John Casken has firmly established himself as one of the most distinctive British composers of his generation.

After graduating from the University of Birmingham, he spent time in Warsaw studying with Andrzej Dobrowolski, and there formed a close association and friendship with Witold Lutoslawski. He was a Lecturer at the Universities of Birmingham and Durham, and from 1992-2008, Professor of Music at The University of Manchester, where he retains strong links as Emeritus Professor of Music. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music by Birmingham University.

His works range across every genre and the titles of his works reveal that he can be inspired both by literature and legend. His first opera, Golem (1989, reissued on NMC), commissioned for the Almeida Festival, won the First Britten Award for Composition and a Gramophone Award, and has since received six further productions in Europe and the USA. God’s Liar (2001), his second opera, was co-commissioned by Northern Sinfonia and La Monnaie, for the 2001 Almeida Festival and Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie, Brussels. It was recorded for Belgian Radio and subsequently broadcast by BBC Radio 3, and it received a new production in the KlangBogen Festival by Neue Oper Wien in 2004.

A number of Casken’s works reflect aspects of Northumberland in the North of England, where he lives, including Orion Over Farne for orchestra (1984) and the orchestral song cycle Still Mine (1992), written for Sir Thomas Allen for the BBC Proms and winner of the 1993 Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize. His role as Composer in Association with the Northern Sinfonia from 1990-2000 resulted in many works, including Maharal Dreaming (1989), the Cello Concerto (1991), written for Heinrich

Schiff, Darting the Skiff for strings for the 1993 Cheltenham Festival (all three reissued on NMC), and Après un silence for violin and chamber orchestra (1998), with Kyra Humphreys. Farness – three poems of Carol Ann Duffy (2006) for soprano, solo viola and chamber orchestra, was premièred at the 2006 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, with Patricia Rozario and Ruth Killius and directed by Thomas Zehetmair. Their latest collaboration is a Double Concerto for Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius, That Subtle Knot (2013), premiered in 2014. Casken’s rich body of chamber music includes three string quartets for the Lindsays – for whom he also wrote Rest-ringing for quartet and orchestra, commissioned by the Hallé in 2005 as the Quartet’s envoi; a Piano Trio (2001) for the Florestan Piano Trio, and Inevitable Rifts, a string quintet commissioned by Musiktage Mondsee in Austria in 2009. His sextet for Psappha, Winter Reels, was premièred at Hatfield House in September 2011.

Casken’s orchestral works are notable for their range of colours and strength of form; his BBC Proms commissions include the 1995 Violin Concerto (recorded here) and 2004 Symphony (Broken Consort), while his recent Oboe Concerto Apollinaire’s Bird (2013), written for the Hallé, was premiered in April 2014.

Image credit: 
Tom Bangbala