May 20, 2009 / 4:03 AM / 10 years ago

British composer Nicholas Maw dies in U.S. aged 73

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of Britain’s leading composers, Nicholas Maw, best known for his symphonic work “Odyssey” and his opera based on “Sophie’s Choice,” has died at his U.S. home aged 73, the BBC reported.

Maw, one of the leading post-war British composers of orchestral music and a key figure in the neo-Romantic revival, is also well known for a violin concerto he wrote for American violinist Joshua Bell in 1993.

Maw’s spokeswoman told the BBC that Maw had been ill for some time and died of heart failure on Tuesday.

The New York Times’ music critic Allan Kozinn said Maw’s “unabashedly post-modernist, neo-Romantic music was admired for its rich textures and assertive melody. Yet it also had rigorous modernist underpinnings and it bore the hallmarks of its time.”

Maw’s extensive and varied catalog included chamber music, vocal and choral music, operas, solo instrumental works, and music for children.

But his defining work is regarded as “Odyssey” which took him 14 years to write and ran for 96 minutes in a single movement which is said to be the longest piece of continuous symphonic music written.

It has been widely lauded since its initial performance in 1987 at a BBC Prom in London.

Maw’s opera based on “Sophie’s Choice,” the novel by William Styron about a Holocaust survivor’s struggle with life, took him six years to write and had its premiere at Covent Garden in London in 2002, conducted by Simon Rattle.

Maw was born in Grantham, England, and began composing when he was 15. He studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1955 to 1958 with Lennox Berkeley and Paul Steinitz, and also in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Max Deutsch.

Maw had lived in Washington, D.C., since 1984 which led to an upsurge of performances of his work in the United States by a number of major orchestras.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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