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Priti Paintal was born in New Delhi, India in 1960, learning piano, sitar and tabla as a child. She studied anthropology at Delhi University and then took a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology, although she was already hearing her own compositions performed. In 1982 she came to England, where she initially studied composition at York University before moving to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester hot study composition with Anthony Gilbert. Her early works include the dance work Ayodhya for flute, clarinet, cello and percussion which was commissioned by Lontano and premiered at the 1986 Huddersfield Contmenporary Music Festival and Silk Rhythms for string quartet, first performed in 1988. That year also saw her chamber opera Survival Song performed by the Royal Opera House’s Garden Venture. This poignant opera, to a libretto by Richard Fawkes, is set in South Africa as was her second Garden Venture opera Biko (1992), also to a libretto by Fawkes, about the life and ideas of the South African activist Steve Biko. In 1995, her children’s opera Gulliver in Lilliput was premiered.
In 1988 Paintal had founded her ensemble Shiva Nova www.shivanove.com, a group of musicians from Asian and Western, and from notated and non-notated, traditions playing (in its original combination) sitar, table, flute, cello and keyboard. One of Paintal’s most frequently performed works for the group was Eurasian Quintet (1989), which explores rhythmic improvisation., using material derived from North Indian dance.
Paintal was co-founder of The Main Music Agenda which campaigned for the recognition of the diversity of musical activity in Britain. In 1994, she resigned from the Arts Council's music panel protesting over the lack of support for diverse forms of music. Paintal has said of her own music, that it ‘brings together instruments, not cultures. It uses Indian modes and rhythms in melodies and structures that are mine. But the material is created so that players can each improvise on it in their own way - unity in diversity’.