Irish/British composer Robin Haigh (b.1993) works internationally with leading orchestras and soloists, writing pieces of “scintillating unpredictability” (Tom Service, BBC Radio 3) that have also been described as “timeless,” “dream-like” (Musical Opinion Magazine), and “remarkably discombobulating” (Seen and Heard International). Haigh’s work first gained widespread attention in 2017, when his recorder quintet In Feyre Foreste won him a British Composer Award aged just 24, being described by the judges as “completely refreshing” and “magical.”
Recent years have seen Haigh produce a string of celebrated works for orchestra and large ensemble. The Britten Sinfonia commission Grin was honoured with a 2020 Ivor Novello Award, described by the judges as a “bold and original work with a highly distinctive musical language and sound.” Soon after, Haigh’s orchestral piece SLEEPTALKER made its debut at the Royal Festival Hall in a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert conducted by Jack Sheen and curated by Brett Dean to reflect composers' responses to the pandemic. The Telegraph’s Ivan Hewitt described the Ivor Novello-nominated piece as “an engagingly odd landscape of modernist fragments and other musical memories”, also writing that “the seriousness of all these composers [...] was an inspiration.”
2022 saw the premieres of two works for the Hanover-based Orchester im Treppenhaus: AESOP 2, an Ivor Novello-nominated piece for untrained recorder soloist, large ensemble and electronics, and FILTH for large amplified ensemble. AESOP 2, in which the composer himself played the role of soloist, was hailed in the German press as “sophisticated”, “hypnotic” and “artful”, and was scored 49 points out of 50 by the audience present at the Composer Slam European Championship in Hanover, where the piece was chosen as joint-winner. Commissioned shortly after, FILTH was written for the Orchestra’s radical ‘DISCO’ series, which reimagines the concert experience as something more akin to a techno club. Immediately popular with audiences across Germany, FILTH has been programmed at, amongst others, Beethovenfest Bonn and Hamburg’s Elphilharmonie since premiering at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim.
Concerti have occupied Haigh’s attention since 2022, which saw the premiere of THE DREAMERS for four trombones and large ensemble. An Aldeburgh Festival commission, the 20-minute work brought together the combined forces of Slide Action Trombone Quartet, Britten Pears Contemporary Ensemble, and conductor Jonathan Berman. The piece received significant attention in the ‘What Is Metamodern?’ journal article Here’s to the Dreamers: Jennifer Walshe, Robin Haigh and the Birth of the Metamodern Composer, in which author Zygmund De Somogyi characterises the work as “idiomatic and unique,” “blending together styles […] in a way that feels genuine, honest, real.”
Haigh’s largest work to date, Concerto for Orchestra, recieved its first performance in 2023. Premiering at Beethovenfest Bonn, it was commissioned for the inaugural performance by Yoel Gamzou’s oneMusic Orchestra, and will see its UK premiere with a major British orchestra next season. His third concerto, a 25 minute work for trumpet soloist Matilda Lloyd, will premiere in 2024.
Smaller scale works have been equally important to Haigh’s output. The virtuosic oboe work BEAK and WORM was described by Nicholas Daniel OBE as being “one of the most original pieces written for me amongst the several hundred I have premiered in my career so far. It is gripping, weirdly entertaining and moving at the same time, technically pushing boundaries in such a natural way that you have to question whether he might have been an oboist in a former life.” Other champions of his work include the Ligeti Quartet, who have performed his piece Samoyeds (available on the nonclassical record label) extensively, and the unconventional chamber ensemble The Hermes Experiment who have done the same with his commission for them, Kalimotxo. His 2020 solo work Nasubi has been widely recorded and performed, by string players such as Robert Irvine, Martin Suckling, Darragh Morgan, Emily Hiemstra and Clare O’Connell, and his ongoing series of harp miniatures No One has been played by Oliver Wass, at Presteigne Festival, Morgana Rudan in Italy, and Milana Zaric at Bangor Music Festival. Other recent commissions include works for Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Mikeleiz-Zucchi Duo, Isaac Shieh, and Zubin Kanga.
Another of Haigh’s greatest supporters is the London Symphony Orchestra, who since 2018 have presented the premieres of four of his chamber and large ensemble works - Twenty One Minute Pieces, Aesop, Fergal is Fuming!, and Nasubi - with a piece for the full orchestra, DRIFTWOOD, completed in 2023. 2018’s Fergal is Fuming! marked Haigh’s first work for young audiences, a strand of his practice that continued in 2021’s THREE LITTLE MAMMOTHS, a substantial collaboration including the Marsyas Trio, author Eoin McLaughlin, and comedian Janey Godley. 2023 saw the premiere of OUR DEAR FOREST, co-created with frequent collaborator Tabea Debus at Dartington, an outdoor performance installation for recorder players of all ages and abilities.
Haigh’s 2014 comic opera The Man Who Woke Up, his first major work, has been performed in London, Louisville and Chicago, with American press hailing the piece as “possibly the funniest opera this side of Gilbert & Sullivan”, “irreverent”, “not to be missed” (Arts-Louisville) and “a highly successful thirty-minutes of provocative entertainment” (Chicago Theatre Review). Another early dramatic work, East London Music Group commission 1936, celebrates Haigh’s East London roots by telling the story of the Battle of Cable Street over twenty minutes via two narrators and large ensemble.
He studied at Goldsmiths College and the Royal Academy of Music with Dmitri Smirnov, Edmund Finnis, and David Sawer, and worked as an assistant to Sir Harrison Birtwistle. In 2021 he completed his AHRC funded PhD, “Composing Millennial Nostalgia”, that was undertaken at the University of York and supervised by Martin Suckling.