Cassandra Miller (1976) is a Canadian composer of chamber and orchestral music, currently living in the north of England. For the last few years, her compositions have explored the transcription of pre-existing music (often vocal) as a way to translate its musicality/vocality into another experience. Her present work also involves direct and personal collaboration with a wide international network of solo musicians, as well as ensembles and orchestras.
She twice received the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, Canada’s highest honour for composition, for Bel Canto in 2011 and About Bach in 2016. Her concerto written for the cellist Charles Curtis with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was hailed as an “unexpected highlight of the festival” (TEMPO).
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 and violinist Mira Benjamin. 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.
Over the last 15 years she has received over 25 professional commissions from soloists, ensembles and orchestras both in Canada and across Europe. Notable performers include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, the London Sinfonietta, I Musici de Montréal, Ensemble Plus-Minus, the late great Ensemble Kore, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, 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, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 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. In 2015, the AngelicA Festival of Bologna presented three concerts featuring her work.
After two decades working in the field, Cassandra returned to academic research in 2014. Her doctoral research project at the University of Huddersfield (supervisor Dr Bryn Harrison, expected completion 2018) explores transcription and other translation 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 organization championed unusual programming, commissioned major new works, and became known for its support of young freelancers, building international connections for many Quebec artists.
Teaching forms an important part of her artistic life, having given university lectures, private tutorials, masterclasses, and workshop-style coaching. Her teaching philosophy prioritizes inclusivity and diversity, and questions canonization. At the University of Huddersfield, she taught undergraduate composition students in seminars and private tutorials, as well as theory and technique classes (2014–16). Previously, she developed and taught an undergraduate composition course as a part-time lecturer at the University of Victoria (2008–09).
Cassandra has been invited to give lectures about her work in the US at Columbia University; in the UK at the Royal Academy of Music, Bath Spa University Centre for Musical Research, Birmingham Conservatoire, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Centre for Research in New Music in Huddersfield, and Brunel University; in Canada at McGill University, the Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival, and the Open Space Gallery of Victoria. She has additionally taught masterclasses and workshops at the Orkest de Ereprijs Young Composers Meeting (NL), Brunel University, the University of Manitoba, and the Montreal Contemporary Music Lab.
A number of writings about her work have been published in recent years, notably, Along the grain: the music of Cassandra Miller (James Weeks, 2014, TEMPO, Vol 68, Issue 269), and Cassandra Miller’s unclassifiable concert music (Richard Simas, 2012, Musicworks Magazine, Toronto, Issue 113). In Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s book Music After The Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989 (2017, University of California Press), Chapter 4 includes an in-depth discussion of her piece Guide, through the lens of the tension between oral traditions and media technology. Her music also appears on the podcast Tentative Affinities (2014, Canada: the music of Generation X) by the late musicologist Bob Gilmore.
She lives in a small hillside village outside of Huddersfield, and spends most of her time hiking in the Pennines.