John McLeod, one of Scotland's most prolific composers, studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music with Sir Lennox Berkeley. His brilliantly coloured orchestral and vocal music has been performed and recorded in many countries by leading orchestras and soloists and his commissions have included works for the Philharmonia Orchestra, the RSNO the BBCSSO, the SCO (who made McLeod their associate composer from 1980-1982), the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, and for artists such as Evelyn Glennie, Benjamin Luxon, Peter Donohoe, Jane Manning, Murray McLachlan and Colin Currie. His music has also been heard regularly at many UK Festivals including the London Proms, Edinburgh, Bath, Cambridge and St Magnus (Orkney Islands), as well as being featured in several European Festivals. Most of his works have also been heard on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, BBC TV and Channel 4. Since 1983 he has also composed a whole series of film and TV scores and from 1991-1997 he was Head of Composing for Film and Television at the London College of Music, Thames Valley University and a Visiting Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music.
Many leading conductors have featured McLeod's music in their programmes and these have included Sir Charles Groves, Sir Alexander Gibson, Neeme Jarvi, Norman del Mar, George Hurst, Janos Furst, Kenneth Schermerhorn, Matthias Kuntsch, Takuo Yuasa, Rumon Gamba and a host of younger conductors.
In 1994 McLeod travelled to Poland where he conducted the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Cracow in a new CD of his orchestral music, adding to the ever growing number of McLeod compositions now appearing on disc - thirteen works on seven CDs.
Recently described by The Scotsman as 'a major force in contemporary Scottish music,' McLeod has won many prizes for his compositions including the prestigious Guinness Prize for British composers in 1979 which resulted in a major commission from the Philharmonia Orchestra. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1989 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1994. From 2000 to 2004 McLeod was also a Director of the Performing Right Society and the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.
Francis Morris, writing on McLeod in the new Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, points out that the early works were strongly influenced by the aleatory techniques of Lutoslawski (whom McLeod knew and admired). However, in 1989 (after a year spent as the Ida Carroll Research Fellow at the RNCM, where McLeod made a special study of Messiaen, Boulez and Birtwistle) a marked and profound change in his musical thinking, with respect to rhythm, tonality and energy took place. This is particularly evident in the 1989 Proms piece The Song of Dionysius which he wrote for Evelyn Glennie, with its exploitation of fluctuating metres and the drama of instrumental role-play now present in much of his recent work.
Since the start of the millennium, there has been a resurgence of interest in McLeod's music. In February 2000 Colin Currie gave the premiere of Thrashing the Sea God - a little Chinese opera for solo percussionist. Also in February, Murray McLachlan gave performances of McLeod's massive Piano Sonata No.3 and September saw the world premiere of Machar - Portrait of a Saint commissioned and performed by Aberdeen Sinfonietta.
In October 2000 Aberdeen Bach Choir gave the Edinburgh premiere of his large-scale choral work The Chronicle of Saint Machar and in January 2001 the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland premiered The Sun Dances to wide critical acclaim. Following on closely from these works is Symphonies of Stone and Water for solo piano, nine wind instruments and percussion - commissioned and premiered by ECAT for the ECAT Ensemble debut concert at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh on 12 February 2001. November saw two important performances - the premiere of Song of the Concubine by The Composers Ensemble of London and a BBC Radio 3 performance of The Sun Dances by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Rumon Gamba. A new chamber work A Moment in Time for violin, clarinet, cello and piano was commissioned and premiered by the Hebrides Ensemble in May 2002.
More recent works have included Stone of Destiny (commissioned and premiered by Perth Symphony Orchestra for their 50th anniversary concert in 2004). A new piano work Balinese Rituals was played by Ananda Sukarlan on his world tour which included the Memorial Concert in Bali for the victims of the terrorist outrage in 2003. Chinese Whispers (commissioned and performed throughout the UK by Fine Arts Brass) was nominated for a British Composer Award in 2005 which also saw the premiere of the new Clarinet Concerto commissioned and performed by Linda Merrick who has also recorded the work for a future CD with the Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer. Percussionist Colin Currie has recorded the Percussion Concerto with the BBC SSO under Yasuo Shinozaki, heard in ‘Afternoon Performance’ on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 14 March 2006.
Work in progress includes a Piano Sonata No.4, commissioned by the British pianist Sam Haywood, who will perform it in Scotland, London and Berlin in 2006/2007 and a new commission from BBC Radio 3 for a large-scale orchestral work entitled Fling for performance in 2007.