Aaron Holloway-Nahum

Chicago, IL

Everything Around Me is Crying to Be Gone for two harps and ensemble

February 10, 2023

Aaron Holloway-Nahum

American composer Dr. Aaron Holloway-Nahum (b. 1983) has firmly established himself as a pillar of the UK’s contemporary music scene. While his compositional career is formidable on its own—commissions include the London Symphony OrchestraBBC Symphony Orchestra, and Third Coast Percussion—his most meaningful work combines his compositional knowledge with a variety of additional skills, through which he leads an award-winning career as a recording engineer, conductor, and arts entrepreneur. Most prominently in this regard, Aaron serves as the conductor, founder, and Artistic Director of the Riot Ensemble, an organization that has raised more than £500,000 towards the performance of contemporary music and premiered over 250 original works.

Aaron’s music has been performed in over one dozen countries across four continents, and is characterized by its detailed and ornate timbres, bold melodic unisons, and experimental narrative structures. Upcoming premieres include works for chamber orchestra Ensemble Echapée, the renowned Keuris Quartet and an Opera – Aaron’s first – based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst. Selected as one of just two composers for the Peter Eötvös Foundation inaugural mentorship class, Holloway-Nahum has held a variety of fellowships over the past decade, including TanglewoodBang on a CanAspenCheltenham, a Copland House Residency, and many more. Notable past performances of his music include the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra (Hungary), Plural Ensemble (Madrid), and a full length film score recorded at Abbey Film Road. 

The long hours in studio at Abbey Road sparked a fervent interest—and secondary career—in audio recording and production for Aaron. (He remarked once in an interview that “the way you listen as a recording engineer improves your conducting and your composing.”) As the managing director and engineer for Coviello Music Productions, Aaron produces as many as 20 albums per year of Europe and the United States’ premier ensembles; his clientele includes the Ensemble IntercontemporainArditti QuartetSandbox Percussion, and Adam Swayne, whose solo album of American Piano music “Speak to Me” was nominated in two categories for the prestigious Opus Klassik Awards in Germany.

Narrowing the gap of gender, racial, and socioeconomic inequality within new music is of paramount importance to Holloway-Nahum; his most effective work in this regard has been through his work in leading Riot Ensemble, an organization that has received numerous accolades since its founding in 2012: I Care If You Listen deemed Riot “an ensemble with vision and artistry”, while The New Yorker’s Alex Ross celebrated its most recent album as “one of 2019’s best recordings.” As Riot Ensemble’s chief curator and conductor, Aaron has showcased contemporary work from a variety of composers, including Anna ThorvaldsdóttirAnn CleareKit DownesDaniel KidaneLiza LimAlexander HawkinsClara IannottaLisa Streich and a new work by Georg Friedrich Haas performed in total darkness, for which Aaron learned to (re)tune a piano. He is now also the technical director of Ensemble Nikel, for whom he facilitates performances and live-recordings in addition to strategic marketing and logistics work. 

He is based in London, where he lives with his wife, the pianist Claudia Maria Racovicean, and their son Ezra. 

Everything Around Me is Crying to Be Gone for two harps and ensemble

I’ve been utterly enamoured with Emily’s playing of the harp since the very first time I heard her. (This week will be the first time I properly meet Michelle, though I can say the same for all of her playing I’ve heard through recordings over the past year!)  But, anyway, it’s been a long time I’ve known Emily. And, together, we’ve been dreaming about this piece down so many years that it’s hard to imagine it has finally taken shape, become what it is, ready to be made into something for you tonight.

Unusually for me, it’s been long enough that – in my mind – the piece has actually been entirely different things.
A solo. A concerto. Maybe it was even an opera at some point?!

Naturally, all of these version had a lot of different names. Most of the names I give my pieces come from poetry. This used to be abstract: My music is dense and detailed and sharply drawn, and this is much like the poetry I’m drawn to. But over recent years – maybe the permission of old age – this connection has become more literal.  The eventual title that ended up entwined with this particular music comes from a poem called Walking in the Breakdown Lane by Louise Erdrich. Early on – very early on – I asked Emily to record herself reading that poem. Then I transcribed the audio using computers, and my ears:

I show this to you not because of the ’technique’ of it – but because I started my life in music as a singer. The voice, its rhythms and idiosyncrasies, are deeply engrained in all my music making. I still sing virtually every line I write in my pieces, and the music of Emily’s reading has lived with me, on repeat, again and again, in so many ways as I composed over the last months. So, while it definitely is the two solo harps that are showcased here, it’s the text that haunts, colours, shapes and drives this piece. It takes on every form: Percussion. Robot. Trumpet. Synth Pad. Scratch. String sounds. Vocal fry. Always something electronic, until suddenly, entirely human.