Joël-François Durand was born in Orléans, France on 17 September, 1954. He studied mathematics, music education and piano in Paris, then composition with Brian Ferneyhough in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (1981-84). Between 1979 and 1984 he attended masterclasses by Győrgy Ligeti, Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono. In 1982 he was awarded a scholarship from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange). That same year he received a Darmstadt Institute Scholarship for his String Trio, and in 1983 his piano piece ...d’asiles déchirés... was awarded a prize at the Third International K.H. Stockhausen Composition Competition in Brescia (Italy). He left Europe in 1984 to pursue a Ph.D. in Composition (awarded in 1988) at the University of New York, Stony Brook (USA), where he studied composition with Bülent Arel and electronic music with Daria Semegen. Durand was awarded scholarships from the Fulbright Foundation (1984) and from the French Ministry of Culture (1985). He received the "Kranichsteiner Musikpreis" from the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse in 1990.
Durand has been teaching at the School of Music, University of Washington in Seattle, since 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. He has been Associate Director of the School of Music since 2002. Durand was awarded the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Professorship in 2003.
As a guest composer and lecturer, Durand has contributed to the "Centre de la Voix" in Royaumont, France where he was co-director of the composition course in September 1993, the "Civica Scuola di Musica" in Milan, Italy (1995), the Royal Academy for Music in London, UK (1997), the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt (1984, 1990, 1992, 1994), the "VIII. Internationaler Meisterkurs für Komposition des Brandenburgischen Colloquiums für Neue Musik", Rheinsberg (1998), and Washington State University, Pullman, WA (2004), among others. In the Fall 1994 he was Visiting Assistant Professor in Composition at the University of California at San Diego. Durand is also Director of the Contemporary Group at the School of Music, University of Washington.
Durand’s music has been commissioned and performed by many leading soloists, ensembles and orchestras throughout Europe, the US, Brazil and South Korea, including the Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Contrechamps, Arditti Quartet, ASKO, Nieuw Ensemble, Ensemble Köln, Recherche, musikFabrik, New York Philomusica, Counter)Induction, EarPlay, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin.
He has also published an extensive analysis of Jean Barraqué’s Piano Sonata (Entretemps, 1987), and an essay on the music of Ruth Crawford Seeger ("Voix Nouvelles 92", Royaumont).
A book on his music, "Joël-François Durand In the Mirror Land", edited by Jonathan W. Bernard, will be released in autumn 2005 by the University of Washington Press, in collaboration with Perspectives of New Music.
His music is published by BMG/Durand Editions, Paris. Commercial recordings of his music are available under the Montaigne/Naive and Mode Records labels.
Durand is listed in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
At first influenced by postwar European serialism, as in the early String Trio (1980-81), Durand quickly sought to distance himself from the system by developing an interaction between pre-determined compositional processes and more spontaneously derived musical elements. The pre-determined processes often serve to define the compositional environment of a whole piece, giving it a particular sound, for example, or basic temporal proportions. Within the constraints of these large scale organizations, a number of elements are often decided freely during the actual writing. These two tendencies are set up to establish a kind of dialog with each other, during the act of composition as well as in the musical result, so that their interaction creates a tension which the composer can use to carry the energy of the music. In works such as the Piano Concerto, Die innere Grenze, or Par le feu recueilli, this interaction creates a sense of conflict, and the dialog is one of dramatic opposition. In the dyptich L’exil du feu/Un feu distinct, there is no such opposition, as the two tendencies complement each other. The whole fabric is permeated by melodic lines derived from the original material through a rigorous method of spatial projection. These lines are then subjected to quasi motivic techniques which allow the melodic elements to be readily recognized even when their intervallic or rhythmic content is radically transformed.
In his works from the mid-80s and early 90s, Durand explored musical forms in which the original elements of a work were not presented until the very end, instead of the more traditional exposition at the beginning (as in the series: So er, Lichtung, Die innere Grenze, L’exil du feu, Un feu distinct). This progressive unveiling of the work’s origin supported the composer’s interest in linear and directional developments, and in the melodic dimension of music. The focus on linearity emphasizes the role of musical works as journeys, in which the auditor is guided by the music through varying densities of light and darkness, as if on a forest path, toward a specific goal. The music becomes the medium in a task of discovery, of initiation. As a result his music of this period is often characterized with an intense, introspective lyricism.
Influences from extra-musical fields such as literature, poetry, or philosophy abound in his work and come to musical realization through abstract relations and intellectual re-evaluation. This distance is often mirrored in the titles of his works: titles essentially offer a poetic environment, without giving any direct key to the musical experience.