Ned McGowan

Ned McGowan

Ned McGowan

We commissioned Ned McGowan, an American composer and flutist living in Amsterdam! We are looking forward to premiering his piece on Saturday, October 11, 2014 in San Francisco.


Meerenai met Ned at the Aspen Music Festival many moons ago when she was a conducting student and Ned was a flutist in the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. Fast forward to three years ago - Meerenai was thinking about buying a contrabass flute and discovered Ned to be an expert performer of the Hogenhuis contrabass flute wrote who wrote a really fantastic concerto for the instrument. (Meerenai swears that she will perform that piece before she dies!)

We can't imagine a better composer to write a piece for contrabass flute and percussion. We are absolutely thrilled to have our very own Ned McGowan piece!


Movement 4 from Six Pieces Mecaniques: "n' est-ce pas spatial?" Performed by Calefax and Eric Vloeimans in Haarlem in 2014. Composition by Ned McGowan.


A/B: Any pre/during/post composition rituals?

Ned: Zoethout tea and long walks during

A/B: Favorite drink after finishing a composition?

Ned: Scotch. Usually Talisker or Balvenie.

A/B: Stay-cation or vacation?

Ned: Working vacation. We try to go with the family for a few extra days when there is a concert in another city. But I took down the world map and put up the Netherlands and Europe maps.

A/B: Favorite live musical moment?

Ned: Performing in India.

A/B: Apple or Microsoft?

Ned: Apple to the core.

A/B: Sibelius or Finale?

Ned: Finale from the beginning.

A/B: Favorite Artist?

Ned: Devo.

A/B: What was your first Instrument?

Ned: Recorder.

A/B: Ideal vacation spot?

Ned: Is in or near to nature.

A/B: Favorite breakfast food?

Ned: Bacon, eggs and miso soup.

A/B: Your proudest moment?

Ned: Day my son was born.

A/B: Vinyl, cassette tape, compact discs, or mp3?

Ned: Getting into vinyl these days…

A/B: Name one item on your bucket list.

Ned: Have a better marathon experience.

A/B: What was your first composition?

Ned: Why? For solo flute


“McGowan’s music strives for an idiom in which various musics – American popular, European classical and avant-garde, Carnatic, a fascination with proportionally intricate rhythms, the use of microtones in the search for new subtleties of melody – and many others, rub against each other and generate new meanings.” This is how musicologist Bob Gilmore describes composer and flutist Ned McGowan. Born in the United States in 1970 and living in the Netherlands since 1994, McGowan has built his career by collaborating closely with ensembles such as Calefax and Hexnut.

His taste for diversity emerged already as a teenager who took classical flute lessons, played jazz and listened to rock.  After finishing studies in flute at the San Francisco Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music, he moved to Amsterdam to continue his research.  Over the course of eight years, he studied both flute and composition in Amsterdam and The Hague, exploring a wide range of subjects – from extended techniques to Carnatic forms and rhythms, from jazz improvisation to West-African drumming. His compositional voice was profoundly influenced by these experiences, even though he never directly follows any of these traditions stylistically.

Then, in 2007, his specific fascination with Carnatic music led to a series of extended stays in India studying performance, rhythm and composition.  “What fascinates me is the Carnatic use of rhythmical complexities developed through a tradition of performance.” This is clear in McGowan’s music, and emerges in his strong focus on rhythmically driven, technically virtuosic pieces, which while “very complex in many ways, are especially well put together” (Hans van Lissum,, 2007).  Another approach to his Indian influence can be heard in the long stretched out phrases in Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance, the piece he wrote in 2010 as winner of the Harvey Gaul competition from the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble: “a radical work that reorients the listener's relationship to time.” (Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune, 2010)

But despite whatever complexity McGowan might write, his music is never bookish; it is written with both the performers and the listeners in mind. In his debut in Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra, he “proved there’s still plenty of life in old-fashioned virtuosity with “Bantammer Swing,” a playful, athletic concerto for his unwieldy contrabass flute," according to Steve Smith of the New York Times. Similarly, Ned’s piece Tools, winner of the Henriette Bosmans Prize from the Dutch Composer’s Union GeNeCo, was described as “brutal and humorous” (GeNeCo, 2004), while at the same time “packed with discreet acoustic rooms, some more resonant than others, but all proving that... subtlety pays off” (Guy Livingston, Paris Transatlantic, 2006).  In 2012 McGowan composed the worlds first concerto for iPad (tablet computer) and orchestra, which saw it’s premiere with soloist Keiko Shichijo and the Rotterdam Sinfonia, conducted by Conrad van Alphen. Upcoming performances are scheduled for the USA and Japan.

Bantammer Swing, Tools and the iPad Concerto are only some of pieces that have come into the public eye: Melting Igloos and Moonrise both made it to the final of the Gaudeamus Competition Prize.  “Wood Burn [written for Calefax] grew to be the highpoint of the evening” (Mark van de Voort, the Brabants Dagblad). These and other compositions have been played throughout the world including at festivals Aspen (USA), Gaudeamus (NL), Grachten (NL), MATA (USA), Dag in de Branding (NL), Nederlandse Muziek Dagen (NL), North Sea Jazz (NL), November Music (NL), Voorwaarts Maart (BE), SinusTon (DE) en Huddersfield (GB), and performed by ensembles Aleph (FR), Array Music (CAN), Atlantic Chamber Ensemble (USA), Duo Blow (BE), Calefax (NL), David Kweksilber Big Band (NL), Flexible Music (CAN), Great Noise (USA), Hexnut (NL),  Insomnio (NL), Klang (NL), MMM… (JP), musikFabrik (DE), Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (NL), Nederlands Fluit Orkest (NL), BlowUp Flute Octet (NL), Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (USA),  Sax n Stix (NL), Spinifex (NL), Ensemble Scala (NL), Trio Scordatura (NL), Ensemble Verge (USA), Wervelwind (NL), Zapp4 (NL), the Dutch orchestras Radio Kamer Filharmonie, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Gelders Orkest, Rotterdam Sinfonia, Ricciotti Ensemble, the American Composers Orchestra (USA), Valdosta Symphony Orchestra (USA) and by many soloists including Susanna Borsch, Helen Bledsoe, Keiko Shichijo, Guy Livingston, Tatiana Koleva/Rutger Oterloo, Greg Oakes, Derek Bermel, Egbert Jan Louwerse en Eric Vloeimans. Current commissions include from festivals Acht Bruggen (DE), National Flute Convention Soloist Competition and from ensembles A/B Duo (USA) and Duo Sonoro (NL/MEX).

Ned is also highly active in fostering the Amsterdam musical community through the Karnatic Lab Foundation, an organization he founded with Gijs Levelt in 1999 to promote both composed and improvised new music. Going strong after more than ten years, this Karnatic Lab ran a monthly concert series between 1999 and 2012, has its own record label (Karnatic Lab Records) and house several ensembles, including McGowan’s own quintet, Hexnut.

Hexnut is his special group that grew out of the original instrumentation for his piece Tools, plus a singer.  They are “a tribe of dedicated musicians who perform the most fiendishly difficult rhythms with flair and ease…” (Paris Atlantic).  The band reflects Ned’s affinity for the edgy, risky and yet extremely precise – the embodiment of “brutal and humorous.” It is a perfect example of the juxtaposition, assimilation and contradiction of styles within improvisation and composition that Ned is constantly inventing. In Hexnut, Ned is often seen behind his contrabass flute, which has become one of his specialties. In 2011 Hexnut is presented the project WRENCH in collaboration with the photographs from the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.

Also in the mix are his more academic activities: since the 2011 academic season Ned teaches composition at the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht and his own course on advanced rhythm at the Utrecht’s Conservatorium. Between 2000 and 2005, he was also the director of the Dutch microtonal institute, the Huygens-Fokker Foundation, and now resides on its board. In 2014, he was awarded the Alumni Achievement Award from his Alma Mater, the Cleveland Institute of Music.   

Terri Hron