“Hellawell’s is an alert, engaging, absorbingly intelligent musical mind”, wrote Michael Oliver of International Record Review. At the age of 24 Piers Hellawell was appointed composer-in-residence at Queen’s University of Belfast, an institution with which he has continued to associate himself throughout his professional career; since 2002 he has held the Chair of Composition at the University and from 2000 to 2003 he was also Gresham Professor of Music, a visiting post in the City of London.
He has been commissioned by the BBC Proms, Hilliard Ensemble, Schubert Ensemble of London and Stockholm Kammarbrass and his music has been performed at numerous British and overseas festivals. Other collaborators have included Michala Petri, Evelyn Glennie, Psappha, the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra in Finland, The RTÉ Vanbrugh String Quartet and Trio Medieval.
In 1999 Inside Story was premiered to wide acclaim at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts; a CD featuring Inside Story alongside other recent major works appeared in 2002 on the Metronome Label and was named a BBC Music Magazine CD of the Month. 2002 also saw the premiere of The Pear Tree of Nicostratus, by the Hilliard Ensemble and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, at Finland’s Kaustinen Festival, where Hellawell was featured in a major retrospective. In 2004 Hellawell’s Cors de chasse received its world premiere at the Brighton Festival, given by Håkan Hardenberger, Jonas Bylund and the Philharmonia Orchestra, receiving its London premiere at the Southbank in 2006. Hellawell’s set for vocal ensemble, The Hilliard Songbook, which gave rise to the Hilliard Ensemble’s ECM album of that name in 1996, is, in the words of The Independent, ‘one of the most enduring of their many commissions’. In 2004 it was part of the Hilliard’s 30th Anniversary celebration events when the set, which has been performed across the world by the Hilliard, opened their 30th Anniversary series in the Wigmore Hall.
More recent projects include Degrees of Separation, a major commission for the opening of The Sage Gateshead in December 2004, Maquette for COMA’s Open Score project at London’s 2005 Spitalfields Festival and Dogs and Wolves, an orchestral commission from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra first performed in Spring 2006. Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry was premiered by Stockholm Kammarbrass in Norway and Ireland in 2006, at events to mark Hellawell’s 50th birthday year. The 2007/8 concert season saw Hellawell’s work performed in Finland, Washington D.C. and Vancouver. Agricolas, a concerto for Robert Plane (clarinet) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was premiered at the 2008 Vale of Glamorgan Festival. Festivals in Norway played host to further performances of Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry by Stockholm Kammarbrass in Winter 2009-10, while piano trio Etruscan Games was toured in the UK before being recorded by Fidelio Trio alongside other works in 2012; Airs, Waters is Hellawell’s first recording on the Delphian label.
Hellawell continues to explore radical designs such as that in chamber music media for leading ensembles: Landscape with Portraits was premiered by Chamber Domaine at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival, while his second string quartet, the experimental design Driftwood on Sand, was released in autumn 2007 on the CD Dogs and Wolves, Hellawell’s third disc on Metronome.
More recently, Piani, Latebre was premiered by William Howard at the 2010 Spitalfields Festival and Isabella’s Banquet, for vocal ensemble was premiered by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and Paul Hillier in April 2012. A commission for Swedish Chamber Orchestras and Stockholm Kammarbrass, Syzygy, for which Hellawell was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship, premiered in Spring 2013 in Sweden. atria for cello and piano was also premiered in Spring 2013 at Belfast Music Society’s International Chamber Festival by Paul Watkins and Huw Watkins. In April 2013 Hellawell was awarded one of 20 PRS for Music Foundation Biennial commissions, to work with Bourne/Davis/Kane, the improvisation trio.