John Casken (1949-) is one of the UK’s most distinctive and highly regarded composers.
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 from 1971 to 1972, where he formed a close friendship with the composer and conductor Witold Lutosławski. 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.
From 1990 to 2001 he was Composer-in-Association with the Northern Sinfonia, resulting in works including Maharal Dreaming; the Cello Concerto, written for Heinrich Schiff; and Darting the Skiff, for strings.
Casken’s music has been recorded on Collins Classics, ECM, NMC Recordings, and Metier, among others.
He writes in a modern style, incorporating elements of expressionism and lyrical atonality as well as free tonality used in varying degrees. His music is influenced by an eclectic variety of sources including legends, literature, the visual arts and landscape.
A number of Casken’s works reflect aspects 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’ (1992), written for Thomas Allen for the 1992 BBC Proms. ‘The Dream of the Rood’ (2008), written for The Hilliard Ensemble and large instrumental ensemble, is a setting of Casken’s own adaptation of the Early English poem which also has its roots in the ancient kingdom of Northumbria.
Casken’s orchestral works are notable for their range of colours and strength of form. The libretto for Casken’s first opera, ‘Golem’ (1988) was written in collaboration with the director Pierre Audi, who commissioned and directed the work for the 1989 Almeida Festival. It won the First Britten Award for Composition and a Gramophone Award, and has since received six further productions in Europe and the USA.