Photo credit: Kirstie Simson
Dr Henry McPherson is a musician, interdisciplinary artist, and researcher. He works across composition, improvisation, performance, practice-research, and teaching. His creative portfolio includes sound and music for concert, stage, and broadcast, site-specific pieces and gallery installation, experimental improvisation performance in sound and movement, and collaborative intermedia and hybrid-digital art pieces. His work has been shown internationally across diverse settings – from concert halls to galleries, from bathrooms to dance studios, from parks and warehouses to cafes, virtual halls and radio. His current creative interests lie in the intersections of improvisation performance and ecology, knowledge exchange and collaboration with the more-than-human, integrated sound and movement practices, and illustrated notation. He lives in East Lancashire and works between Manchester and Leeds.
Photo @ Kirstie Simson
Photo @ Chris Scott, Courtesy of Fruitmarket Gallery
Photo @ Federico Pellanchin
Photo @ Kirstie Simson
COMPOSING + CONCERT
As a composer, Henry's work explores the boundaries between familiar and unknown sound-worlds, weaving together contemporary and ancient harmonies, and blending western notation practices into experimental graphic techniques. His works have been praised for their sensitivity to colour and timbre, as well as their spacious approach to orchestration, often inviting performers to explore sonic intimacy in contemplative melodic gestures and subtly shifting relationships. “[The music] convincingly rides that disarming line between familiar and skewed. McPherson’s writing is confident, vivid and rich in atmosphere.” – Kate Mollesson, on Ūhte (2015) “Character studies to touch the soul […] McPherson has music in him way beyond the notes.” – Michael Tumulty, the Herald, on Mannequin (2016) Originally from rural Herefordshire, Henry maintains an affinity for agricultural landscapes and old woodlands. Many of his compositions – such as his youth opera Maud (2017), commissioned by Scottish Opera – explore personal relationships to the green world via folklore and interspecies storytelling, as well as tensions between increasingly urbanised infrastructure and precarious local ecosystems, between human and more-than-human communities. He has also produced a family of works which centres Queer/LGBTQ(+) voices and experience within the concert context, through collaborative devised music-theatre practice (with Savage Parade, 2015 - 2018), and in sonic installation practices (Collagens, Fruitmarket Gallery, 2019). Henry’s compositions have been performed and recorded by acclaimed artists and ensembles such as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Red Note Ensemble, Decibel, Ensemble Modern, Ronan Whittern, Yiyang Zhao, the Glasgow New Music Expedition, Zilan Liao (Pagoda Arts/Psappha Ensemble), Brian Bromberg, Trio Arcania, Alice Allen, the Glasgow New Music Expedition, BRUTALUST Duo, the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Scottish Opera, and Garth Knox, among others. His work has been showcased: at events including hcmf// (Huddersfield), PLUG festival (Glasgow), FLUID Festival (Birmingham), 21st Century Guitar Conference (Muncie, IN), New Music Room (Berlin/Kuala Lumpur), Glasgow Experimental Music Series, Dag in der Branding (NL), The New Together (NGallery, GR); in broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (Late Junction, Freeness), BBC iPlayer, Radio Dordogne (FR), Cartopodes (CH), Radiophrenia (Glasgow), Transmission Radio (Birmingham), The Sampler Mixtape @ Resonance.fm (London), in sound installation at the Fruitmarket Gallery (Edinburgh), Despina Gallery (Rio de Janiero), Fringe Arts Bath, Galérie Analix Forever (Geneva, CH), and in digital installations at NY20+ Gallery (Chengdu, China), "Apropos of Aesthetics" Virtual Reality Exhibition, (2021), the Gathering Zine (RAM, London Design Museum), and the MASS Collection (UK). He is the recipient the Creative Scotland Four Nations International Fund (2022); Goethe Institute Virtual Partner Residency (2020, with the Noisebringers); the Collaborative PhD Studentship in Music and Dance in association with Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (2019 – 2022); Help Musicians Transmission Fund (2018); the Harriet Cohen Memorial Music award (2018); Psappha Ensemble Composing For Guzheng Bursary (2018); the Patron’s Prize for Composition (2017); The Opera Sparks Commission prize (2017 – Scottish Opera); the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composition Club Prize (2017); two-time nominee for the Scottish Awards for New Music (2017 – Ūhte; 2019, with Savage Parade – Anthems for Queer Youth, 2018); the Dinah Wolfe Memorial Prize for Composition (2013). He has recently been artist-in-residence at Manasamitra (2021, UK), NGallery (2021, GR, with the Noisebringers) The Fruitmarket Gallery (2019, UK) with Despina Gallery (2018, BR), the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (2018, CA), and FLUID Festival (2017, UK, with Savage Parade).
IMPROVISING + PERFORMANCE
A versatile instrumentalist and vocalist, Henry is a performer who straddles free improvisation, interdisciplinary, contemporary and experimental performance practices. Moving from the piano to the microphone, from the recorder to the viola, and into the kinetic, Henry enjoys the interweaving of sound and movement expressions in holistic, embodied, spontaneous performances. Henry champions improvisation as an inherently social practice, with the power to break down both aesthetic and societal barriers to enable access and participation in performance making to diverse communities. Henry has worked recently as an improvising musician/mover with dance-artist Rachel Dean’s ‘Let’s Move’ (Chapeltown Community Nursery, Funded by Arts Council England), integrating sound and movement improvisation into early-years learning, and as a collaborator/improviser for artist Joanne Haines’ production ‘Dancing with Colours’ – an inclusive multisensory improvisation, dance, paint and audio experience. As a pianist, Henry studied with Sinae Lee, Silviya Mihaylova, and Saša Gerželj-Donaldson, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His collaged studio improvisations have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Freeness, with audiovisual broadcasts at ImprovFest (Canada), Mopomoso TV (London), and Jefferson Park EXP (Chicago). He has appeared recently alongside artists such as Maggie Nicols, Steve Beresford, the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra with Alex Hawkins and the Noisebringers, David Birchall, Odie Ji Ghast, BRUTALUST Duo, Raymond MacDonald, Saadet Türköz, Dejana Seculić, Linda Jankowska, Jessica Argo, Weston Olencki, the Noisy Women, Charlotte Keefe, Stanford Cheung, PA Tremblay, Christophe Schweizer, Xina Hawkins , the Genetic Choir, and with dance artists Kirstie Simson, Michael Schumacher, David Zambrano, Skye Reynolds, and Sky Su. In addition to lecturing in improvisation in higher education, Henry has recently published a book of improvisational text scores – “This, Here, Now: Invitations to Improvise” – available for artists across disciplines to employ as both a performance and teaching tool. These direct, concise scores (often under 20 words in length) invite practitioners and pedagogues to hone focus on different aspects of improvising practice, including choice and control, clinging and letting go, recall and memory, and the exploration of ‘nonsense’.
RESEARCH + TEACHING
Henry is a postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Manchester, working between the Creative Manchester Platform, and an NIHR SSCR funded study evaluating the impact of an improvised music-making programme on the wellbeing of staff and family carers in dementia care contexts. Henry's research interests lie in intersections of artistic performance and practice-as research, improvisation studies and applied arts practice in health and social care, critical race theory and queer-feminist social critique, trans- and inter-disciplinary scholarship. Henry has worked as a lecturer and teacher in music and arts pedagogy, in higher education and specialist arts education contexts. He maintains an annual post as a visiting lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2020 – present), where he has developed an integrated approach to sonic and movement improvisation practices in collaboration with improvisation specialist Dr. Maria Sappho. Between 2019 and 2023, he was a module lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, where he oversaw the design, development, and implementation of undergraduate Free Improvisation classes, with additional input in Experimental Music and Reflective Practice. He has also worked with Opera North’s Young Musicians’ Studio programme (Leeds) as a tutor in improvisation and musicianship, and with Mind The Gap’s Performance Academy (Halifax) as an integrated arts specialist, in addition to freelance teaching. Henry completed his PhD (Music, Dance) at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Research in New Music, and Research Centre for Performance Practice in 2023. His thesis was entitled More Than One Thing: A Practice Led Investigation into Transdisciplinary Free Improvisation in Sound and Movement - and was supervised by Hilary Elliott, Philip Thomas, Claudia Molitor, and Ben Spatz. He also holds a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Music (Hons, 1st) from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2013 - 2018). A list of academic publication/presentation is available in the 'Research' section of the Porfolio page.