Nic Pendlebury

Nic Pendlebury


Nic has been at the forefront of the contemporary music scene for over thirty years and is the founder and violist of the Internationally acclaimed Smith Quartet. The group has pioneered the development of the string quartet genre commissioning over 300 new works collaborating with such composers as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Michael Nyman and Django Bates. They have performed in many of the world’s most prestigious festivals and recorded albums for BMG, Sony, Decca and Signum and as well as featuring in various TV and Radio broadcasts. They were also featured in two BBC documentaries, Classic Quartets at the BBC and Holocaust; A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz which won a Grammy and a BAFTA.

In more recent years Nic’s pioneering and creative spirit has seen him create a new repertoire for the electric viola an instrument he believes has an exciting future in the ever developing world of classical music. His stunning transcriptions of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint and Terry Riley’s Dorian Reeds have not only received critical acclaim from audiences around the world but from the composers themselves “the idea that Electric Counterpoint would be bowed had never occurred to me. I want to thank Nic for a beautiful surprise. I was moved to tears.” Steve Reich, I listened to your recording and it sounds so beautiful! It is a really satisfying version of the piece. Congratulations! Terry Riley.

Other transcriptions include Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in Alium presented for performance as an interactive Installation of forty loud speakers within which the audience travels. The installation was developed and realised in collaboration with sound designer John-Marc Gowans, and was premiered at the 2018 Sounds Festival in Aberdeen receiving much critical acclaim. There are new commissions too with Colin Riley’s Fallen Angel a dramatic work for e viola and electronics, Dominic Murcott’s haunting Black Earth and Hollie Harding’s interactive, immersive work Melting Shifting Liquid World which explores the theme of climate change and ocean pollution. Written for e viola, (audience worn) bone conduction headphones, electronics and string orchestra the work was premiered in 2019 at the National Maritime Museum.

Nic is also Head of Strings at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where he leads one of the most dynamic faculties in Europe. In recognition of his creative work in performance and education Nic was awarded title of Professor in 2018.


1. Performance: ElectroNic

A stunning programme of new work written and arranged for Electric Viola. The concert features Steve Reich’s seminal work Electric Counterpoint and Terry Riley’s ground-breaking Dorian Reeds alongside a newly commissioned work by leading British composer Colin Riley Fallen Angel, a dramatic work telling the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace and banishment to hell. The programme can be augmented with Dominic Murcott’s Black Earth and imaginary tale of what lies beneath the surface of London’s Blackheath an area associated with the burial of the dead during the Black Death pandemic of the 14th century.

2. Installation: Spem in Alium

Spem in Alium (Hope in any other) is one of Thomas Tallis’ most beautiful works. Originally written in 1570 for eight choirs of five voices (S.A.T. B1. B2.) it is considered by many to be one of the greatest examples of early English polyphonic writing. The ten-minute work is a stunning example of imitative contrapuntal writing juxtaposed with sumptuous homophonic textures allowing individual voices to weave within an elaborate and elegant harmonic framework of shifting tone colours.

In this newly transcribed version Nic Pendlebury has rescored the 40 vocal lines for 40 electric violas placing this renaissance work in a contemporary context. Presented as an installation featuring a specially created sound design by John-Marc Gowans each individual line is played through separate speakers grouped into 8 choirs of five which surround the audience maximising the spatial experience. From the centre point the listener experiences the complete surround sound of the motet. Walking around the circumference in front of the speakers however creates a different more intimate experience, the audience able to listen to each individual line as they pass by. In this way the listener can “remix” the work choosing to stand in a variety of listening points giving each audience member and each listening a unique aural perspective of the work.

In this version, a song without words, the listener is perhaps even more aware of the sheer beauty of the contrapuntal writing, and that it is this which gives the work its extraordinary spirituality.

3. Special Projects

Melting, Shifting Liquid World – Hollie Harding

Melting, Shifting Liquid World was written for Nic Pendlebury and the Trinity Laban String Ensemble by composer Hollie Harding and was originally performed on the iconic Great Map at the National Maritime Museum in 2018. The work explores themes of climate change and plastic ocean pollution and includes a pre-recorded electroacoustic part of field recordings of Arctic Sea Ice (provided by renowned field recordist Chris Watson) delivered to the audience through bone-conduction, open-ear headphones.

The piece investigates the idea of music as an environment surrounding the audience who is free to move around and within. There are three layers of sound experienced within the piece. The first emerges from the live acoustic string ensemble who are spread-out across the performance area, the second a quadrophic speaker system which amplifies the solo electric viola and audio effects and surrounds the audience, and the third from bone-conduction open-ear headsets worn by the audience. In this environment sound can therefore happen very close to, far from, and all around the listener. The piece explores the movement of sound around and across these different layers, and around the static or moving audience.

The work concludes with a reading of ‘Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide’ spoken into the ears of the audience by the poet herself, Maura Dooley.

Electric Viola - Nic Pendlebury
Composer - Hollie Harding
Performers - Trinity Laban String Ensemble (Director Nic Pendlebury)
Sound Design - Hollie Harding and Ben Corrigan
Costume and Set Design - Florence Meredith, Estera Parker, Rosie Whiting and Sophie Donaldson
Costume and Set Realisation - Florence Meredith, Estera Parker and Rosie Whiting