John Casken


Major New Commission from the Halle

The Halle will premiere John's new trombone concerto 'Madonna of Silence', written for principal trombonist Katy Jones and conducted by Jamie Phillips on 28 February 2019 at the Bridgewater Hall. This new work follows the success of John's oboe concerto 'Apollinaire's Bird' for principal oboist Stephane Rancourt in 2014. 


John Casken's new website is now live. 

Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise gave two more performances of 'Kokoshka's Doll' in April 2018, at the Wagner 1900 Conference and the Newbury Spring Festival. Further performances are planned for 2018 and 2019. 

Philip Higham, vc, and Alasdair Beatson, pf, performed 'Stolen Airs' at the Alwinton Summer Concerts. 

The University of Manchester have announced a three-year programme of Casken performances to celebrate John Casken's 70th birthday in 2019, starting with 'Memorial' on 2 December 2018. There will be two further performances of 'Memorial' by the Durham Cathedral Consort of Singers and the Coquetdale Chamber Choir in November 2018, to commemorate the end of the First World War. 


Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise premiered John Casken's 'Kokoshka's Doll' at the Cheltenham Festival on 9 July 2017 with further performances at the Buxton and Deal Festivals. 'A riveting performance' (Seen and Heard). The Nash Ensemble gave the world premiere of 'Misted Land' (clarinet quintet) at Wigmore Hall on 20 September 2017. The performance was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Full details here


BBC New Generation Artist horn player Alex Frank-Gemmill gave the world premiere of John Casken's intricate new work, 'Serpents of Wisdom', in a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall on 1 February. The work for horn and piano was one of six New Generation Commissions commissioned by the RPS in partnership with BBC Radio 3, and was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The Halle under Mark Elder will give the second and third performances of 'Apollinaire's Bird' in Manchester on 7 April and Nottingham on 8 April 2016. 'Sacrificium' for solo organ will open the Musica Sacra Maastricht festival on 15 September 2016. Baritone Marcus Farnsworth will premiere Casken's new song cycle 'Lines from a Wanderer' in Alnwick on 29 November. 


The Nash Ensemble performed Infanta Marina on 17 January 2015 in their 50th anniversary concert at Wigmore Hall. Violinist Thomas Zehetmair and violist Ruth Kilius continue to tour That Subtle Knot in 2015, with performances in Stavanger, Munich and Minnesota. Durham University Orchestral Society will premiere Trackway of Time with soloist Sir Thomas Allen on 15 June in Durham. The Philharmonie Zuidnederland will give the Dutch premiere of Orion over Farne in Maastricht on 18 September 2015. Violinist Gemma Bass and pianist Ian Buckle performed Shadowed Pieces at the Chorlton Arts Festival on 22 May. Choses en Moi, performed by the Danel Quartet, was released on Metier in April 2015. 


John Casken celebrated his 65th birthday in 2014 with a series of high profile commissions and performances and the release of a CD of orchestral works on NMC. The Royal Northern Sinfonia performed 'Knight's Stone' on 15 February 2014 at the Sage and premiered his double concerto 'That Subtle Knot', written for outgoing Artistic Director and violinist Thomas Zehetmair and violist Ruth Killius, on 11 June 2014, with a second performance at Milton Court in London on 13 June 2014. The Hilliard Ensemble performed The Dream of the Rood with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Brinkburn Festival on 6 July 2014 and with the Asko Ensemble in The Hague, Utrecht and Amsterdam in October 2014. The launch of NMC's orchestral CD Orion over Farne coincided with the premiere of his oboe concerto Apollinaire's Bird on 10 April at the Bridgewater Hall, also available on NMC as a download or CD single. 

John Casken is interviewed in the Newcastle Journal here

For further information and audio clips please visit the Schott London website. 

John Casken


"The contrast between the strongly-defined human presence (in To fields we do not know) and the focus on the stars and outer space (in Orion over farne) establishes an elemental force field within which Casken has continued to explore essential matters of identity and belief...Casken's music gives them both urgency and luminosity: the abstractions and their consequences are brought to sounding life." Arnold Whittall, Musical Times 2009

John Casken was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, on 15 July 1949 and read Music at the University of Birmingham, studying Composition under John Joubert and Peter Dickinson. From 1971-72 he studied in Poland with Andrzej Dobrowolski at the Academy of Music in Warsaw on a Polish Government Scholarship. It was during this time that he began to have regular consultations with Witold Lutos?awski with whom he formed a close association and friendship, and about whose music he has written and lectured. Casken returned to Birmingham as a Lecturer in 1973, and after a Fellowship at Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1980 he was appointed as Lecturer at the University of Durham in 1981. From 1992-2008 he was Professor of Music at The University of Manchester and retains strong links with Manchester as Emeritus Professor of Music.

Casken's works range across every genre and the titles of his works reveal that he can be inspired both by literature and legend, and by landscape and painting. The libretto for his first opera, Golem, based on the Jewish legend, was written by the composer in collaboration with Pierre Audi, who commissioned and directed the work for the 1989 Almeida Festival. Golem has received six further productions since 1989: Opera Omaha, 1990; Northern Stage, 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, the composer writing the libretto 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 for Belgian Radio and subsequently broadcast by BBC Radio 3, introduced by the composer. God's Liar received a new production in 2004 in the KlangBogen Festival by Neue Oper Wien directed by Stephan Bruckmeier.

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.

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, Darting the Skiff for strings, for the 1993 Cheltenham Festival, and Après un silence for violin and chamber orchestra, with Kyra Humphreys. The latest collaboration with Northern Sinfonia was Farness - three poems of Carol Ann Duffy (2006) for soprano, solo viola and chamber orchestra, premièred at the 2006 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, with Patricia Rozario and Ruth Killius and directed by Thomas Zehetmair.

Casken's Violin Concerto, premièred at the 1995 Proms with Dmitri Sitkovetsky, has since been taken up by Daniel Hope who has given performances both in London and in Manchester as part of the Casken Resonances festival at the RNCM in May 2005. Casken's first symphony Symphony (Broken Consort) was commissioned for the BBC Philharmonic for the 2004 Proms. Casken's most recent orchestral work is his Concerto for Orchestra (2008), for the Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim.

John Casken had a long association with The Lindsays, and as well as three string quartets he also composed Rest-ringing (2005) for string quartet and orchestra, commissioned by The Hallé for the quartet in the year of their retirement. He has written Piano Trio (2002) for The Florestan Piano Trio, and his third quartet, Choses en moi (2003), was taken up by the Quatuor Danel. Recent works include The Dream of the Rood for The Hilliard Ensemble and Ensemble 10/10, premiered in Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral in October 2008 as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations, Deadly Pleasures for narrator and ensemble, which toured the UK with Johanna Lonsky and Counterpoise throughout 2009/10, and Winter Reels, premiered by Psappha in September 2011. Future plans include a double concerto for Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius.

As one of the UK's leading composers, Casken has featured at major festivals in Europe, the USA and Tokyo (at the invitation of Toru Takemitsu). Golem was awarded the First Britten Prize for Composition in 1990 and the Virgin Classics recording with the original cast won the 1991 Gramophone Award in the Contemporary Category. Still Mine won the 1993 Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize for Musical Composition and The Dream of The Rood received the BASCA Award for choral music in 2009. John Casken's music is available on NMC and Meridien.

Further information, a comprehensive work list and details of forthcoming and performances are avialable on the Schott Music website here