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a media luz, Silvina's most recent orchestral score was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in February 2000. New chamber compositions include A Patch of Lavender Light which was given its first performance by Lontano at the Cheltenham Festival 97 and recorded for BBC Radio 3, Hear and Now last April, The Unending Rose for solo violin, and Book of Shadows for string quartet and narrator commissioned by the Endellion String Quartet.

In addition to composing Silvina Milstein has a distinguished career as a teacher and scholar.

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Silvina Milstein (photo - Alicia Sanguinetti)



Biographical Notes

Silvina Milstein was born in Buenos Aires in 1956.

At Glasgow University her composition teachers were Judith Weir and Lyell Cresswell.  She later studied with Alexander Goehr at Cambridge University.

Silvina held fellowships at Jesus College and King's College (Cambridge) during the late eighties. Currently she is a senior lecturer in music at King's College London.

Her book Arnold Schoenberg: notes, sets, forms  was published by Cambridge University Press in 1992.

Silvina's work first came to public attention with Sombras which was co-winner of the 'Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust/SPNM Orchestral Award 1985.


In the String Quartet of 1989, a melodically based mode of composition replaces the serial writing of the early works.

The decade ending in 1995 is dominated by the orchestral score Music of the City premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which draws its melodic shapes and sonorities drawn from the vernacular music of Buenos Aires, and by a series of large-scale vocal scores: the song cycle A Love Song for Psyche and Cupid (premiered by Jane Manning) and the cantata Nova Polska (the BBC Singers and the London Chamber Symphony.

Silvina has received commissions from leading ensembles and the BBC. Current projects include a work for full orchestra and Aria for Lontano.
selected compositions



Selected Compositions



  • Sombras  (1983)
    symphony orchestra  (3332 - 3231 - 2 perc -timp harp celesta strings)
    duration 8 minutes

    The title ('shadows') alludes to the patterns of light on the gigantic ferns growing in the tropical micro-climate of the Kibble Palace in Glasgow Botanical Gardens. S.M.
    .... quickly stimulat[es] the listener's interest in the subtle patterns of light and shade of its richly  woven tendrils.
    Robert Henderson, the Daily Telegraph,  3 February 86

  • Janus  (1984)
    clarinet & electronic tape
    duration 9 minutes

  • String  Quartet  (1989)
    duration 25 minutes
    'Perhaps this was some dream about Beethoven's late quartets.'  The work relies on motivic transformations, a subtle palette of harmonies and continuously shifting textures.  The four-movement model provides a'communal pulse' against which a more 'private' time emerges.  The intricate four-part polyphony contributes to inflections of a single voice which unfolds throughout the entire composition creating diverse and disparate ideas. S.M.

  • Seven fragments from 'Edith' (1991)
    a setting of fragments from the cycle of poems by Caroline  Smith
    soprano, flute (picc. +  alto flute), clarinet in A,  2 violins, cello & double bass
    duration 9 minutes
    The fragments selected for this setting focus on Edith's carefully hidden past and her last days in a nursing home. Submerged in an atmosphere where care and institutional violence mix, she is haunted by memories of Stan, the child 'she left behind' when she abandoned her husband and St Helens. These fragments are often isolated verses or phrases, their larger context being somehow adumbrated by the music. S.M.

  • Nova Polska (1992)
    mixed chamber chorus (SATB), solo tenor and chamber orchestra
    (flute+piccolo, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, celesta, harp,  5 perc, strings (44342)
    duration 17 minutes
    Bogumil L. Kmiec,  the protagonist of Caroline Smith's narrative poem, gets drunk for  'one month every year ... /Bogumil shall sleep no more. /The Nazis have murdered his bed.' He tells  us 'I am Bogumil, a doctor with no medicines!/ I swap twelve hours of my life for 10 litres of petrol'. Eventually 'sleep like a stain/Creeps over him./He lies across the door/Like a fallen ogre/His snoring shaking the house,/.../While over the stripped fields/Battalions of armatures/Drying grass,/Kopki siana,/Walk like trees/Marching and retreating/Shifting frontiers/Changing colours, switching sides.'
    Nova Polska consists of a prelude and fugato, a lullaby, a song, a recitative for chorus, an arioso for solo tenor and chorus and a closing chorale, and thus loosely follows the design of a baroque cantata. S.M.

  • Piano Phantasy after Mozart K. 475  (1992)
    piano solo
    duration 10 minutes
    The striking feature about Mozart K. 475 is the extent to which the tonic is weakened such that when the dominant key is finally reached it carries little of  its usual reaffirming tension, and seems but a remote tonal area within the continuously shifting tonality.  The 'Piano Phantasy' reflects Mozart's combination of the rigorous symmetries of Classical phrasing with a rhapsodic almost improvisatory feel to the music.
    'An important motivation was to write a work that had strong links with the traditional piano repertoire and was technically approachable by all pianists, not just specialists in contemporary music.' S.M.

  • Music of the City  - Música Ciudadana (1993)
    symphony  orchestra (3333 - 4231- 3perc timp harp celesta/piano strings)
    duration 15 minutes
    Music of the City  is a collage made out of  fragments of characteristic rhythms, 'turns-of phrase', and sonorities drawn from the vernacular of Buenos Aires (tango, milonga...); the music that envelops its streets on Summer evenings, filtering through half-closed blinds, echoing in patios, defiantly pouring out of radios or hummed by intimate voices.  Constantly changing textures and figures contribute to a kaleidoscopic surface unified by a strong sense of tonal direction. S.M.
    'a weighty and serious piece...' Carol Main, The Scotsman, 7 April 96

  • A love song for Psyche and Cupid (1994)
    mezzo-soprano, violin, cello and piano
    duration 20 minutes

    The myth which tells of Cupid's nightly visits to Psyche is woven into a story of love in old age in this collaboration with  poet Caroline Smith. S.M.

  • Psalm Concerning the Castle
    high soprano, 2 clarinets, viola, cello and double bass
    duration 9 minutes
    Psalm Concerning the Castle is a setting of a poem by Denise Levertov. The introspective  lines at the beginning and end of  the poem ('Let me be at the place of the castle. /Let the castle be within me ... Let that country where it stands be within me, let me be where it is.')  are set as very a expansive vocalise. When the fantasy materialises into lush spaces abounding in rich and vivid details, the setting turns first into a song-like arioso and eventually  into declamation.  The continuous stream of symbols (the shells of swimming turtles, green plumage of ducks, a dog, horsemen, archers, the prince, the young queen and her child), steadily draws us deeper and deeper into imaginary spaces. The final section is a rapturous avalanche of the early stages of the fantasy, in which these 'spaces' reappear in quick succession, leading back to a repeat of the opening lines of the poem. S.M.
    'engrossing...' Barry Millington, The Times, April 19, 1996

  • The patch of lavender light (1997)
    chamber ensemble
    flute (alto flute), oboe, clarinet in A (bass clarinet), horn, tuba, harp, 2 violins, viola, cello & double bass
    duration 11 minutes
    And it is impossible not to notice the patch of lavender light that devours the rungs of the great green armchair, the old armchair woven with green straw, even though one may not notice it immediately.

    For it seems that the focal point is placed elsewhere, and its source appears to be strangely obscene, like a secret whose key Van Gogh must have kept on his person.

    from Antonin Artaud, 'Van Gogh: the man suicided by society

  • Book of Shadows (1998)
    string quartet and narrator
    duration 20 minutes
    Endellion String Quartet commission with funding from Eastern Arts
    Book of Shadows is a montage of two Chinese tales and a fragment from a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Motifs of magic, love and death cast shadows upon each other. S.M.

  • The Unending Rose (1999)
    I - And told her in words that have no sound ... (Borges, The Unending Rose)
    II - I am fire and air ... (Shakespeare, Cleopatra, act V)
    solo violin
    duration 11 minutes

    This set of pieces for solo violin takes its title from a poem by Jorge Luis Borges that refers to the images of eternity in the Sufi poetry of Farid ud-Din Attar. S.M.

  • a media luz (1999)
    symphony orchestra
    (2222 - 4231- 3 ossia 4 perc timp harp piano strings (12,10,4,4,5) BBC commission
    duration 18 minutes

    a media luz is a study in colour and embellishment, in which the sound world of chamber music and orchestral sonority interpenetrate each other. Harmonically, there are sections with a sense of forward motion juxtaposed to areas of tonal stasis. These tonally neutral textures function as a background of 'lightly tinted silence', a musical equivalent to those areas of unpainted canvass in CÚzanne's 'The Winding Road' (Courtauld Art Galleries). Although according to the conventions of the day, such a picture would have been considered unfinished, these unmarked areas of primed canvass somehow contribute to the pictorial rhythm in a positive and unique fashion.

    The continuously proliferating lines and embellishments heard throughout the piece, eventually dissolve into a melody played by a lone violinist. Its contours carries memories of an Argentinian popular song entitled 'a media luz', whose words and gestures evoke the intimacy of dusk and candle light. Retrospectively, one may become aware that this song provided the composition with its 'mode' and mood. S.M.

    Milstein's rich and dense orchestral study ... is crammed full of darting energy and activity ... Milstein's preoccupation with shifting pockets of orchestral colour (like Mahler's pick'n'mix technique taken to extremes) revealed a voice of considerable assurance and imagination. Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 14 February, 2000

    the Debussian voluptuousness of Milstein's work was the most ambitious on the programme ... There was an overall abundance of colour. Tom Service, The Guardian, 17 February, 2000

    Possibly the highlight of the programme was Silvina Milstein's highly poetic a media luz, a work of half-light, murmurings, muted rustlings and reminiscences that treats the orchestra with post-expressionist expertise. Milstein intended a work of rich texture in which, by analogy with CÚzanne, the canvas showed through. The resulting balance of static and dynamic was beautifully controlled. Anthony Payne, The Independent, 18 February, 2000

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