John Casken

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John Casken (born 1949) is an English composer, born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England. Casken read music at the University of Birmingham, studying composition and contemporary music with John Joubert and Peter Dickinson. He then went on to study in Poland with Andrzej Dobrowolski on a Polish government scholarship at the Academy of Music in Warsaw, from 1971 to 1972. During this time he began to have regular consultations with Witold Lutosławski, with whom he formed a close association and friendship. Casken has since written articles on the music of Lutosławski, including the contribution of the chapter "The Visionary and Dramatic in the music of Lutosławski" to Zbigniew Skowron's Lutosławski Studies. Casken left Poland to return to Birmingham as a lecturer in 1973. After a Fellowship at Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1980, he was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Durham in 1981. He was Professor of Music at the University of Manchester from 1992 to 2008 and maintains strong links with The University of Manchester as Emeritus Professor of Music.

Operas[edit]

The influence of legend and literature as well as landscape and the visual arts can be found in Casken's works. The libretto of his first opera, Golem, based on the Jewish legend of Golem, was written by the composer in collaboration with Pierre Audi, who commissioned and directed the work for the 1989 Almeida Festival. Golem was extremely successful, winning the first Britten Prize for Composition in 1990, as well as being recorded by Virgin Classics. In 1991 a Gramophone Award in the contemporary category was awarded to Casken for this recording. The recording has now been re-released on the NMC label, and there have been six further productions of Golem 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.

The influence of literature can also be found in John Casken's second opera, God's Liar, although this time in the form of an elaboration on Tolstoy's novella Father Serguis. The libretto was written by the composer in collaboration with Emma Warner. God's Liar was jointly co-commissioned and presented by The Almeida Festival, London, and was premièred in 2001 by Almeida Opera in London and Brussels, and received its Austrian premiere by Neue Oper Wien in the KlangBogen Festival in Vienna in the summer of 2004. This production was directed by Stephan Bruckmeier, with the Amadeus Ensemble-Wien conducted by Walter Kobéra. The opera was then recorded by Belgian Radio and subsequently broadcast in Belgium and by BBC Radio 3, introduced by the composer.

Other works[edit]

From 1990 to 2001 John Casken was Composer-in-Association with the Northern Sinfonia, resulting in works including Maharal Dreaming, 1989; the Cello Concerto, written for Heinrich Schiff, premièred at the 1991 Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and Darting the Skiff, for strings. The latter was premièred at the 1993 Cheltenham Festival, at which the composer himself conducted. The Northern Sinfonia also gave the première of the orchestral version of Après un silence for violin and chamber orchestra, with Kyra Humphreys (violin), conducted by Nicholas Kraemer. Casken's most recent interaction with the Northern Sinfonia produced Farness - three poems of Carol Ann Duffy, in 2006, for soprano, solo viola and chamber orchestra. This was premièred at the 2006 Huddersfield Contemporary Musical Festival with Thomas Zehetmair (conductor), Patricia Rozario (soprano), and Ruth Killius (viola). Patricia Rozario also gave the first performance of Chansons de Verlaine, at the Wigmore Hall in September 2007, accompanied by Julius Drake. The Cello concerto, Darting the Skiff, Maharal Dreaming and Vaganza were re-released on the NMC Ancora label.

As well as his close association with the Northern Sinfonia, Casken had a close connection with The Lindsays, composing three string quartets for them, as well as Rest-ringing, for string quartet and orchestra, which was commissioned by The Hallé Orchestra to mark their retirement. Recent chamber music includes a Piano Trio in 2002, written for and premièred by The Florestan Piano Trio, at the 2002 Brighton International Festival. Casken’s Violin Concerto was premièred at the 1995 Proms by Dmitry Sitkovetzky, who will also be performing Shadowed Pieces for violin and piano and the 2009 Verbier Festival. Shadowed Pieces was premièred by Marc Danel and David Fanning in January 2008.

Casken draws influence from an eclectic variety of sources. His use of literary sources continues from his operatic writing into his symphonic writing, as can be shown by Sortilège, a symphonic poem inspired by Tennyson’s idyll Merlin and Vivien which was premièred by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin in 1996. In his interest in the literary arts, Casken reached back to medieval poetry, which can be found in The Dream of the Rood, the original Anglo Saxon text adapted by the composer and set in modern English. This was written for The Hilliard Ensemble and Ensemble 10/10, conducted by Clark Rundell and premièred in Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral in October 2008 as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. His use of Cleopatra's poem from D. M. Thomas’ Ararat in Deadly Pleasures is highlighted by his setting of the work for narrator and ensemble. This work was premièred in 2009 by Counterpoise with Johanna Lonsky as narrator, at the 2009 Ulverston Festival. Other influences can be seen in Casken’s first symphony, Symphony (Broken Consort), in which a gypsy ensemble can be found within the orchestra. This symphony was first performed in the 2004 BBC Proms by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. His most recent orchestral work is Concerto for Orchestra, first performed on 31 March 2008 by the Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim. An influence that recurs in Casken’s works is the reflection of the landscape and literature of his home, in Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland. This can be found in Orion over Farne, To Fields We Do Not Know (a Northumbrian Elegy for unaccompanied chorus), and the orchestral song-cycle Still Mine, which was premièred by Sir Thomas Allen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 1992 Proms, and subsequently won the 1993 Prince Pierre de Monaco prize for Musical Composition.

Casken’s music has been featured at major festivals in Europe, the US, and in Tokyo at Music Today, by invitation from Toru Takemitsu. Casken’s music is published by Schott Music.

List of works[edit]

  • Kagura 1972–1973
  • Jadu 1973
  • Music for the Crabbing Sun 1974–1975
  • Music for a Tawny- Gold Day 1975–1976
  • Thymehaze 1976
  • Tableaux des Trois Ages 1976–1977
  • Amarantos 1977–1978
  • La Orana, Gauguin 1978
  • Firewhirl 1979–1980
  • A Belle Pavine 1980, rev. 1992
  • String Quartet 1981–1982
  • Masque 1982
  • Erin 1982–1983
  • Piper's Linn 1983-1984
  • To Fields We Do Not Know 1984
  • Clarion Sea 1984 - 1985
  • Vaganza 1985
  • Orion over Farne 1986
  • Salamandra 1986
  • Golem 1986–1988
  • Soul Catcher 1988
  • Maharal Dreaming 1989
  • Piano Quartet 1990
  • Three Choral Pieces 1990, 1991, and 1993
  • Still Mine 1991–1992
  • Sharp Thorne 1991–1992
  • Violin Concerto 1994 - 1995
  • Fanfare 1995
  • Sortilège 1995 - 1996
  • Après un silence- 1998
  • Cello Concerto 1990
  • Darting the Skiff 1992 - 1993
  • A Spring Cadenza 1994
  • String Quartet no. 2 1996
  • A Song of Chimes 1996
  • Distant Variations 1996 - 1997
  • Distant Variations 1996–1997
  • Infanta Marina 1997
  • The Haunting Bough 1999
  • God’s Liar 1999–2000
  • Nearly Distant 2000
  • Piano trio 2000–2002
  • Blue Medusa 2002
  • Choses en moi 2003
  • Symphony (Broken Consort) 2003–2004
  • Rest- ringing 2004–2005
  • Farmess 2006
  • Shadowed Pieces 2006
  • Chansons de Verliane 2006
  • The Dream of the Dead- 2008
  • In the Bleak Midwinter 2008
  • Sacrificium 2008–2009
  • Deadly Pleasures 2009

Discography[edit]

Schott Music provides a full discography both by chronology and by work: Casken Discography by Chronology, Casken Discography by Work

Some of his works have been released by NMC Recordings : John Casken on NMC

References[edit]

  • A short biography written by John Casken June 2009
  • The profile page of John Casken on Schott Music

External links[edit]