Alexander Goehr, composer and teacher, was born in Berlin on 10 August 1932, son of the conductor Walter Goehr, and was brought to England in 1933. He studied with Richard Hall at the Royal Manchester College of Music, where together with Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and John Ogdon he formed the New Music Manchester Group, and with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod in Paris. In the early 60's he worked for the BBC and formed the Music Theatre Ensemble, the first ensemble devoted to what has become an established musical form. From the late 1960’s onwards he taught at the New England Conservatory Boston, Yale, Leeds and in 1975 was appointed to the chair of the University of Cambridge, where he remains Emeritus Professor. He has also taught in China and has twice been Composer-in-residence at Tanglewood.
He has written five operas: Arden Must Die, Hamburg 1967; Behold the Sun, Deutsche Oper 1985; Arianna, lost opera by Monteverdi, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1995; Kantan & Damask Drum, Theater Dortmund September 1999; Promised End, derived from King Lear, London 2010; and a music theatre Triptych (1968-70).
His orchestral works, including four symphonies, concerti for piano, violin, viola and cello and other orchestral compositions have at various times been performed by Dorati, Boulez, Barenboim, Pritchard, Haitink, Ozawa, Dohnanyi, Rattle and Knussen, with soloists including Parikian, Ricci, Jaqueline du Pré, Ogdon, Barenboim and Peter Serkin.
The cantata The Death of Moses was premièred in 1992 in Seville Cathedral by the Monteverdi Choir conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, and subsequently at the Proms; Schlussgesang was given its first performance at the 1997 Aldeburgh Festival by Tabea Zimmermann and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Oliver Knussen. Idées fixes, for the London Sinfonietta's 30th Season, received its first performance with Oliver Knussen in December 1997. Premières in 2001 included two orchestral works, for the Halle Handel Festival and the BBC Proms, and a Suite for Pamela Frank and Peter Serkin commissioned by the Harvard Musical Society. This work is now in the repertory of Midori, and featured in her groundbreaking 2005 Contemporary Music Project. His Piano Quintet, was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Peter Serkin and the Orion Quaret. First performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in June 2002 by Tom Poster and the Brodsky Quartet, due to the indisposition of Peter Serkin, the original performers presented the US première in the Zankell Hall in September 2003. Its London première took place in November 2005 with Daniel Becker and the Elias Quartet, who subsequently recorded it.
In 2003 Alexander Goehr completed a Koussevitsky commission, Marching to Carcassone, for Peter Serkin and the London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen. A new version for orchestra was premiered by Serkin with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra in July 2005.
Recent works include an orchestral piece,Adagio (Autoporträt) commissioned by the Musikalischen Akademie des Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim e.V; a Clarinet Quintet commissioned by the BBC for the Nash Ensemble and Since Brass, nor Stone..., again commissioned by the BBC for Colin Currie and the Pavel Haas Quartet.
Alexander Goehr is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a former Churchill Fellow, and the 1997 BBC Reith Lecturer. His quintet Since Brass, nor Stone... a British Composer Award from BASCA for chamber music in 2009. Much of Goehr’s music is available on the NMC label, the latest project being a disc comprising Colosssos or Panic, Little Symphony and The Deluge, conducted by Oliver Knussen.