School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Professor Agustín Fernández

Professor of Composition



I am a composer, interested in writing instrumental and vocal music. A spell composing electroacoustic music in the 1980s was relatively brief, but influential on the rest of my work. Among my pursuits I could mention the development of harmonically, rhythmically and texturally eventful and innovative music. My quest for innovation is based on a deep immersion and a contemporary reading of the past. By 'the past' I mean the European classical tradition - which I consider universal - and also the vernacular traditions of the particular places to whose cultures I am directly exposed. Although a long-term resident of the United Kingdom, I derive much inspiration from my contact with my native Bolivia and with Romania, in particular with its music and its composers, musicologists and performers in Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest. My three years in Japan were influential too. At Newcastle University I am working on the development of an interdisciplinary research group for Eastern European studies. 

Another interest is the promotion and strengthening of music-making in rural Northumberland. In this regard I have led the music strand of the AHRC-funded project Northumbrian Exchanges, supporting and instigating projects with partners such as BAAFest, Alwinton Church Summer Concerts, Northumberland National Park, Morpeth Gathering and Tarset Village Hall, the last-named leading to the creation of Tarset Ceilidh Band.


To begin with some recent news, Harmonia Mundi have just released a CD recorded by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra including my Una música escondida (Hidden Music). My Souvenir de Teoponte for double bass and piano was performed at Lincoln Center (New York) on 24 January 2017 as part of the Focus Festival. And Notes from Underground will be revived by Royal Northern Sinfonia and Voices of Hope at Sage Gateshead on 10 May 2017. Also, Profil Quartet will perform String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo', on 28 May at the SIMN Festival 2017, Bucharest. 

I obtained my PhD at City University, specialising in Composition. Before that, I completed an MMus at The University of Liverpool and a Licentiate’s degree at the Bolivian Catholic University. My main teacher in La Paz was Alberto Villalpando, himself a disciple of Alberto Ginastera. In between, I spent three years in Japan, studying composition with Takashi Iida and with Akira Ifukube, and also training as a violinist with Takeshi Kobayashi. My research interest lies squarely in composition. Wider interests include contemporary music, Romanian contemporary music and Latin American music.

A recent project is Río Bravo, a work for large chamber ensemble. It was written in December 2015 and January 2016, in direct response to the climactic phenomena being experienced then in a considerable portion of the United Kingdom, and in particular in the Northeast of England. The music engages with the violence of the weather and the devastation on fields, valleys, towns and rural dwellings. The sense of urgency pervading regional life was mirrored in the process of composition and in the resulting music. In the wake of the work's première by New Juilliard Ensemble in April 2016 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, it became clear that there were issues of textural overload that needed rectifying, as well as some ambitious treatment of certain instruments needing scaling down. This work was carried out in the and summer of 2016. Currently I am working on a version for cello and piano of Souvenir de Teoponte.

My last project was Notes from Underground, a song-cycle for baritone soloist, chamber choir and large chamber ensemble. The work was a collaboration with the poet Sean O'Brien, commissioned by New Writing North for the Durham Book Festival 2015. The work was premièred on 15 October 2015 by the baritone Benjamin Appl, the chamber choir Voices of Hope and Royal Northern Sinfonia, all conducted by Clark Rundell. Soon after the première, a second performance was arranged at the Sigismund Toduța International Festival in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. This took place in May, at Cluj's Philharmonic Hall, by the splendid Cappella Transylvanica with the Antonin Ciolan Orchestra conducted by Vlad Agachi. The baritone was Christian Hodrea. 

Other recent compositional launches include Arreglos bolivianos, a series of creative arrangements for string orchestra and various chamber combinations commissioned by Bolivia Clásica and performed very successfully at various Bolivian venues under the direction of Jaime Laredo in August 2014. Before that there were six North American performances of String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo' by the Momenta Quartet; this work was a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation.  Previously Momenta had premièred my String Quartet No 1, 'Montes', a musical tribute to the Bolivian painter Fernando Montes.  Other recent premières include Souvenir de Teoponte for double bass and piano (Vienna’s Festsaal, Diplomatische Akademie, 2012; Colliers' Rant for six choirs (a Sage Gateshead commission, performed in a version for three choirs as part of the Festival of the Northeast, June 2013).

The range of my work includes opera, orchestral, chamber, vocal and electroacoustic music. To mention some examples, Danza de la loma has been recorded and broadcast by the BBC Symphony and also performed and broadcast by the Ulster Orchestra and by Orquesta de Cadaqués. Fuego received its US première by The Juilliard Symphony at New York’s Lincoln Center, a venue which also saw the first performance of Peregrine by the New Juilliard Ensemble in 1997 and of its revised version in 2005. Fuego has also been played by Orchestra Sinfonica di Perugia and most recently by Orquesta de Castilla y León in three concerts in Valladolid and Salamanca in May 2007.

A strongly folk-oriented mass, Misa de Corpus Christi for children’s choir, mixed choir, baritone and orchestra, was first performed in 1978 but then destroyed in 1992. In 2010 it was reconstructed and performed in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia, with a youth ensemble of 220 players and singers.

The chamber opera The Wheel, commissioned by the Royal Opera House’s Garden Venture, was performed five times at Riverside Studios by the Garden Venture with Endymion Ensemble in 1993. The London International Opera Festival featured my electroacoustic opera Teoponte in 1988. A more recent operatic incursion was Prison Letters, (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, August 2013).

Other electroacoustic works include Wounded Angel for charango and electronic sounds, which is available from NMC records in a recording by myself, and on dB Productions recorded by Stefan Östersjö, and Silent Towers, which has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on European radio stations, and is also available from Lontano Records. Both works have also been performed at London’s South Bank (Purcell Room).

My orchestral works are published by Tritó of Barcelona and my guitar music by Tre Media of Karlsruhe. 

My work focuses on the integration of a cultural multiplicity into a language which engages with the European classical canon and challenges it through recourse to technical and aesthetic elements from other musical cultures with which I am associated. A sense of place and a sense of identity are aesthetically important. I pursue structural cohesion, vitality and harmonicity, understood as the use of discernible movement of pitch collections by discrete steps to produce contrasts and a sense of forward drive. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Head of Research

Professor of composition 


PhD (City), MMus (Liverpool), Licenciado en Música (Universidad Católica de La Paz)

Previous Positions

Dartington College of Arts, Lecturer in Composition (1994-5)
The Queen's University of Belfast, Composer in Residence (1990-1994)
Municipal Chamber Orchestra of La Paz, Co-leader (1983-4)
Komagane Training Institute, Language Instructor (1982-3)
Embassy of Bolivia in Japan, Private Secretary to the Ambassador (1981-2)

National Symphony of Bolivia, Principal viola (1976-80)

National Conservatory, Harmony Teacher (1977-80)




English, Spanish, Japanese (residual), Italian (developing)

Informal Interests

Northumberland, Bolivia, Romania, Latin America, languages, literature, family, fitness, cats, dog


Research Interests

Composition, contemporary classical music, music 

Other Expertise

Contemporary music, popular musics of Latin America, creative projects in the community.

Current Work

James's Fire for flute, harp, piano, violin, viola, cello (Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, 18 November 2016)

Future Projects

Orchestral version of Notes from Underground for Transylvania Philharmonic (2018)

New work for baritone, choir and orchestra for performance in Gateshead in 2018.

Reconstruction of opera Teoponte for performances in Bolivia (unlike Misa de Corpus Christi, this reconstruction will be due not to loss of the original, but to insufficiency of the original to meet the expectations accrued in recent years on a topic of national significance).

Ongoing development of opera based on Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer.

Research Roles

Head of Research at ICMuS

Chair of ICMuS Research Committee

Active researcher

Leader of the music strand of the AHRC-funded project Northumbrian Exchanges, aiming to strengthen networks for music-making in rural Northumberland (2013-14)

Postgraduate Supervision

Former member of AHRC Peer Review College until resignation in 2012 

Successfully PhD supervisees: Patrik Bishay from Germany, Christopher Randall from the USA, Helen Papaioannou and Matthew Rowan from the UK, Sergio Camacho from Spain, Joel Eriksson from Sweden and Johann Hasler from Colombia.

External Roles

Member of Advisory Board for Institute of Musical Research (IMR), Royal Holloway College, University of London (2015-)

Member of the jury for Premio Eduardo Abaroa, La Paz 2017

Member of the jury for the Sigismund Toduța Composition Competition, Cluj-Napoca 2017

External Examination

External-examined PhDs at Royal Holloway College, Goldsmith College, Brunel University, Liverpool University, Huddersfield University, Oxford University.

External Examiner for undergraduate programme at Liverpool University (2009-2013)

Esteem Indicators

Invited for concert engagement and curriculum development at Instituto Laredo, Cochabamba 2017

Invited for guest speaking and masterclass at SIMN 2017 Festival, Bucharest, May 2017

Invited to participate in fora and teach masterclasses at Festival Sigismund Toduta, Cluj-Napoca (Romania) in 2015 and 2016.

Only living composer represented in Festival Bolivia Clásica 2014, including performances by Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Ana-Maria Vera and Orquesta Juvenil Bolivia Clásica conducted by Jaime Laredo

Koussevitzky Commission, 2010

Invited to represent Bolivia at Latin American Music Festival in Caracas, Venezuela

Appointed to the Chair in Composition at Newcastle University from 1 August 2007.

Only featured composer at the celebrations of the centennary of the National Conservatoire of La Paz, Bolivia (2007).

Signed up for publication of orchestral works with Tritó S.L. of Barcelona.

Signed up for publication of guitar works with Tre Media of Karlsruhe.

Eleven works published online by the British Music Information Centre as part of The BMIC collection (

Appointed Composer in Residence at Barcelona Festival of Song 2006. 

Resident composer at the festival Songs Across the Americas, Bolivia, August 2003.

Artistic Co-ordinator of Music from the Chiquitos Indians of Bolivia, a project involving Emma Kirkby and Florilegium and resulting in performances at Newcastle Early Music Festival and Wigmore Hall, March 2003.

Featured composer at 2002 Encounter of Latin American Composers and Performers in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Pájaro negro for soprano and ensemble selected to close the festival.

External examiner for PhDs in Composition at Brunel University and at Goldsmiths College and Royal Holloway College, University of London.

Member of AHRC Peer Review College


Composition commissions funded by Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Durham Book Festival, North Music Trust, Fundación Arnoldo Schwimmer, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Great Britain, Greater London Arts, Merseyside Arts.


Undergraduate Teaching

Module leader for Contemporary Compositional Techniques (MUS2041), Orchestration and Arranging (MUS2008 - not offered in 2016-17) , Major Specialist Study Composition (MUS3012), Minor Specialist Study Composition (MUS3016).


Postgraduate Teaching

Supervision of practice-based research in composition 


  • Fernandez A. Río Bravo. . Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York: First performed by New Juilliard Ensemble conducted by Joel Sachs, 2016.
  • Fernández A. After the Gathering. . Alwinton: Kathryn Tickell & The Side, 2016.
  • Fernández A. Notes from Underground. . Durham Book Festival, Durham 2015: Royal Northern Sinfonia, Voices of Hope, Benjamin Appl, 2015.
  • Fernández A. Collier's Rant. . Newcastle upon Tyne: Agustín Fernández, 2015.
  • Fernández A. Aqua Tinae. . 2014.
  • Fernández A. Arreglos bolivianos. . 2014.
  • Fernández A. String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo'. . Massachusetts, USA: Momenta Quartet, 2013.
  • Fernández A. Souvenir de Teoponte. . 2012.
  • Fernández A. ¡Oh Guitarra!. . Karlsruhe: Tre Media Edition, 2009.
  • Fernández A. Montes. . New York: Momenta String Quartet, 2007.
  • Fernández A. Mystical Dances. . Huddersfield: Northern Sinfonia, 2006.
  • Fernández A. Alquimia. . Edited by Performed by Patricia Caicedo and Pau Cassan. Barcelona, 2006.
  • Fernández A. A Hidden Music. . Newcastle upon Tyne: Northern Sinfonia, 2004.
  • Fernández A. Botanic Spider. . Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Northern Sinfonia, 2003.
  • Fernández A. Trío. . Cochabamba, Bolivia: Trío Apolo, 2003.