Fun House Mirrors: Interview with composer Charles Uzor

This interview with composer Charles Uzor discusses melody, timbre, texture, mimicry, guitars, accordions, Ligeti, and more. We listen to a work for guitar and accordion, a guitar quartet, a work for solo piano, and the famous Atmospheres by Gyorgy Ligeti.

Uzor and Thorpe discuss workshopping pieces with groups of musicians, effects of mimicry in both musical form and human behaviour, migration and persecution as influential ideas, the under-appreciation of melody in new music, the humanity of Ligeti, and much more.

Charles Uzor portrait
Composer Charles Uzor, photo: Michel Canonica

Charles Uzor’s longer bio from

The composer Charles Uzor was born in Udo Mbaise, Nigeria in 1961 and came to Switzerland in 1968 during the Biafra War. After studying in Rome, Berne and Zurich (oboe and composition with H. Elhorst and H.U. Lehmann) he followed the oboist Gordon Hunt to the Royal Academy of Music London. In 1990 he obtained the recital diploma and a master’s degree in composition (studying with H.W. Henze, among others). In 2005, still external student at Goldsmith College, London University he completed his dissertation on “Melody and the phenomenology of internal time-awareness”.

Uzor’s oeuvre includes stage and choral works and pieces with small ensembles. The 90s are characterized by the collaboration with Daniel Beriger and the ensembles La Notte, Quasi Fantasia, Percussion Art Ensemble Berne and the Carmina Quartet with Wolfgang Meyer. Early works include Canto, Notre Vie, Ricercare, Zimzum and Akhenaten’s Hymnos to Aton, a 30-minute aria for high tenor from the fragment Solar Eclipse (premiered at the Cairo Opera House).

In 2001 Uzor wins the International Composition Prize of the Onassis Foundation with his ballet Go. Black Tell in collaboration with four Swiss composers is performed at the Expo 02, the violin concerto (with Rahel Cunz and the NEC) in 2010.

The next pieces present chamber music formations linked to electronics: Shakespeare`s Sonnet 65 for string quartet & tape, qui ainsi me refait… voir seulement et oïr for guitar quartet, qui plus aime… for percussion quartet & tape, a chantar m’er de so q’ieu no voldria for clarinet quintet & tape and sweet amygdala for violin, piano & tape. In 2011 Uzor spends a sabatical in New York, San Francisco and Berkeley. Influences of Fred Lerdahl’s cognitive theory inspire him to compose spleen / mimicri (premiered in 2012 at the Munich Adevantgarde Festival).

As in the upcoming works, Uzor is concerned with the phenomena of identity/deception and Derek Parfit’s philosophy of reason and personality. In Nri / mimicri, the most comprehensive piece of the Mimicri-cycle, bird song and air acoustics are deepened by eight octaves and imitated by the Ondes Martenot. Uzor’s friendship with Rupert Huber inspires him to write an Ave Maria cycle for mixed choir a cappella (premiered with R. Huber and the SWR Vokalensemble).

In 2018/19 Mothertongue and 8’46 ’’. George Floyd in memoriam are premiered at the Berne Musikfestival. 2021 brings three world premieres: Hier in diesem zierl’chen Prunkgebäude for 5 choirs and singing bowls based on texts by Robert Walser, Qualia, written for the KammarensembleN (premiered in Gothenburg) and Bodycam exhibit 3. George Floyd in memoriam (premiered at the Festival Wien Modern).

Charles Uzor has received numerous grants from Switzerland and St. Gallen. His works have been published on 4 CDs by Neos and col legno. Charles Uzor is currently working on the Musical Exhibition Leopold II.exhibit.

If you enjoyed Charles Uzor and his music, you might try listening to Ailie Ormston, Linda Catlin Smith, or Martin Arnold.