Born in Vancouver, September 21, 1959;
now living in Vancouver
John Oliver has carved a unique position for himself among Canadian composers in his dual capacity of composer of electroacoustic music and professional guitarist, with the two often intertwined. He was born in Vancouver, made a name for himself in Montreal, and is now comfortably ensconced back in his home town in the suburb of New Westminster.
Oliver’s teachers have included John Adams at the San Francisco Conservatory, Steve Chatman at the University of British Columbia, and Bruce Mather and John Rea at McGill University in Montreal, where he received both his Master’s degree (1984) and his doctorate in composition (1992). He undertook further studies in Darmstadt (1984), Paris (courses in psychoacoustics at the Pompidou Center in 1988-89) and in Brussels with Philippe Boesmans (1988-89).
Oliver the composer
John Oliver’s music has been performed across Canada by Judith Forst, the Canadian Opera Company, the Vancouver Opera and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, among many others as well as in Mexico and in many countries of Europe. He is a champion of electroacoustic music. In 1983 he was a founding member of G.E.M.S. (Group of the Electronic Music Studio) and remained active with the group as composer, performer and conductor until 1987. In the fall of 1997 he took part in the Pacific Rim concerts at the highly successful Body Electric/Guitarévolution Festival in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. Oliver’s primary compositional focus for the 1990s was a series of works that looked forward to the millennium. He initiated this project in 1992 with Gasping Mirrors, which was followed later that year with Melody Returning at the Glenn Gould Conference in Toronto. Forging Utopia, another installment in Oliver’s millennium project, was commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra and received its world premiere in January 1998.
In addition to orchestral, chamber and electroacoustic music, Oliver has written two operas. The first was Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance (1991), the first full-length opera of the Banff Center’s composer-in-residence program. It is scored for wind instruments, guitar, percussion, live electronics and sounds recorded in the Guatemalan countryside. His second opera, Alternate Visions, was presented in Montreal in 2007 by Chants Libres.
Oliver the guitarist
Oliver also leads an active life as a professional guitarist. Throughout the 1970s he studied first with Robert Jordan, then with George Sakellariou. From 1991 to 1993 he played MIDI guitar with the Vancouver group MORE. Since then, he has been developing repertory for himself that involves guitars, MIDI guitar, computer and electronics. In 1997 he performed some of his new music as part of the Body Electric Festival in Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto, and released a CD called Icicle Blue Avalanche. He has performed with New Music Concerts, Vancouver New Music, Groudswell, Upstream and New Music America, among many other groups. He currently plays in a violin and guitar duo called Duo Vita.
Oliver has served as composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Canadian Opera Company and the Vancouver Opera. In 1997 he founded a CD label called Earsay, which is devoted to the promotion of new music.
Prizes and awards
Olver’s leap to international attention came during the 1988-1989 season, when he won six prizes for five compositions. These included the grand prize of the CBC’s Eighth National Radio Competition for Young Composers, the City of Varese Prize at the Luigi Russolo Competition in Italy and the PROCAN Young Composers’ Competition in two categories.