MA Music: Contemporary Studies

Composition   Performance  Jazz   Improvised music   Critical Study

Scholarships available

The MA Music: Contemporary Studies allows students to specialise in any area of contemporary music. Expert tuition is available in composing, performing and critical analysis. Core seminars (see sample list) support a wide range of practical and theoretical study of contemporary music, while regular professional and student workshops allow students to engage directly with current musical practice.

Specialism pathways are supported as follows:


The Composition pathway gives you the space to develop your unique compositional voice: not only through one-to-one tuition with our internationally recognised staff composers, but also through the fertile creative environment created by our large community of postgraduate composers. A weekly Composition Seminar brings together MA, PhD and staff composers, with a number of seminars each term delivered by visiting composers from the UK and other parts of the world. There are regular opportunities to compose for professional artists and ensembles, and for established departmental ensembles. Commissions and workshop opportunities in 2015-16 have included:  Diotima String Quartet workshops (Feb),  Carla Rees flute workshop (May) Terry Holmes Commission (May), Lyons Celebration Award (May).


  • Thomas Simaku (String Quartets, Orchestral and ensemble music, Kurtag, Ligeti)
  • Roger Marsh (Vocal music, music theatre, ensemble music, Berio, Kagel)
  • Martin Suckling (Instrumental and vocal music, Spectral Music, Benjamin, Ades)
  • William Brooks (Experimental music, music theatre, Cage, Ives)
  • Jonathan Eato (Jazz and Improvised music, South African jazz)
  • John Stringer (Orchestral and ensemble music, film music, conducting)
  • Ambrose Field (Music for voices and large-scale vocal ensembles; immersive media and contemporary cultural aesthetics)
  • Federico Reuben (Sound art, algorithmic composition, live electronics, music computing, digital performance)
  • Jez Wells (Recording techniques; audio processing and modelling)


The performance of contemporary music is one of the central features of music at York. We have a close association with a number of professional ensembles and soloists, and there are well established student ensembles such as The Chimera Ensemble, University Jazz Orchestra, Piano Ensemble, The Assembled and The 24, who rehearse and give concerts throughout the year. Students work closely with composers and ensembles as appropriate, and give termly public recitals. There are also opportunities to develop conducting technique, for example conducting the Chimera Ensemble.


  • Catherine Laws (piano, piano and electronics, The Assembled, Piano Ensemble)
  • John Stringer (oboe, conducting, University Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Chimera Ensemble)
  • Jonathan Eato (Saxophone, Jazz Orchestra)
  • Robert Hollingworth (The 24, I Fagiolini)
  • Martin Suckling (Violin)
  • Mark Hutchinson (piano)

Plus visiting instrumentalists and singers, including contemporary music specialists Barrie Webb (trombone) Pietro Lusvardi (double Bass) Alan Thomas (Guitar) Julian Arguelles (Saxophone) Janet Fulton (percussion).

Improvised music and Jazz

This pathway offers a unique programme of study of interest to practitioners and scholars alike, embracing not only traditional jazz styles, but also interactive technology and improvisational traditions from other cultures. There are workshops and seminars devoted to notation, transcription, and history. Intersecting with music technology and also with the distinguished composition staff at York, it offers a programme of study of interest to practitioners and scholars alike.


  • Jonathan Eato (Saxophone, Jazz Orchestra)
  • Julian Arguelles (Saxophone)
  • Catherine Laws (piano, piano and electronics, The Assembled)
  • Federico Reuben (laptop improvisation, live coding, new approaches to improvisation with technology)

Critical Study

This pathway allows students to investigate areas of contemporary music through practical and theoretical research. The aim is to gain an understanding of the range and variety of current musical practices (in composition, performance or improvisation, but also other forms: installation, sound art, music theatre, radio and web-based work), and to contextualize this in relation to recent musicology and critical theory. Students will extend their knowledge and experience of contemporary repertoire, examine different models of practice (including relevant approaches in other art forms), and consider the implications of new technologies.


  • Catherine Laws (subjectivity and embodiment in performance; processes of collaboration; the relationship between critical theory and contemporary musicology; music and gender.)
  • William Brooks (American music, Popular music, Experimental music, Music and culture, Music and memory, Extended vocal techniques, Musical theatre and film musicals, Quotation and reference, Mutable (open) forms)
  • Tim Howell (Music analysis of 20th-century and contemporary music, The music of Sibelius, Finnish 20th-century music, Exploring the middle ground between analysis and performance.
  • Federico Reuben (Politics and Aesthetics, Sound Studies and Digital Culture)

Core seminars include:

  • Spectral Music and beyond
  • Alternative theatres: Kagel, Berio, Bausch, DV8
  • Digital Culture
  • The Specifics of Site
  • Critical theory and contemporary musicology
  • Alternative Voices: Berio, Aperghis, Wishart, Marsh
  • Why be there? The significance of liveness, the event and context in contemporary practices.
  • Total Chromaticism in Various Contexts: Webern, Bartok, Boulez, Ligeti, Kurtag
  • The contemporary String Quartet
  • Quotation and Reference

Option seminars from:

  • Composing with words: some case studies
  • Composing for String Quartet
  • 20th & 21st century repertoire: Webern, Nono, Penderecki
  • Dutilleux, Dusapin, Widman and Simaku
  • The Composer’s Kitchen: Anderson, Grisey, Poppe, Murail, Benjamin, Knussen
  • Advanced Topics in Digital Culture
  • The Contemporary Jazz Scene
  • Structures for improvised practice
  • Who is composing, performing, listening? Critical and practical approaches to subjectivity and identity
  • Text, declamation, music

PhD (3 years)

Composition (folio)

Applicants may propose a programme of research in any area of composition. Students work independently under the supervision of a member of cmrc staff, and submission is by a folio of compositions (normally 8 works) with a written commentary (up to 15000 words).

Performance (folio)

Applicants may propose a programme of research in any area of contemporary music performance. Students work under the supervision of a member of cmrc staff. Submission is by a portfolio of (up to 6) performances accompanied by critical and contextual written commentary.

Thesis (100,000 words)

We accept proposals for research in any area of contemporary music related to the research of cmrc staff.

Department of Music

Music at York

The Contemporary Music Research Centre is based at the Department of Music at the University of York.

Find out more about the Department at