Chris Williams


Chris Williams (1986) is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and completed a M.Phil in composition with Robert Saxton at the University of Oxford in 2013. In 2012 Chris was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, where his work ‘San-Shih-Fan’ was premiered. During this time he worked with composer-in residence Kaija Saariaho. Previously, Chris was one of six composers selected by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, then Master of the Queen’s Music, to attend his Advanced Composition course at the Dartington International Summer School in England. His work has been performed by The Song Company, The Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, the Cavaleri Quartet and The Australian Voices, with whom he was composer-in-residence in 2010.

In November 2012, Chris was awarded the Blake Society’s Tithe Grant for composition. This international prize, adjudicated by Judith Weir, culminated in the premiere of his piece ‘a golden string’, at St.James Piccadilly, conducted by Aidan Oliver, of Westminster Abbey. Chris was also awarded the Joyful Company of Singers’ Young Composer Prize, and was recently commissioned by the New Bristol Sinfonia. In 2015 he is the inaugural Friends of the National Library of Australian Creative Arts Fellow. Chris is an associate artist at the Australian Music Centre.

Composer website:

Featured Works

birds (unfalling), for soprano and string sextet.

‘birds(unfalling)’ is a musical motion study. Inspired by Sian Tucker’s vast mobile, ‘Falling Leaves’, it responds by creating a feeling of perpetual ascent amongst the leaves. It was commissioned by The Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity as part of the Rhapsody Composing Project and forms part of the interactive audio tour of the hospital. An app including images of the mobile, the piece, and complete tour can be downloaded here:

Featured in Playlist 8 – String Waves, 31/08/2015

Beautiful Lines for string quartet.

Beautiful Lines contemplates a single musical line, imposed on itself in a myriad of different forms and relations. The effect is an aural moiré pattern. Though a single undulating line permeates the piece, superimposition creates textures of emergent shapes and lines. At one moment towards the end of the piece, a chorale based on this single line suddenly emerges. This too dissolves back into undulating lines, eventually moving to the highest register of the quartet.

Featured in the playlist: Small Ensemble Waves (1/3/2016)

Polyhymnia for double bass and electronics.

Polyhymnia is as interesting as a word as she is as a muse. The word’s meaning remains close to the surface for us while her meaning as one of the muses – daughters of Zeus – provides further depth. She is mentioned in association with sacred poetry (sacred song), as well as geometry, which are of course heavily linked to our own ideas of ancient musical ontologies. She is also often noted for her meditative qualities and as ‘the one of many hymns’. As such the title Polyhymnia satisfyingly enshrines and inscribes for me the sound and one meaning of the piece with its technical construction.

The three main sonic ideas in Polyhymnia relate to the division of one into many. The tuning of the piece is altered gradually throughout and is an audible structural feature. Beginning with a standard western ‘equal temperament’ (12 notes to the octave), a number of different equal temperament tuning systems are used, with increasingly fine divisions of the octave. The sounds themselves are also being filtered in order to emphasise different individual partials. As in any number of the beautiful overtone singing traditions we are thus able to hear two sounds as one. The ‘note itself’ is the lowest sound and then melodic figures emerge by emphasising different overtones. These two sounds are inextricably connected, yet discrete.

Finally, the performer and the computer are equal partners in a ‘semi-improvisational dialogue’. They both have access to the same material, to which they both contribute and respond, so while at moments they coalesce, there is always the exquisite tension of division between the two complimentary, yet contradictory sonic perspectives.

Featured in the playlist Mythical Waves – April 2018.

Thus Passes…, for double vocal quartet.

A solastalgic lament, for the passing majesty of the natural world at a time of environmental destruction.

Featured in the playlist Vocal Waves II – August 2019.