Michael Matthews, composerInspired by the worlds of nature and literature, Michael Matthews creates music that compels the listener to step beyond the everyday to dwell for a while in images of paradox, to consider the ever-changing tapestry of life. Matthews has a deep love for the contemporary symphonic tradition and has established himself as a master of large-scale musical structures, motivic relationships and organic wholeness, all of which lie at the core of symphonic thought. The symphony is, for Matthews, both a vital form and a special challenge that allows for musical ideas to be carried between movements. Compositional influences include Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Schnittke and, more recently, Scandinavian composers Pettersson and Aho. Michael Matthews – Composer

Versatile in form and style, Matthews’ compositions include: Prelude to Macbeth – a work that captures the sense of strangeness, emotional intensity and violence that pervade the famous Shakespeare play; The Language of Water – a commission for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra that treats each musician as a solo performer resulting in imaginative diversity of contrapuntal and textural possibilities for players and listeners alike; Particles of One – Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra – a two-movement piece that opens lyrically and moves into quick, sometimes motoric rhythm; and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra consisting of five movements, the second and fourth of which are cadenzas (the first for orchestra, the second for the soloist) – this dual-cadenza structure makes a statement about the equality of the partnership between the orchestra and the piano, while providing a sense of balance around the central slow movement.

Early Life

Michael Matthews was born in Gander, Newfoundland in 1950. At that time his father John Matthews was working for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as a ground operations manager. Matthews was still an infant when his family moved to Miami, Florida and his father took a job with Pan American Airways. Growing up, Matthews lived in Miami, Kingston, Jamaica, Managua Nicauragua, Port of Spain and Piarco, Trinidad, and Karachi, Pakistan, where he attended and graduated from the Karachi American School (KAS).

University Study and Teaching

A year at Purdue University studying aeronautical engineering followed, and then a move to Los Angeles, where he changed his focus to music. Matthews studied composition with Aurelio de la Vega at California State University Northridge, Ben Glovinsky at California State University Sacramento, and at the North Texas College of Music (formerly North Texas State University), where he earned a Ph.D. degree  studying under acclaimed composer Larry Austin. A nine-month teaching appointment in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba was followed by two years of teaching at Mokwon University in Taejon, Korea, and then a return to Canada to take up a tenure-track faculty position as head of the Composition Department at the University of Manitoba School of Music (currently the Desautels Faculty of Music).


During his time in Winnipeg Matthews was active as a composer, professor, conductor and concert presenter. He co-founded the contemporary music ensemble Thira, as well as the new music series GroundSwell. He was active as an assessor for the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, and the Winnipeg Art Council. He was also a member of the Winnipeg Arts Advisory Board. During this time Matthews became a member of the Manitoba Composers’ Association, the Canadian Music Centre, the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, the Canadian League of Composers, the Winnipeg Musicians’ Association, the International Computer Music Association, the Electronic Music Foundation, and the Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Canada.

Matthews was awarded a Major Arts Grant in Music from the Manitoba Arts Council, a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study and Conference Center, a Klinker Foundation Grant to participate in the Visiones Sonoras Festival in Morelia, Mexico, and several residencies at the Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras in Mexico. He was the first Canadian to receive the prestigious International Computer Music Award from the International Computer Music Association.


Michael Matthews has a distinguished history of performances. In November 2021 his new work it is raining gently with light was premiered in Winnipeg on the GroundSwell series. In October 2018 A Star of Solitude, settings of poetry by Charles Simic, was performed. Sarah Jo Kirsch, Aiyun Huang, Daniel Scholz and Micah Heilbrunn performed with the composer conducting. In February 2017 Matthews’ work Septet was premiered in Calgary and Winnipeg by ensemble mosaik. Other recent premieres include Sólo queda el desierto (Montreal Chamber Orchestra) and String Quartet No. 4 (Penderecki Quartet). The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra premiered the newly commissioned work The Language of Water in September 2006. In July his work The Skin of Night was premiered at the World Saxophone Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia. October 2005 saw the performance of Away, Tear Away at the prestigious Cervantino Festival in Mexico. In May of 2005 he oversaw the world premiere of his chamber opera Prince Kaspar, and in addition conducted the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra in the premiere of his Cello Concerto. In 2002 the world premiere recording of his Symphony No. 1 was released on TNC Records; Virko Baley conducted the Kiev Camerata Orchestra. In 2012 Matthews retired from full-time teaching at the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba and is now Professor Emeritus there. He recently finished writing a large song cycle for Laura Loewen and Dawn Bruch, based on texts by Canadian poet Dennis Cooley´s book Bloody Jack. Currently Matthews is working on a fifth string quartet and a fourth symphony.

Commissions and Awards

Matthews has been the recipient of numerous commissions and awards; in 2016 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. He held a Rockefeller Foundation residency at the Bellagio Center in Italy. and in addition has been a participant in the Composition and Computer Music Seminar of the Bartók Festival in Szombathely, Hungary. His orchestral work Two Interludes was awarded a prize in the du Maurier Arts Ltd. New Music Festival Canadian Composers Competition. Matthews was the first Canadian to receive a prestigious commission from the International Computer Music Association. He has also received Canada Council and Manitoba Arts Council grants, the Winnipeg Rh Institute award for interdisciplinary research, a residency at the EMS computer music studios in Stockholm, Sweden, and a prize in the Premio Musicale Cittá di Trieste, Italy for his orchestral piece The Wind Was There. He has worked at the Banff Centre, at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University and, more recently, at the Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras, in Morelia, Mexico, where he composed a piece for piano and tape commissioned for pianist Duane Cochran.

Recent performances have included:

  • perishable light (Winnipeg – Park Sounds
  • Sky Rings (New York City Electronic Music Festival)
  • Sólo queda el desierto (Montréal – Montréal Chamber Orchestra)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (Mexico City – Arcano Quartet)
  • Six Poems of Novica Tadić (Mexico City – Foro Internacional de Música Neuva)
  • The Language of Water (Winnipeg – The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (Winnipeg – the Molinari Quartet)
  • Away, Tear Away­ (Mexico City – Foro Internacional de Música Neuva)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (Belgrade – 14th International Review of Composers)
  • Piano Quartet (Winnipeg – GroundSwell)
  • Away, tear away (Mexico City – Mexico City Woodwind Quintet)

Recent world premiers:

  • Bloody Jack (Winnipeg – GroundSwell)
  • it is raining gently with light (Winnipeg – GroundSwell)
  • till our bodies into the night slip (San Antonio – SOLI Chamber Ensemble)
  • A Star of Solitude (Winnipeg – GroundSwell)
  • Septet (Calgary and Winnipeg – ensemble mosaik)
  • Sólo queda el desierto (Montréal – Montréal Chamber Orchestra)
  • Out in the Dark/Silva Myrtea (Winnipeg – Phoenix Collective)
  • Into Its Own Shadow (Morelia – Ensamble 3)
  • Altas Piedras (Morelia – Wendy Holdaway, Bassoon)
  • and the sky caught (Winnipeg – Trio ’86)
  • Flute Concerto (Mexico City – National Symphony Orchestra)
  • The bench of shadow (Winnipeg – The Quasar Quartet)
  • Night Music (Winnipeg – John Racaru and Carol Pollard)
  • Las Blancas Sombras (Winnipeg – Charlene Pauls and Ian Hodges, GroundSwell)
  • The Language of Water (Winnipeg – Manitoba Chamber Orchestra)
  • The Skin of Night (Ljubljana – World Saxophone Congress)
  • Violin/Viola Duos (Winnipeg – Oleg and Mikhail Pokhanovski)
  • Preludes (Winnipeg – Peter Vinograde)

Michael Matthews is a conductor, a founding member of the chamber ensemble Thira and a founder and artistic co-director of the GroundSwell new music series. From 2002-2004 he was Composer-in-Residence with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Works available on CD are: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3, Miniatures (recorded by the Clearwater Quartet); Preludes and Bagatelles (recorded by Daan Vandewalle);  Symphony No. 1 and Out of the Earth (recorded by Virko Baley and the Kiev Camerata for TNC Records); In Emptiness, Over Emptiness (recorded by Therese Costes for the CDCM series on Centaur Records); Scattered Mirrors (recorded by Shirley Sawatzky on Adventures of Piano Woman); Of Time and Sky (recorded by Peter Vinograde on Two Canadian Masterworks for Piano); Fantasy (recorded by Victor Schultz on Jeté); Songs of the Masked Dancers (recorded by Thira on Passage Through Time); The First Sea (recorded by Lori Freedman for the CDCM series on Centaur Records); and Between the Wings of the Earth (recorded by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra for BIS Records). He has lived and traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. Matthews holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Larry Austin. He has recently retired from a long career as Professor of composition at the University of Manitoba, and currently divides his time between Berlin and Montréal. Canadian Encyclopedia. Wikipedia.