Harry Sparnaay studied at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam with Ru Otto.
After graduating with a performer's degree for clarinet he specialized in bass clarinet. Today he ranks among the world's distinguished bass clarinet players. He has played solo at numerous music festivals all over the wordl such as Warsaw, New York, Los Angeles, Zagreb, the Holland Festival, several ISCM Festivals, Madrid, Paris and Athens. Other festival include those of Witten, Aarhus, Como, Bolzano, Naples, Torino, Bourges, Middelburg, Graz, Salzburg, Huddersfield, Saarbrücken, Royan and Houston.
Sparnaay has been a featured performer with many major orchestra's and ensembles including the ASKO Ensemble, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble 2E2M, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Radio Chamber Orchestra, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Residentie Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Schönberg ensemble and the Seymour Group, and has appeared with leading conductors including Luciano Berio, Riccardo Chailly, Richard Dufallo, Peter Eötvös, Reinbert de Leeuw, Diego Masson, Jacques Mercier, David Porcelijn, David Stock, Lucas Vis, Hans Vonk and Mark Summerbell.
He has given concerts and made radio recordings all over Europe, North and South America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Asia, performing works written for and dedicated to him. Over 500 compositions were written for him by composers such as Claudio Ambrosini, Luciano Berio, Gerard Brophy, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Franco Donatoni, Morton Feldman, Brian Ferneyhough, Gérard Grisey, Mary Finsterer, Andrew Ford, Jonathan Harvey, Maki Ishii, Sukhi Kang, Tristan Keuris, Mark Kopytman, Helmut Lachenmann, Ton de Leeuw, Theo Loevendie, Roderik de Man, Michael Smetanin, Maurice Weddington, Iannis Xenakis, Isang Yun, Andrés Lewin-Richter, Nino Díaz, Hans Joachim Hespos and many others. His own composition BOUWSTENEN for bass clarinet and multiple tape delay was selected for the ISCM World music Days in Denmark.
For many years Harry Sparnaay was professor of bass clarinet and contemporary music at the Conservatoires of Amsterdam and Utrecht where his unique bass clarinet programme attracted students from all over the world, many of them prize winners during major competitions. He has also been musician-in-residence and has given masterclasses at several universities.
Sparnaay played the world première of IN FREUNDSCHAFT and SOLO (adaptation for bass- and contra bass clarinet by Barry Anderson) by Karlheinz Stockhausen and was one of the soloists in DIE VERWANDLUNG van Paul-Heinz Dittrich and in the opera's NAIMA by Theo Loevendie, PROMETEO by Luigi Nono and A KING, RIDING by Klaas de Vries. During the Holland Festival 1999 he was one of the instrumental soloists in KOPERNIKUS by Claude Vivier.
Harry Sparnaay founded the Bass Clarinet Collective (9 bass clarinets, including 3 contrabass clarinets) and with pianist Polo de Haas the duo Fusion Moderne which was awarded the fifth prize during the International Gaudeamus Performers Competition in 1972. Together with flautist Harrie Starreveld and pianist René Eckhardt he founded in 1982 Het Trio . For this group over 180 compositions were written in the meantime. With harpsichordist Annelie de Man he founded Double_Action and with his wife, organist Silvia Castillo, the Duo Levent .
He has recorded more than sixty cd's as a soloist, with Het Trio and in other combinations. The Trio 's recording of works by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw received an Edison Award in 1995. His television productions have been broadcast in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and former Yugoslavia. Several times he was a jury member at the International Gaudeamus Performers Competition and he also served as a member of the Dutch section of the ISCM, the International Society for Contemporary Music.
He conducted the Ensemble for New Music of the Conservatoire of Amsterdam in works by Arnold Schönberg, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Olivier Messiaen, Theo Loevendie, Franco Donatoni, Joe Cutler, Toshio Hosokawa, Mary Finsterer and Iannis Xenakis and during the International Gaudeamus Music Week he regularly conducts ensembles in works by the youngest generation. From 2005 he is professor for bass clarinet and chambermusic at the ESMUC in Barcelona.