Michael Blake (born Cape Town, 1951) studied in Johannesburg (BMus) and London (MMus) and received his doctorate from Rhodes University, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown). Dodging the draft into 'apartheid' South Africa's border war, he moved to London in 1977 where he worked as a composer, pianist, teacher, and writer, before returning to a liberated South Africa in 1998. There he taught composition at Rhodes University, established the New Music Indaba, and negotiated South Africa's re-entry into the ISCM after an absence of nearly four decades. In 2000 he set up "Growing Composers", a project to empower young black composers, and in 2012 its successor, the annual Sterkfontein Composers Meeting. From 2002-2010 he devised and curated the "Bow Project", commissioning string quartet responses to traditional one-string bow music, and resulting in a CD production.

His musical language is partly the result of an immersion in the materials and playing techniques of African music, also drawing on almost any found material, and is influenced by both experimental film and African weaving. Michael Blake's works have been widely played, for example in Toronto, New York, Havana, Buenos Aires, Mexico, Australia, India, Japan, and throughout Europe and Africa, and now appears on some 20 CDs and DVDs. He has collaborated with South African artists and filmmakers including Willem Boshoff, Emma Willemse, Aryan Kaganof and Christo Doherty. The most recent recording of his work is "Afrikosmos", a three CD set on the Divine Art label. He lives in rural France with his wife, music historian and writer Christine Lucia, and their Breton spaniel Dolly, but spends part of each year in South Africa, where he is honorary professor in the Africa Open Institute at Stellenbosch University.


31 October 1951
Born in Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa

Piano lessons at South African College of Music and earliest compositions

Begins undergraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba (graphic score)

Organises performances of Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen
for Wits University's 50th Anniversary Celebrations

Studies composition with June Schneider

First orchestral piece JSB - Chaconne

Forms Orion Ensemble for performance of new music
(debut concert June 1975)

Begins series Conversations with Chamber Music -
warhorses, song without words

First African transcription Ground Weave (harpsichord)

Summer courses in Darmstadt and Dartington

Curates New Music series at newly-opened Market Theatre,
Johannesburg, including premiere of Night Music

October 1977
Dodges the draft into South Africa’s border war and moves to London

Joins part-time staff at Peters Edition

Postgraduate studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London

Lectures at Goldsmiths College; establishes Goldsmiths
Contemporary Music Ensemble

South African concert tour with Moonchild Ensemble
including premiere of ode-cantata

Musical director, New Internationalist Theatre's
production of Mother Courage

London debut at Purcell Room, including British premiere of
Mauricio Kagel's MM51

Two Studies for Prepared Piano premiered at South African
Contemporary Music Festival by Shirley Hoffmann

Continues African series with Taireva (1984), Let us run out of the rain
and Self Delectative Songs (1986), and The Seasons (1988),
all premiered in London

Performs Cage Piano Concert at Purcell Room London

Signs contract with newly-founded music publishers Bardic Edition

London New Music debut concert at Purcell Room

Two dance works premiered in London: Strange Land (The Place) and For the Off
(the music for this work becomes Honey Gathering Song)

Premiere of Basset Clarinet Quintet by Lesley Schatzberger and
Fitzwilliam String Quartet (on period instruments),
commissioned by Yorkshire Arts for the Mozart bicentenary

Leaf Carrying Song, Arts Council of Great Britain commission
for John Anderson (oboe) and Simon Wynberg (guitar)

Concert Tour of South Africa playing piano duos with Sally Rose

London New Music invited to Evenings of New Music in Bratislava

Out of the Darkness (early version of Piano Concerto) and French Suite
composed for Sally Rose

Winters in Hammamet (Tunisia) and starts sketching
Arts Council England commission Carpet of Memory

London New Music gives first post-liberation concerts of South African
compositions in Britain

Reverie (two pianos) premiered at africa95 Festival

Lecture-recital tour at South African universities; composer in residence at
Rhodes University where he meets Christine Lucia (married in 1999)

Moves back to South Africa

Teaches composition at Rhodes University, Grahamstown

San Polyphony commissioned by National Arts Council

Establishes South African ISCM Section NewMusicSA

Awarded doctorate by Rhodes University

Establishes New Music Indaba in Grahamstown
as component of National Arts Festival

Untitled commissioned for Robert Pickup

Erotikon score for Gustav Machaty's silent movie commissioned
by National Arts Festival for Film Programme

Strings and Electric Guitar for Bach 250 Years After in Slovakia

New Music Indaba second edition 2001: Spaces & Odysseys

String Quartet No 1 (in memory of William Burton)
premiered at National Arts Festival and fiftieth birthday tour
to Britain and USA with Fitzwilliam Quartet

Composer in residence at Bucknell University, USA

Featured composer, Ensemble Noir series, Toronto

New Music Indaba third edition

The Bow Project launched at New Music Indaba

Ways to put in the salt premiered by John Tilbury at New Music Indaba

Moves to Johannesburg

Kwela (version for string orchestra) premiered by
Stuttgart Kammerorchester

New Music Indaba fourth edition focus Stockhausen at 75

Ways of the Dance (piano and percussion) premiered in Germany

Travellers V choreographed by Gary Gordon to String Quartet No 1
for First Physical Theatre 10th Anniversary

Begins collaborating with Aryan Kaganof


New Music Indaba fifth edition marks the twentieth anniversary
of South Africa’s liberation

Begins opera Searching for Salome

Teaches film music at Academy of Film and Dramatic Art
(AFDA), Johannesburg

New Music Indaba sixth edition Reimagining Africa
hosts Justinian Tamusuza as composer in residence

New Music Indaba seventh edition Reimagining Mozart

Piano Quintet (Homage to Schumann) premiered in Cambridge
by composer and Fitzwilliams

Original score for Aryan Kaganof’s cellphone movie SMS Sugar Man

Second String Quartet composed during five-week stay in Visby

Appointed Senior Lecturer in Composition and Theory, and
Composer in Residence at University of South Africa

Rural Arias for singing saw and 11 players commissioned by
Ensemble Reconsil Wien for their fifth anniversary

Piano Concerto (“Rain Dancing”) premiered by Jill Richards
with Johannesburg Philharmonic and Nicholas Cleobury

Gives premiere of new version of Ways to put in the salt
with electronic tape in Havana

String Quartet 2 receives premiere in the Faroe Islands

Piano Sonata ("Choral") premiered at Gentse Feesten by Daan Vandewalle

Shoowa Panel premiered in Cape Town on Michael Blake Ensemble tour,
as part of portrait concert

MBED label launched with release of Complete Piano Music
played by Jill Richards

Moves to Hout Bay, fishing village near Cape Town

Composes The Philosophy of Composition in memory of Don Maclennan

NewMusicSA 10th Anniversary Bow Project Tour & CD Production
to which he contributes String Quartet No 3 (“Nofinishi”)

A Fractured Landscape (in memoriam Edward Said)
composed for Antony Gray's Australian concert tour

Daan Vandewalle undertakes South African tour of Piano Sonata ("Choral")

Tape part for Tombeau de Moerane created at Alpha Studio Visby,
for Darius Klisys (birbyne)

Fitzwilliam Quartet South African Tour & CD recording
(second release on MBED label) for composer’s sixtieth birthday

Nirox residency with Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura to develop
Standing Stone Circle (after Richard Long’s Nirox installation)

First Sterkfontein Composers Meeting held at Nirox

Pentimenti (solo cello) premiered by Friedrich Gauwerky
and toured in South Africa and Germany

Piano Concerto No 2 ("Boschpoort") commissioned by MIAGI,
premiered in Vienna

Standing Stone Circle premiered in Tokyo by
Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura

Leads composers masterclass in Matsue, Japan

Ukhukhalisa Umrhubhe (umrhubhe and tape) commissioned by
Ernst Siemens Foundation for Festival d’Automne à Paris,
premiered by Mantombi Matotiyana

Collaboration with Willem Boshoff Scoring Boschpoort

String Quartet No 5 composed during a stay in Drusikinkai, Lithuania

Composes Migrations (16 solo voices) during a six-month artist residency
at Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study

Establishes Purpur Festival in Cape Town with Pierre-Henri Wicomb

Begins work on Afrikosmos during a residency
at the Bellagio Rockefeller Writers Centre

Tombeau de Moerane (version for clarinet and tape) premiered at
ISCM World New Music Days in Ljubljana

Moves to France

Alto Trombone and Vibe written for Ivo Nillson and Jonny Axelsson
who give premiere in Stockholm

Cello Sonata ("Hours with the Masters") written for
Friedrich Gauwerky and Daan Vandewalle

Wergo CD Production of complete cello music,
with Friedrich Gauwerky and Daan Vandewalle

Appointed Honorary Professor at Africa Open Institute,
Stellenbosch University

Tshikona Portrait for 31-tone organ commissioned by
Huygens-Fokker Foundation Amsterdam

Lovedale Harmony (in memory of Siya Betana)
composed for Stockholm Saxophone Quartet,
premiere at Purpur Festival, Cape Town

First performance of final 2006 version of San Polyphony
by Eri Lievonen at Het Orgelpark Amsterdam

Let the Good Times Roll! (L'Apothéose de Berlioz) premiered by University
of Stellenbosch Symphonic Wind Ensemble under Rik Ghesquière

Displaced: 101 Ways to Long for a Home (after Emma Willemse)
for keyboard and tape premiered at Bowed Electrons Cape Town

Afrikosmos (begun 2015) completed during lockdown

Mémorial for large orchestra

Afrikosmos triple CD recorded in Britain by Antony Gray
who gives first complete performance in France

Ixilongo for horn in F and off-stage horn ensemble, commissioned by
Southern African Music Rights Organisation for Sören Hermansson,
in memory of June Schneider (1939-2020)

Symphony (first worked on in 2010), completed

Curates Africa Open CD production of Bowscapes (Bow Project 2) -
in memory of Jürgen Bräuninger

Afrikosmos CD released on Divine Art

String Quartet No 6 (The Practice of Everyday Life)
(begun 2020) completed

Fantasy Sonata (2008) premiered by Darragh Morgan and
Mary Dullea in London

Symphony premiered in Kassel by Kyiv Symphony Orchestra
under Arjen Tien

Richmond Loop collaboration with Emma Willemse

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