north east scotland's festival of new music

John Casken

John Casken's works range from chamber music to large-scale orchestral music, and from vocal and choral music to opera. The titles of his works reveal that he can be inspired both by literature and legend, and by landscape and painting. His first opera, Golem, was based on the Jewish legend of the same name. The libretto was written by the composer in collaboration with Pierre Audi, who commissioned and directed the work for the 1989 Almeida Festival. It brought Casken the First Britten Prize for Composition in 1990 and a Virgin Classics recording with the original cast and Music Projects/London conducted by Richard Bernas. This recording went on to win the 1991 Gramophone Award in the Contemporary Category and has since been re-released on the NMC label. Golem has received six further productions since 1989: Opera Omaha, 1990; Northern Stage (UK Arts Council/Contemporary Music Network Tour), 1991; Theater Dortmund, 1994; Aspen Festival, 2000; Neue Operbühne Berlin 2001; Opéra de Rennes and Angers Nantes Opéra, 2006.

Casken's second opera, God's Liar, elaborated Tolstoy's novella Father Sergius and the libretto was written by the composer in collaboration with Emma Warner. The work was jointly co-commissioned and presented by The Almeida Festival, London, and Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie, Brussels in 2001, directed by Keith Warner, with the Almeida Ensemble conducted by Ronald Zollman. It was recorded by Belgian Radio and subsequently broadcast in Belgium and by BBC Radio 3, introduced by the composer. God's Liar received a new production in 2004 by Neue Oper Wien in the KlangBogen Festival directed by Stephan Bruckmeier, with the Amadeus Ensemble-Wien conducted by Walter Kobéra.

A number of Casken's works reflect aspects of the landscape and literature of the North of England, where he lives in Coquetdale in Northumberland: Orion Over Farne (1984, for orchestra), To Fields We Do Not Know (1985), a Northumbrian Elegy for unaccompanied chorus, written for the BBC Singers, and the orchestral song-cycle Still Mine, written for Thomas Allen for the 1992 BBC Proms, and winner of the 1993 Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize for Musical Composition.

His friendship with the Northern Sinfonia has resulted in a number of works: Maharal Dreaming (1989), the Cello Concerto, written for Heinrich Schiff, premièred at the 1991 Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and Darting the Skiff, for strings, first performed at the 1993 Cheltenham Festival with the composer conducting, and subsequently toured in Germany, Austria and Spain. In 1999, the orchestra gave the première of the orchestral version of Après un silence for violin and chamber orchestra, with Kyra Humphreys (violin) conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, a gift to the orchestra in its 40th anniversary year. This work is an orchestration of the original work for violin and piano which Casken wrote for Lesley Hatfield, the then Leader of Northern Sinfonia. The latest collaboration with Northern Sinfonia is Farness - three poems of Carol Ann Duffy (2006) for soprano, solo viola and chamber orchestra. It was premièred at the 2006 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, conducted by Thomas Zehetmair, with Patricia Rozario, soprano, and Ruth Killius, viola.

Casken's Violin Concerto was premièred at the 1995 Proms with Dmitri Sitkovetsky and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier. It has subsequently been taken up by Daniel Hope who has given performances in both London and in Manchester as part of the Casken Resonances festival at the RNCM in May 2005. Sortilège, a symphonic poem inspired by Tennyson's idyll Merlin and Vivien, was commissioned by and premièred by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin in 1996. Casken's first symphony - Symphony (Broken Consort) - which includes a gyspy ensemble within the orchestra, was commissioned by the BBC for the 2004 Proms. It was premièred by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. John Casken had a long association with The Lindsays, and as well as three string quartets written for them, he also composed Rest-ringing (2005) for string quartet and orchestra, commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra for the quartet in their year of their retirement.

Recent chamber music includes a Piano Trio (2002) written for The Florestan Piano Trio, premiered by them at the 2002 Brighton International Festival, and subsequently performed by them at the Cheltenham Festival and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The third of Casken's string quartets is the short Choses en moi (2003), and this has recently been taken up by the Quatuor Danel. Marc Danel also gave the première (with David Fanning) of Shadowed Pieces for violin and piano in January 2008, and Patricia Rozario gave the first performance of a set of songs dedicated to her, Chansons de Verlaine, at the Wigmore Hall in September 2007, with Julius Drake, piano.

As one of the UK's most prominent composers, Casken has been featured at major festivals in Europe, the US and in Music Today, Tokyo, at the invitation of Toru Takemitsu. He has also had several works performed at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, the most recent being Distant Variations for saxophone quartet and wind orchestra in 1999. It was to Warsaw that John Casken went when he was awarded a Polish Government Scholarship in 1971 to study with Andrzej Dobrowolski, during which time he began a long association and friendship with Witold Lutoslawksi. John Casken has been a Lecturer in Music at Birmingham and Durham Universities, and from 1992 to January 2008 he was Professor of Music at the University of Manchester.

Casken's most recent orchestral work, Concerto for Orchestra, for the Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim, will be premièred on 31 March 2008. Future plans include a setting of the medieval poem The Dream of the Rood for The Hilliard Ensemble and Ensemble 10/10, for performance in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool in October 2008, a Double Concerto for Violin and Viola for Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius for 2010, and a new work for PSAPPHA.

events in 2008 with John Casken
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
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25Sat10.00 amAberdeenComposers' Day