Edward Top

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Edward Top was born in Ommen, the Netherlands, in 1972. Top has lived and worked in London, Bangkok, and Rotterdam. He now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Top studied composition and violin at the Rotterdam Conservatoire in The Netherlands. He primarily studied with Peter-Jan Wagemans, but also worked with Klaas de Vries, Peter Eötvös, Pierre Boulez, and Luciano Berio. After living and traveling in the Far East for several years he settled in England in 2003, where he completed a Master’s Degree in musicology at King’s College London and worked with George Benjamin. East-Asian culture remains a predominant presence in Top’s life.

Top is currently the Head of the Composition Department at the Vancouver Academy of Music since 2014. He also maintains a close relationship with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned seven, and performed ten of his works when he served as its Composer-in-Residence from 2011-2014. The VSO and conductor Bramwell Tovey played the commissioned work Totem in Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix on a US West Coast tour in 2013.

Top has received commissions of the Toronto Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Island Symphony, Schoenberg Ensemble, Holland Symfonia, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, Calefax reed quintet, Vocal LAB Silbersee, Doelen Ensemble, Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, The Tempest Flute Ensemble and Standing Wave. His works are performed by the Dutch Radio Kamerorkest, Netherlands Ballet Orchestra, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Ensemble NOISE at San Diego New Music and the Formalist String Quartet in Los Angeles. Edward is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre.

In addition to lasting relationships with orchestras in Canada and The Netherlands, Top has enjoyed long-standing collaborations with chamber ensembles too. His two string quartets were composed for the Rotterdam Doelen Quartet, who keep regularly programming the works. They premiered the second quartet in Paris in the presence of Henri Dutilleux, and recorded both works on CD. In Vancouver, ensemble Standing Wave performed four of his works, including an arrangement of Slayer’s thrash-metal classic Angel of Death, and the aforementioned Pots ‘n Pans Falling, which has been released on CD in late 2016.

In January 2017, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian, will premiere the commissioned work Eruption on tour in the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.

Top’s oeuvre includes works for orchestra, concertos, chamber music, and chamber opera. Acknowledged by a Dutch newspaper as “The Horror Composer” during the Gaudeamus Week twenty years ago, recurring motifs in his music include the grotesque, sentimentality, and the sublime. Using dark timbres and rich textures in detailed orchestrations, Top’s music paradoxically shows elements of both expressionism and post-minimalism, and is inspired by the symphonic tradition, post-rock, and extreme metal genres, film noir. In addition, he takes inspiration from the paintings of Hyronymus Bosch, James Ensor, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kieferas well as the Junge Wilde and Trans-avantgarde movements of the late 20th century.

His two string quartets and earlier orchestral works show influences of neo-expressionism, especially that of Wolfgang Rihm. Top analyzed melodic expansion in Rihm’s work and experimented with it in the extremity of the violin’s upper tessitura in his concerto for violin and two orchestras, Witte Wieven (2007). In Totem, for orchestra (2012), the lyric expressionism of Witte Wieven meets influences of the extreme metal genre and influences of György Kurtág, in what the Vancouver Sun has identified as “earthy neo-primitivism.”

Submerged in the kaleidoscopic music scene in Vancouver on the Canadian West Coast since 2010, Top started experimenting with a more economic use of musical material, temporarily distancing himself from earlier influences of expressionism. In Pots ‘n Pans Falling, the members of the ensemble Standing Wave echo recordings of Top’s 7-year old violin student playing a simple motive. Pots ‘n Pans Falling was composed to commemorate the young survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Top has won a number of international composition prizes, most recently he received third prize for Totem at the Val Tidone “Egidio Carella” Competition in Italy in 2013, and third prize for My Skeletonized Portrait during the “2 Agosto” Competition in Bologna in 2012, which included an open-air performance of the work on the Piazza Maggiore by violinist Duccio Ceccanti and Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. In 2009, he was nominated for the 2008 Toonzetters Award in the Netherlands for his piece, aliquid stat pro aliquo. He has received many other nominations and awards, including: 
– 2007: One of NOISE’s first annual International Call for Scores winners, San Diego New Music SoundON Festival (for Four)
– 2007: New Millennium Composition Competition, Birmingham Conservatoire (with his work Cartesian Theatre)
– 2006: International Prize of Composition “Atahualpa Yupanqui” Buenos Aires (for Why Elsewhere)
– 2006: Rudolf Escher Composer’s Bursary for Mmus study at King’s College London (Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation)
– 2004: Henriette Bosmans Prize during the 2004 Dutch Music Days Festival (for Marble Sparks)
– 2003: Salvatore Martirano Award, University of Illinois (for String Quartet #1)
– 1999: Rotterdam Conservatoire Prize for Composition (for The Stillpoint and Silk Execution).

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