Kevin Volans was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1949. After completing a BMus at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg he went on to study in Cologne, principally with Karlheinz Stockhausen, (later becoming his teaching assistant) Mauricio Kagel (music theatre) and Aloys Kontarsky (piano).
In the mid-70's his work became associated with the "Neue Einfachheit" (New Simplicity) – the beginnings of post-modernism in music. In 1979 following several field recording trips to Africa, he embarked on a series of pieces based on African compositional techniques which quickly established Volans as a distinctive voice on the European new music circuit. During this time he was active as a concert pianist and made several trips to Ireland to perform and later to visit friends.
In 1986 he was short-listed for the Head of Department for University College Cork. Despite not getting the job, his love of the country made him decide to settle in Ireland, and he took up a post as Composer-in–Residence in Belfast. In 1989 he moved to Donegal and applied for Irish citizenship. In 1994 his citizenship was granted.After moving to Ireland Kevin Volans began a productive collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. White Man Sleeps for string quartet (1986), Hunting: Gathering (1987) and The Songlines (1988) were all written for them, and given performances in festivals ranging from the Salzburg Festival to the Montreal Jazz Festival, Berliner Festwoche, Tokyo, Adelaide Festival, and New Music America, bringing his work to a very wide audience. The Kronos discs, White Man Sleeps and Pieces of Africa broke all records for string quartet disc sales – the latter was number one on the US Classical and World Music charts for 26 weeks, outselling all but Pavarotti.
In the 1990's Volans gave increasing attention to writing for dance, collaborating with Siobhan Davies, Jonathan Burrows, Shobana Jeyasingh in Britain as well as numerous other companies around the world.
In 1999 the South Bank (London) hosted a fiftieth birthday celebration of his work in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. John Allison wrote in The Times :"When it comes to composers, only a few today could be called true originals, and Kevin Volans is one of them."
Latterly, he has turned his attention to writing for orchestra and as well as collaborating with visual artists.
In 2009 for his 60th birthday celebrations, there were concerts in Dublin (Project Arts and IMMA), Madrid, London (the Wigmore Hall's "Kevin Volans Day"), and South Africa. Recent commissions include a piano concerto (no. 3) for Barry Douglas and the BBC Symphony (BBC Proms), a triple percussion concerto for SISU and the Kringkastensorkestret (Oslo), a new string quartet for the Callino quartet and 3 books of small piano pieces. His solo percussion concerto was premiered in Stockholm by Jonny Axelsson and the KammerensembleN.
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