre class, plus members of Graham Vick’s Birmingham Opera Company ) – a great example of diverse agencies coming together to create something unique and unforgettable through the vision of a very special composer and teacher.

As at York, it has been a privilege for me to work alongside Vic during the past thirty years at Birmingham, as a teaching colleague and close friend, and also a conductor and fellow traveller in many productions. We wish him well for his retirement and hope to hear a steady stream of new works pouring out of his apartment in Sicily. As for Birmingham – well, he will be a hard act to follow!

Soon after retirement, Vic was conferred as Emeritus Professor, in recognition of his longstanding and valued contribution to Birmingham University.