"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