- Alexander Cowdell
- Born: 1945
Music can be many things to many people, but for me it is a means of experiencing an inner world which exists apart from our normal external existence; a world of feeling, colour and movement but in another time and space. The values of that world are not those of the marketplace but a reaffirmation of our deepest humanity.
Alexander Cowdell was born in Scotland in 1945 but educated in New Zealand, where as a student at Waihi College he first became interested in composition under the direction of an exceptional teacher and mentor, Christopher Small, author of Music.Society.Education. During this time he composed and played the incidental music to two plays, one of which won the inter-schools drama competition for the region.
At the age of sixteen he was recruited into the NZBC Trainee Scheme as a violinist and studied with Vincent Aspey, distinguished leader of the National Orchestra. While a trainee he developed his interest in contemporary music and performed works at Victoria University by Gillian Whitehead, Robin Maconie and others, and took part in the first public performance of Jenny McLeod’s string trio.
Two years later he won a scholarship to study with Beryl Kimber at the Adelaide Elder Conservatorium. While there he met Peter Maxwell Davies, who as composer in residence encouraged his interest in composition, which was also stimulated by his involvement with the group of young composers studying there at the time. These included Gillian Whitehead and the Australian composer Ross Edwards. He composed his first major work, a string quartet, which in a revised form for string orchestra was performed and recorded by the NZ Symphony Orchestra in 1986, conducted by John Matheson, under the title Past Rituals).
In 1967, after two years with the South Australian Symphony Orchestra, he left for London, becoming a longstanding first violinist with the English National Opera (ENO) Orchestra. He also freelanced for a time with the London Symphony Orchestra and taught violin at Avery Hill Teachers Training College, Eltham College and the ILEA Pimlico Centre for Young Musicians. During the early 1970’s he started composing seriously and met the Australian concert pianist and professor of piano at The Hague Conservatorium, Geoffrey Douglas Madge, who gave the first performance of his 1st piano sonata Myrrha in Holland, and with the Australian flautist Judith Hall his Flute Music for the Empress Theodora.
He also promoted and conducted New Zealand and Australian music in London, commissioning and conducting the first performance of Gillian Whitehead’s Tirea and the first UK performance of David Farquhar’s Echoes and Reflections.
His own compositions have been performed and broadcast in Britain, Holland, Australia and New Zealand.
In 2005 he returned to New Zealand, settling in Devonport. His theatre piece A Portrait of Christina Rossetti was performed at the Victoria Theatre, Devonport, in March 2006 and at Rannoch House, the home of James Wallace, in November of the same year; and his orchestral version of Flute Music for the Empress Theodora was recorded at a workshop session by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei in August of that year. In December 2007 he conducted the New Zealand premier of A Place of Quiet for tenor and chamber orchestra in Devonport.Source: Alexander Cowdell, April 2008