Param Vir was born in Delhi, India. His mother was a poet and distinguished vocalist, his father an electronics engineer and mathematician, – and Vir’s formative years at home were steeped in Indian classical music. Piano lessons began at the age of 9 and composition lessons followed at the age of 14. It was through these avenues that Param Vir was first introduced to contemporary music in the western idiom – an introduction that immediately kindled a belief and passion in the young composer that has never abated, and continues to inform his entire creative output.
Vir’s early work in composition aroused the interest of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who invited him to the Dartington Summer School in 1983 on a scholarship. With the encouragement of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and a scholarship from Inlaks Foundation, Param Vir moved to London in 1984 to study composition with Oliver Knussen. Within three years of his arrival in London he had won the Benjamin Britten Composition Prize (Aldeburgh), the Kucyna International Composition Prize (Boston), the Tippett Composition Award (Dartington) and the Performing Right Society Composition Prize (London). His works have been performed, among others, by the Asko Ensemble, The Schoenberg Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta Voices, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Ensemble Modern. Param Vir has also studied composition with Jonathan Harvey and Randolph Coleman.
His two one-act operas – ‘Snatched by the Gods’ and ‘Broken Strings’ were commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for the 1992 Munich Biennale, in a production by Pierre Audi and Netherlands Opera. The following year Param Vir received the composition prize from the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung (Munich) for the double bill. These operas were then produced by Almeida Opera in July 1996 in a new production with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Markus Stenz. In 1993 the Park Lane Group featured his work for solo guitar, ‘Clear Light Magic Body’ at the South Bank Centre, London. His major work for orchestra ‘Horse Tooth White Rock’, commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic, was given its world première in March 1994, under Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and its London première at the BBC Maida Vale Studios on February 25, 2003 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jurjen Hempel.
Other works include ‘Before Krishna’ (1987), ‘Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva’ (1988), written for the London Sinfonietta Voices, ‘The Comfort of Angels’ (1996) for two pianos, ‘Gift’ (1996) for solo flute commissioned by the Almeida Theatre and ‘Flame’ (1997) for solo cello for the Munich Biennale.
Param Vir’s double bill Snatched by the Gods and Broken Strings is now established within the contemporary repertoire, with three new productions taking place: with Scottish Opera in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1998 and the Berlin State Opera and Vienna in 1999. A revival of the original Pierre Audi production was given by the Transparant Opera Company, with several performances taking place in February 2001 in Antwerp, Rotterdam and Rouen. Since its world premiere in 1992 this double bill has been much acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, and is listed in Kobbe’s Book of Opera.
Param Vir’s first full length opera Ion was commissioned by Aldeburgh Almeida Opera and received its first performance at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2000. The first full production of the opera was staged in 2003 in a co-production between Music Theatre Wales, the Berliner Festwochen and Opera National du Rhin. The premiere launched the latter’s 2003/4 season with a series of seven performances, before moving on to the Berlin Festival, the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and touring around the UK.
Horse Tooth White Rock, a large orchestral work based on the life of the eleventh century Tibetan saint Milarepa, was commissioned and first performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 1994. Since then, it has been performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 2005 BBC Proms and by the Flanders Philharmonic at de Singel in Antwerp.
Other notable works include Ultimate words: Infinite song, for baritone solo, percussion sextet and piano, which was commissioned by the 1997 Berlin Festival. The piece is inspired by the writings of the Second World War Danish resistance hero Kim Malthe-Bruun. The Theatre of Magical Beings was commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 2003 and described by one critic as a “virtuosic and hugely enjoyable, life-affirming work”. More recently, the Schönberg Ensemble commissioned and gave the first performance of Hayagriva at the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ in Amsterdam in December 2005. Other performances have followed in Warsaw, Berlin and Vienna by Klangforum Wein and in Chicago by Fulcrum Point.
Param Vir completed a major new commission from the BBC Symphony Orchestra inspired by Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Cloud Gate. Between Earth and Sky was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on November 24th 2006 at Hammersmith Town Hall to much acclaim. More recently completed is a new song cycle Wheeling Past the Stars premiered by Patricia Rozario (soprano) and Rohan de Saram (Cello) in Stuttgart in November 2007.
Several new works were completed in the season 2008 – 2009, notably He Begins His Great Trance for the BBC Singers and Black Feather Rising, a 90 minute work of music-theatre for Stichting Octopus in The Netherlands. May 2009 saw the world premiere of a new work for the Orchestra of the Swan: A Spread of Dreams, conducted by David Curtis. The latest work to be premiered in 2009 was for cello and percussion . . . beyond the reach of the world . . . with a second version for solo cello. Two new works received world premieres in April 2010: Constellations for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at the Barbican, and Darbar Chhayanat for a cross over group of virtuoso Indian and Western musicians, a collaborative encounter commissioned by Darbar Arts Culture Heritage at the King’s Place, London.
The 2013-14 season saw several large scale compositions at the finishing line: the BBC Proms featured a new orchestral work Cave of Luminous Mind on 21st August 2013 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo. This was followed, in the following season, by three new works in swift succession: Kalabadi Galdinami, a folk-song arrangement for a Latvian Youth choir, ABLAZE!, a settings of songs from Tagore’s Gitanjali for the Beethovenfeste Bonn, and Raga Fields, a work for sarod and mixed ensemble, commissioned by the BCMG, Fulcrum Point Chicago and Klangforum Wien. The last work was premiered by the BCMG on 4th October 2014 to much acclaim, with subsequent performances in Chicago (Fulcrum Point), Cologne, Vienna and Amsterdam (Klangforum Wien) and London (The Philharmonia).
Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams commissioned the song cycle A Kinsman to Danger in an 2017 and has given 10 performances internationally with pianist Paula Fan. Venues include Mumbai, India; Bad Kissingen, Germany; New Orleans, US and Beaumaris, UK. A recording is scheduled for 2021.
Param Vir won a PRS Composers Award in February 2020. The award will fund a portrait CD on NMC Recordings featuring Raga Fields, Hayagriva, Before Krishna and Wheeling Past the Stars. Param Vir also received funding from the RVW Trust and Hinrichsen Foundation for the recording.