Desmond Clarke (b. 1989) is a composer and oboist based in the north of England. His music has been performed extensively around the UK, particularly in Yorkshire, as well as in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada. In 2015 he won the RPS Composition Prize, and was selected as one of the RSNO's inaugural young composers in residence.
His compositional interests include the use of algorithmic and stochastic processes, microtonality, spectral techniques and just intonation. These tools, coupled with a lifelong passion for art music of every period, lead to works which embody a contemporary aesthetic, but which, for better or worse, never fully escape from a classical sensibility.
His projects as of early 2018 include an ongoing series of works using fixed and live-generated video scores to explore the boundaries and overlaps between notated and improvised music.
He has attended festivals and residencies at, amongst others, IRCAM, the Banff Centre, and the HighSCORE festival in Italy at which he was awarded the 2013 festival prize for his string quartet Insect-Wood-Growth.
He has recently completed a PhD in composition at the University of York with Dr Martin Suckling, and has benefited from lessons and masterclasses with composers including Chaya Czernowin, Marc Sabat, Christopher Theofanidis, Thomas Simaku, Mario Garuti and Unsuk Chin.
He has worked with numerous professional and amateur ensembles including, amongst many others, Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
As an improvising musician he has worked and performed with numerous groups and collectives. He is a member and founder of osc~, a loose collective dedicated to the realisation of large scale improvised works. Performances have included 6, 8 and 24-hour improvised megastructures.
He directed the University of York’s Chimera Ensemble in the 2013/14 season, overseeing the UK premieres of Beat Furrer’s Aria and Morton Subotnick’s Ascent into Air, and has conducted the ensemble in numerous performances, including Sciarrino's Infinito Nero, and the world premiere of Richard Barrett's Codex XV.
As an oboist he has performed with, amongst others, contemporary music group Rarescale, the Chimera Ensemble, with whom he premiered Leo Birtwhistle's concerto for oboe and Northumbrian Pipes, A Red Glow in the Sky, and Scarborough Symphony Orchestra.
"Desmond Clarke’s Xyla projected a very different sound-world, less tense and more playful in its oppositions. The composer tells us he was inspired by the growth and development of plants ... One could sense this in the groping overlapping string glissandi of the opening, which seemed persistent and yet somehow blind. These were reminiscent of Xenakis, while the surprising and delightful intrusion of uncoordinated whistling from the players was a distant echo of the ocarinas in Ligeti’s Violin Concerto. But these echoes enlarged the piece, rather than diminishing it."
- Ivan Hewett
"Void-Song, a single-movement viola concerto, received a very convincing world premiere. A string-dominated orchestra offers considerable opportunity for interplay between soloist and ensemble; even at the opening, the way the music rises – quickly – from the lower strings seems to prefigure the appearance, albeit with very different material, of the soloist. The closing winding down is another immediately noticeable feature, whistling (literally) woodwind offering an intriguing effect in combination. Zeffman and his orchestra seemed very much on top of the score, as did the excellent soloist, Timothy Ridout. This was perhaps the finest performance of the evening."
- Mark Berry
Seen and Heard
"[Void-Song was] an approachable and attractive work. There was a genuine balance between the solo viola part and the string-dominated orchestra, with moments of considerable lyricism and virtuosity from both."
- John-Pierre Joyce