Andrew Ford is a composer, writer and broadcaster. His music is often a response to literature or the visual arts, and increasingly draws on his experience of people and places in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Ford’s music has been performed and broadcast in many parts of the world, and championed by groups such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Brodsky Quartet and the New Juilliard Ensemble, which, under its conductor Joel Sachs, has given the New York premiere of five of his works, including Scenes from Bruegel, co-commissioned with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
Other groups who have taken up Ford’s music include the Black Dyke Band (UK), Da Capo Chamber Players (New York), dèdalo Ensemble (Brescia), Duo Stump-Linshalm (Vienna), Ensamble 3 (Mexico City), Het Trio (Amsterdam), Hong Kong Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Shanghai String Quartet and all Australia’s major orchestras and ensembles. His works for orchestra or large ensemble have been conducted by Oliver Knussen, Odaline de la Martinez, Reinbert de Leeuw, James MacMillan, Brett Dean, Paul Daniel, Jeffrey Tate and Marko Letonja, his piano pieces played by Peter Donohoe, Lisa Moore, Ananda Sukarlan, Michael Kieran Harvey and Aura Go, and his songs sung by Yvonne Kenny, Sarah Leonard, Jane Edwards, Lyndon Terracini, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Gerald English. English sang a dozen works by Ford, most notably the music-theatre piece, Night and Dreams: the death of Sigmund Freud (words by Margaret Morgan), which he premiered at the Adelaide Festival in 2000, before taking it to the Sydney and Melbourne festivals in 2001. A recording of the piece was released on Decca Eloquence label in 2008.
Born in Liverpool, England, in 1957, Ford spent much of his childhood listening to the Beatles and other Sixties pop groups. In 1975, he went to the University of Lancaster where he studied composition with Edward Cowie and John Buller and had a formative meeting with Sir Michael Tippett who told him to forget about musical systems and trust his instincts. In 1983, he moved to Australia to join the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. While there, he completed a Doctorate, writing his thesis on musical word setting from Elvis Costello to Elliott Carter. Between 1992 and 1994, Ford was composer in residence with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Since 1995, he has presented The Music Show each weekend on ABC Radio National.
Ford was a recipient of the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Fellowship from 1998 to 2000, and during this period, he began work on The Waltz Book, an hour-long cycle of minute waltzes to a commission from the pianist Ian Munro. More recent works include Raga (2016), for electric guitar and orchestra, premiered in the Adelaide Guitar Festival by Zane Banks with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Northey, a Missa Brevis commissioned by four Australian cathedrals, and the song cycle Last Words, commissioned by the soprano Jane Sheldon and first performed by her with the Seraphim Trio at the 2013 Port Fairy Spring Festival.
Last Words was named Vocal Work of the Year at the 2014 Australian Art Music Awards. Ford’s other prizes include the Yorkshire Arts Composers Award, which he won jointly with Mark-Anthony Turnage in 1982 (for Portraits), the Sydney Spring Festival award in 1998 (for Tattoo) and the 2002 Jean Bogan Prize (for The Waltz Book). In 2004, Learning to Howl received both the AMC award for the best composition by an Australian composer and the prestigious Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize; Tales of the Supernatural was named APRA vocal work of the year in 2005; Ford’s opera, Rembrandt’s Wife, to a libretto by Sue Smith, won a 2010 Victorian Green Room Award; and Rauha, for wind, brass, percussion, keyboards and double basses, won the 2012 Albert H. Maggs Award. He was awarded an OAM in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Ford is often invited to give lectures, both in Australia and overseas. In 2014 he was Poynter Fellow and visiting composer at Yale University, and in 2015 visiting lecturer at the Shanghai Conservatory. He writes and broadcasts widely about music, his work in that area recognised in 1998 with the Geraldine Pascall Prize for critical writing. He has published nine books, most recently The Memory of Music (2017), and written, presented and co-produced five radio series, Illegal Harmonies (1997), Dots on the Landscape – an oral history of Australian music (2001), Music and Fashion (2005), The Sound of Pictures (2010) and Earth Dances (2015). His recent conversations about music and art with the painter Ben Quilty, Three Front Doors and a Paddock, are available to download.
In 2018, Andrew Ford was H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellow at the Australian National University.