Nirmali Fenn is a Sri Lankan-born Australian composer who has been island-hopping since finishing her PhD at Oxford University. At the heart of all her music is the message that home is mobile – each piece responds to what is happening in the place where the composition was born. She senses herself as a musical nomad.
The release of her CD with the Kairos label led to reviews describing Nirmali’s music as “dynamic and sculpturally fluid”, exploring the “poetics of spacetime thematic resonance”. Nirmali’s music has been commissioned all over the world, leading to performances by the Arditti String Quartet, Ensemble Cairn, Ensemble Linea, the Kuss Quartet, Ensemble Concorde, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, UnitedBerlin ensemble, Ensemble Offspring, Ensemble Phorminx and Trio Radial.
As a composer who relishes collaborative projects, Nirmali has been composer-in-residence at the following music festivals: the Lakes District Summer Music Festival, the Saxophone Habanera Festival in Poitiers, Zeitströme 2018 in Darmstadt, Unheard-of//Ensemble Collaborative Composition Initiative Festival in New York, and New Music for Strings festival in Aarhus. In 2022, she was awarded a New Music USA grant, which culminated in Prayer, a collaboration with the Grammy award-winning bassoonist Frank Morelli. The Juilliard School commissioned When Shadows hold their Breath in a project designed to encourage conversations with their pre-college clarinetists and build repertoire specifically for young musicians.
Nirmali believes the creative impulse can be engaged as a tool of resistance to conflict and can assist with our sensitization to the plight of others, including our ability to hear the struggles of marginalized voices. This theme resonates strongly with her for as a child, she was orphaned in Sri Lanka during its civil war. Another artistic focus is to encourage performers to ‘see’ with their ears, and the process of composing is to translate spatial ‘views’. She believes that sonic vibration gives audiences the opportunity to experience the volume of the spaces in which they exist.
Nomads have modulatory lifestyles – today Nirmali lives in New York, but Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and the UK are all ‘home’.