Professor George Nicholson

BA, DPhil

Department of Music

Emeritus Professor in Composition

Academic reading score by piano
Profile picture of Academic reading score by piano

Full contact details

Professor George Nicholson
Department of Music
Jessop Building
Leavygreave Road
S3 7RD

I was a full-time member of the academic staff in the Department of Music between 1996 and 2020. My main area of teaching during that time was composition and associated 20th and 21st century music history, but I also led modules in orchestration and jazz, as well as contributing to the teaching of harmony and counterpoint, improvisation, ensemble performance and practical figured bass. Keen to promote the performance of my students’ music and to present classic contemporary work to a Sheffield audience, I established the New Music Ensemble in 1997 and continued to direct it until my retirement. I was also a regular conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, fostered the development of student conductors and soloists, and offered possibilities for student composers to write for these larger forces. Throughout my academic career I devoted a large proportion of my time to the supervision of postgraduate students, and I am proud of my thirty doctoral students and the similar number of research masters students who have made their own individual and significant contributions to the fields of composition and musicology.

My own studies in composition took place at the University of York under Bernard Rands and David Blake, leading to the award of DPhil. I have always been fascinated by the ergonomics and the physicality of instrumental performance and remain keen to work closely with expert players, not only in the interests of developing fluency and practicality in writing for their instruments but also to pursue and advance new instrumental resources. In more recent years these interests have led me into the domain of microtonal writing and the harnessing in notated pieces of instrumental techniques more often encountered in improvised music. My music has been performed and broadcast nationally and internationally, and I have composed commissioned work for forces as diverse as the London Sinfonietta, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra,  Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Lontano Ensemble, Gemini, Koenig Ensemble, Leonore Trio, Arpège, New Noise, and the Medici, Bochmann, Fairfield and Ligeti Quartets; and a wide variety of soloists, including the flautist James Galway, trombonist John Kenny, cellist Moray Welsh, clarinettists Sarah Watts and Philip Edwards, violinists Peter Cropper and Madeleine Mitchell, sopranos Jane Ginsborg and Alison Wells, and the guitarist Gilbert Biberian.

Further information about my music can be found on my personal website at, which includes links to recordings.

I continue to be active as a composer, pianist and conductor, and I am regularly called upon to accompany departmental recitals. I am Director of the Sheffield Lydian Singers and since 2016 I have been President of the Sheffield Bach Society, also acting as their conductor between 2021 and 2023. Over the years I have been actively involved in various national organisations associated with new music, and I was a long-serving member of the executive panels of the Society for the Promotion of New Music and the British Academy of Songwriters Composers and Authors (now known as the Ivors Academy). I have been regularly called upon as an adjudicator for the Ivors Composers Awards, and I continue to be in demand as an external examiner for academic institutions.