Tom, Orpheus and Harry

Harrison Birtwistle

I have many memories of our collaboration [on The Second Mrs Kong], which I suppose began by my being first introduced to your wonderful novel Riddley Walker and then to your other novels, some of which contain our leading man and hero, Orpheus. What I cherish most are the simple details of our collaboration: You waiting, waiting at the wrong newsstand at Toulouse railway station, and our time together when I was living in France; the yellow notepaper of your texts; Gundula’s cakes at the far end of your work room, with a stack of videos at the back of my chair. Then, Tom Cairns; I think he was more than just a third party in our team. I have missed him a lot since then. In the end, though, it was you who brought together that disparate band of characters — not just Kong, Orpheus, Pearl, et cetera, but Russell, Tom, and Harry. I shall be forever in your debt for all of this. Wishing you a very happy birthday and many happy returns.


Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s works in contemporary music combine modernist aesthetic with mythic power and emotional impact, inspired by contemporary art and the rituals of classical mythology and pre-history. His recent works include Panic, composed for the Last Night of the BBC Proms and The Shadow of Night, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra. He has received many honours, including a British knighthood in 1988, the Siemens Prize in 1995, and a British Companion of Honour in 2001.

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