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Dr Cassandra Miller (1976) is a Canadian composer of vocal, chamber and orchestral music, living in London, UK. Her notated compositions (About Bach, Duet for Cello and Orchestra, Philip the Wanderer, etc.) explore transcription as a creative process, through which the expressive vocal qualities of pre-existing music are both magnified and transfigured. Her non-notated compositions (So Close, Tracery) take the form of extended collaborations with solo musicians. Using an approach that combines automatic singing and mimicry, Miller creates vulnerable and hospitable spaces for deep listening.
Honours include the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, Canada’s highest recognition for composition, which she received twice—for Bel Canto in 2011 and About Bach in 2016. Two recent releases by the Another Timbre label have received wide acclaim, including a four-star review in the Guardian and inclusion on New Yorker’s Ten Notable Recordings of 2018. In 2019, About Bach received a nomination for the Classical Composition of the Year Juno Award. The Duet for Cello and Orchestra written for Charles Curtis and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was hailed as one of the ‘best classical music works of the 21st century’ (The Guardian, 2019).
Her works are often written with specific performers in mind, involving their intimate participation in the creative process. Her closest collaborators in this fashion have included soprano Juliet Fraser, the Quatuor Bozzini, conductor Ilan Volkov, cellist Charles Curtis, pianist Philip Thomas, violinist Silvia Tarozzi, violinist Mira Benjamin, and violist Lawrence Power. Pieces written expressly for them have been toured and performed across the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway, Uruguay, the United States and Canada.
Notable performers include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, the London Sinfonietta, I Musici de Montréal, Ensemble Plus-Minus, the late great Ensemble Kore, Apartment House, Continuum Contemporary Music, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Festivals and venues featuring her music have included Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), Tectonics Glasgow, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, l’Auditori (Barcelona), Angelica Festival (Bologna), Archipel (Geneva), Only Connect Oslo, Ostrava Days, World Music Days (Ljubljana), Music we’d like to hear (London), Kammer Klang (Café OTO, London), Transit (Leuven), Music on Main (Vancouver), and Núcleo Música Nueva de Montevideo, among many others.
Teaching takes a central role in her artistic life. As Associate Head of Composition from 2018 to 2020, she led the undergraduate composition program at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Her teaching philosophy prioritises inclusivity and diversity, and questions notions of canonisation. Previously, she taught composition modules at the University of Huddersfield (2014-16) and the University of Victoria (2008-09).
Miller has been invited as a visiting teacher and to give lectures about her work in the USA at Stanford University, Columbia University, and CalArts; in the UK at the Royal Academy of Music, Bath Spa University Centre for Musical Research, Birmingham Conservatoire, Centre for Research in New Music in Huddersfield, and Brunel University; in Canada at McGill University, the University of Manitoba, the Montreal Contemporary Music Lab, Winnipeg’s Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival, and the Open Space Gallery of Victoria. In Europe she has taught at the Orkest de Ereprijs Young Composers Meeting (NL), and the Mixtur Workshop of Composition and Sound Experimentation (Spain – upcoming, Sept/Oct 2021, info here).
Her doctoral research at the University of Huddersfield (supervisor Dr Bryn Harrison, 2018) explored transcription and other transformation methods as compositional processes, and compositional engagements with varied notions of voice and vocality. In 2012, she studied privately with Michael Finnissy, whose impact continues to have a deep effect on her work. She holds a Master of Music from the Royal Conservatory of the Hague (2008, Richard Ayres, Yannis Kyriakides), where she explored narratology and narrative as tools for musical analysis. She holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Victoria (2005), where she studied with Christopher Butterfield, whose radical pedagogical inclusivity and Dada-inspired artistic insight remain crucial foundations for her work to date.
From 2010 to 2013, she held the post of Artistic and General Director of Innovations en concert, a not-for-profit presenter of experimental chamber music concerts and festivals in Montreal. Under her directorship, the organisation championed unusual programming, commissioned major new works, and became known for its support of young freelancers, building international connections for many Quebec artists.
- Miller, C. (2018). Transformative Mimicry: Composition as Embodied Practice in Recent Works, Doctoral Thesis, University of Huddersfield, UK
About collaborative (non-notated) composition:
- Nickel, L. (2020). Scores in Bloom: Some Recent Orally-Transmitted Experimental Music. Tempo, 74(293), 1–16. doi:10.1017/S0040298220000261
- Fraser, J. (2019). The voice that calls the hand to write—exploring the adventure of agency and authorship within collaborative partnerships. Keynote lecture at the ‘Collaborations are More Refreshing than New Socks’ conference, Royal Conservatoire Antwerp
- Christensen, J. (2018). Interlude III: Interview with Cassandra Miller on Voiced Embodiment. In: Sound and the Aesthetics of Play: A Musical Ontology of Constructed Emotions. (pp. 108–114) London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham doi:10.1007/978-3-319-66899-4
- Fox, C. (2017). Juliet Fraser and Plus Minus, Café OTO, London, 7 February 2017. Tempo, 71(281), 92–93. doi:10.1017/S0040298217000353
About notated compositions:
- Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2017). Chapter 4. Fluidity: Digital Translations, Displacements, and Journeys. In: Music after the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 (First edition). Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
- Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2017). Experimental Music from Canada. The Wire (397)
- Gottschalk, J. (2016). Experimental Music Since 1970, New York: Bloomsbury Academic ISBN 9781628922486
- Weeks, J. (2014). Along The Grain: The Music Of Cassandra Miller. Tempo, 68(269), 50–64. doi: 10.1017/s0040298214000060
- Gilmore, B. (2014). Canada: the music of Generation X [Podcast], In Tentative Affinities. Amsterdam, Netherlands