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11 August 2008

William Colleran

(1929 – 2008)

William Colleran

William Colleran who died recently in London, was the model for a now-vanished breed of music publishers, and became a well-loved and respected figure on the London and European music scene.

Here was a man who cared deeply about the state of the art of composition, and nurtured many of the major and minor figures in contemporary music. He was a publisher who could read a score, and who demanded a copy of a new score before the premiere performance, and who attended early rehearsals as an informed musician; no wonder his publisher, Universal Edition, was able to sign to its catalogue some of the stellar names of the scene.

Through alumni of York University, and with the enthusiastic support of its Professor, Wilfrid Mellers, Colleran became aware of the energy and talent of a number of young Australian composers, and gained their respect and admiration enough to have them change their allegiances to that of Universal Edition. Colleran was devastated when he learned of the tragic death of David Ahern, whom he had contracted.

When the doyen of Universal Edition, Dr Kalmus, turned 80, we ('The Fires of London' - the group I then managed) invited largely through Bill Colleran, some of the leading Universal composers to each contribute a new composition for a Birthday Concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall - and so we premiered new pieces by Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Harrison Birtwistle, and others and called the concert 'A Garland for Dr K'. It was a major event on the London music scene.

Colleran always was an éminence grise at contemporary music festivals, and his generous support for new music was much valued and sought after. Not one given to an equivocal opinion, Bill’s nod was manna to many a young composer. In London in the late '60s and early '70s, there were a number of rare music critics, William Mann of The Times, Andrew Porter of the Financial Times (later to become the Music Critic for The New Yorker for many years, and still a lively presence on the European scene). They and a few publishers such as Bill Colleran for Universal Edition, Michael Vyner of Schott & Co plus resident composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Pierrre Boulez, Michael Tippett, along with crack performing groups such as the Sinfonietta, The Fires of London, and performers such as Alan Hacker, Cathy Berberian, Mary Thomas, Stephen Pruslin and Jane Manning, clearly made London the electric centre of new music at the time.  Bill Colleran was a prime mover and shaker in this milieu, and now is widely mourned.

James Murdoch has had a distinguished international career as an arts manager, consultant, and author, and was the National Director of the Australian Music Centre from its inception in 1973, to 1981.


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Bill Colleran

An obituary in the Guardian:


Bill Colleran - In Memoriam

Julian Yu // 22 Sep 08, 5:39pm

I would like to take this opportunity to add a few words of my own, since Bill Colleran was so helpful to me in my evolution as a composer.

In 1988 I received a mystery message on my telephone answering machine, asking me to ring "Bill Colleram" (as I thought). When I rang back, Bill considerately offered to return my call, since international calls were so expensive at the time. This was the beginning of a highly fruitful relationship with UE (Australia) spanning many years, and I was glad that after Bill's departure from the company in November 1994 we kept in contact.

From the outset I realised that Bill was exceptionally musical and knowledgeable, and very discerning with regard to new music, for which his first consideration was always artisic merit. I felt extremely proud to be chosen by him and his reputable firm.

Over the years Bill visited Australia several times, and twice I was privileged to be hosted by him in London. The last time we met was over dinner before the performance of my piece at the London Proms in 2000. As usual, he was intensely concerned about the contemporary music scene, and how to support and promote more young composers. He was like a candle, expending himself to give light to those around him, and I was deeply moved by his dedication.

Bill Colleran will be rememered with fondness and gratitude by many composers whose lives he touched -- me for one!

- Julian Yu