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John Casken
© Sarah Jamieson

John Casken

Country of origin: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Birthday: July 15, 1949

About John Casken

John Casken’s music has been described as “beautifully crafted...rich [and] emotionally complex” (Tim Ashley, The Guardian, writing about Apollinaire’s Bird). David Fanning, writing in The Telegraph about this work found that “The control with which Casken allows tonally-founded harmonies to rise, Alban Berg-like, to the surface, is as remarkable as the fastidiousness of his orchestration, all of which serves to hold concept and craft in ideal balance.”

One of the UK’s leading composers, 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 Lutosławski 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 now retains strong links with Manchester as Emeritus Professor of Music.

Casken has featured at major festivals in Europe, the USA, and in Tokyo at the invitation of Toru Takemitsu. His works range across every genre and their titles reveal that he can be inspired both by literature and legend. The libretto for Casken’s first opera, Golem (1988), 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. It was also awarded the First Britten Prize for Composition in 1990 and the VirginClassics recording with the original cast won the 1991 Gramophone Award in the Contemporary Category.

Casken’s second opera, God’s Liar (2000), 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 KeithWarner, 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 further 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 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 and awarded the 1993 Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize for Musical Composition.

His long-held friendship with Royal Northern Sinfonia has resulted in a number of works: Maharal Dreaming (1989), the Cello Concerto (1991), written for Heinrich Schiff, premièred at the 1991 Schleswig-Holstein Festival,Darting the Skiff (1993) for strings, for the 1993 Cheltenham Festival, and Après un silence (1998) for violin and chamber orchestra, with Kyra Humphreys. Farness (2006), 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, directed by Thomas Zehetmair.

Casken also had a long association with The Lindsays for whom he wrote three string quartets. Rest-ringing (2005) for string quartet and orchestra was commissioned by The Hallé for the quartet in the year of their retirement. He wrote Piano Trio (2002) for The Florestan Piano Trio, and his third quartet, Choses en moi (2003), was taken up by Quatuor Danel.

Casken’s Violin Concerto (1995), premiered at the 1995 Proms with Dmitri Sitkovetsky, was later taken up by Daniel Hope. His first symphony Symphony (Broken Consort) (2004)was commissioned for the BBC Philharmonic for the 2004 Proms, and Concerto for Orchestra (2007) for the Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim was premiered in 2008. Further orchestral works include an oboe concerto for the Hallé and their principle oboist Stephane Rancourt, Apollinaire’s Bird (2013), premiered under Sir Mark Elder in 2014, Casken’s 65th birthday year. That Subtle Knot (2013), a double concerto for Royal Northern Sinfonia, Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius, was premiered the same year at the Sage Gateshead and in London with subsequent performances by Camerata Salzburg at the Salzburg Festival, Munich Chamber Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Casken has continued his association with the Hallé Orchestra, writing Madonna of Silence (2017-18) for their principal trombone player, Katy Jones. The ‘drama for trombone and orchestra’ was premiered in February 2019.

Casken’s rich body of ensemble works include Deadly Pleasures (2009) for narrator and ensemble, which toured the UK with Johanna Lonsky and Counterpoise throughout 2009/10 and Winter Reels (2010) for ensemble Psappha. The Dream of the Rood (2008), written for The Hilliard Ensemble and Ensemble 10/10, premiered in Liverpool in October 2008 as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. It received the 2009 BASCA Award for choral music and toured the Netherlands with The Hilliard Ensemble and Asko Ensemble in 2014. Kokoschka's Doll (2016) was premiered by Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, with the following tour including performances at Deal and Buxton Festivals. Further chamber works include Stolen Airs (2015) for cello and piano, and Serpents of Wisdom (2015) for horn and piano which was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in partnership with BBC Radio 3 as part of the New Generation Artists Scheme, and the clarinet quintet Misted Land (2017) written for the Nash Ensemble.

Most recently, Casken's Madonna of Silence (2018) received its world premiere by The Hallé featuring Katy Jones on solo trombone and From this red earth (2019) had its first performance by the Choir of Lincoln's Inn under the baton of Nicholas Shaw. In 2020, he was announced the winner of the Royal Musical Association's inaugural Tippett Medal for Counterpoise's production of The Shackled King (2022) for which he was also granted an Ivors Composer Award nomination. 

Casken’s music has been recorded on Collins Classics, ECM, NMC Recordings, and Metier, among others, including a disc of orchestral music, Orion Over Farne, recorded by the Hallé and Markus Stenz for NMC. In 2019 three new recordings of Casken’s music were released: The Dream of The Rood (NMC) with The Hilliard Ensemble and Asko | Schönberg conducted by Clark Rundell, Stolen Airs (Prima Facie) including a selection of chamber works, and Kokoschka's Doll (Champs Hill); and in 2023, ECM New Series released the Royal Northern Sinfonia's recording of That Subtle Knot.

John Casken - website



Geboren am 15. Juli in Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Unterricht an der District Holgate Grammar School in Barnsley
Besuch der University of Birmingham, Abschluss als Bachelor of Music und Master of Arts

Kompositions-Studium bei John Joubert und Peter Dickinson
Aufführung seiner ersten Orchesterkomposition Improvisations on a Theme of Piet Mondrian durch das Birmingham Chamber Orchestra, dirigiert von Casken
Stipendium der polnischen Regierung für Studien in Warschau von September 1971 bis Dezember 1972
Besuch von Kursen an der Academy of Music mit Andrzej Dobrowolski und Beratung durch Witold Lutosławski
Dozent für Musik an der University of Birmingham
Jadu (unveröffentlicht) wird von der Society for the Promotion of New Music als besonders föderungswürdig ausgewählt

Erstaufführung von Kagura in London

Erstausstrahlung der unveröffentlichten Music for Cello and Piano auf BBC im Rahmen des BBC Young Composers’ Forum
Caskens Artikel „Transition and Transformation in the Music of Witold Lutosławski’ erscheint in der Herbst-Ausgabe der Zeitschrift Contact
Forschungsstipendiat für Komposition an Huddersfield Polytechnic
Featured Composer beim Bath International Festival

Firewhirl für Sopran und kleines Ensemble
Dozent für Musik an der University of Durham
Featured Composer bei Musica Nova in Glasgow

Orion over Farne für Orchester

Piper’s Linn für Northumbrian Pipes
Lesung an der University of Southern California in Los Angeles über die Musik von Witold Lutosławski im Beisein des Komponisten - zum Gedenken an Ingolf Dahl und zur Eröffnung des Polish Music Reference Centers.

Vaganza für großes Ensemble
Orion over Farne wird bei den BBC Proms aufgeführt, dort auch Uraufführung von To Fields We Do Not Know

Salamandra für zwei Klaviere
Gastkomponist bei der University of Southern California in Santa Barbara
Featured Composer beim Almeida Festival in London Featured Composer bei der Internationel Music Week in Southampton

Golem, Kammeroper

Maharal Dreaming für Orchester
Golem gewinnt den First Britten Prize für Komposition

Gastkomponist bei Music Today in Tokio, leitet Vaganza mit der Tokyo Sinfonietta

Gewinner des Performing Arts Award bei den Northern Electric Arts Awards für seinen Beitrag zur Musikkultur im Norden Englands

Amerikanische Erstaufführung von Golem in der Opera Omaha

Ernennung zum Doctor of Music der University of Durham

Composer in Association bei der Northern Sinfonia
Gewinnt den Gramophone Award für die CD-Einspielung von Golem in der Kategorie „beste zeitgenössische Einspielung“

Cello Concerto

Im Rahmen der Arts Council Contemporary Music Network Tour wird Golem in ganz Großbritannien aufgeführt
Rockefeller Foundation Award für Arbeit am italienischen Study Center in Bellagio

Still Mine für Bariton und Orchester

Sharp Thorne für Vokalensemble

Die Aufführung von Tableaux des Trois Ages durch die BBC Philharmonic und Yan Pascal Tortelier bildet den Anfang einer langjährigen Verbindung mit der BBC Philharmonic.
Professor für Musik an der University of Manchester
Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize für Komposition Still Mine

Darting the Skiff für Streichorchester
deutsche Erstaufführung von Golem am Theater Dortmund

2. Streichquartett

World premiere of Infanta Marina für Englisch Horn und kleines Ensemble
Violin Concerto für Violine und Orchester

Dirigiert die Northern Sinfonia bei Einspielung der Erstaufnahmen von Dartking the Skiff, Maharal Dreaming und Vaganza (Collins Classics, wiedererschienen bei NMC in 2003)
Sortilège für Orchester

Distant Variations für Saxophonquartett und Blasorchester

Erhält ein FRNCM (Fellowship of the Royal Northern College of Music)
Auftritt als Redner beim Lutosławski Symposium des Chopin-Instituts der University of Warsaw

Künstlerischer Berater beim „Breaking Chains“-Festival der Musik Lutosławskis und an der Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London Vorsitzender des Wettbewerbs BBC Young Composers in Manchester
God's Liar Kammeroper nach Tolstoy

To the lovers' well für Vokalensemble

Berliner Erstaufführung von Golem an der Neuen Opernbühne Berlin

Der Artikel „The visionary and the dramatic in the music of Witold Lutosławski” erscheint in Lutosławski Studies (Hg. Zbigniew Skowron, Oxford University Press)
Dirigiert als Gastkomponist in St. Petersburg Firewhirl und Infanta Marina in der Maly Zal sowie der Philharmonic Hall
Leitet die Aufführung des Cello Concerto durch Heinrich Schiff und das Münchner Kammerorchester

Blue Medusa für Fagott und Klavier
Juror beim Wettbewerb Sinfonia Baltica International Composers in Riga, Lettland

Symphony (Broken Consort) für Orchester

Österreichische Erstaufführung von God's Liar an der Neuen Oper Wien während des KlangBogen-Festivals

Featured Composer bei den Park Lane Young Artists Series im Purcell Room in London
Festival zu Caskens Musik („Casken Resonances“) am RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) in Manchester

Rest-Ringing für Streichquartett und Orchester

Juror beim Wettbewerb Witold Lutosławski Composers in Warschau
französische Erstaufführung von Golem an der Opéra de Rennes und der Angers Nantes Opéra

Farness für Sopran, Viola und Kammerorchester

Chansons de Verlaine für Sopran und Klavier
Juror beim Wettbewerb Luxembourg International Composers

Juror beim Aberdeen Music Prize

Concerto for Orchestra
Shadowed Pieces wird im Rahmen mehrerer Konzerte anlässlich Caskens Abschieds als Professor für Musik an der University of Manchester erstaufgeführt

The Dream of the Rood für Vokal- und Kammerensemble
Amethyst Deceiver für Oboe und Klavier

Deadly Pleasures für Narrator und Ensemble

Sacrificium für Orgel

Inevitable Rifts für Streichtquintett

Redner an der Polish Music Since 1945 Conference der Canterbury Christ Church University

öffentliches Interview mit Krzystof Penderecki

Composer Director an der Lake District Summer Music School for Composers in Sedbergh mit Orlando Consort

Juror beim Wettbewerb International Composers in Stresa, Italien

Featured Composer beim International Organ Festival in St. Albans; Sacrificium ist Bewertungsstückstück der Viertelfinalisten

The Dream of the Rood gewinnt einen BASCA Award in der Kategorie Vokalwerke

Vorsitzender und Künstlerischer Leiter der Alwinton Church Summer Concerts, Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland

Gründung des Coquetdale Chamber Choirs

Film-Interviews (Regie: Barrie Gavin)

Ehrendoktor der University of King's College, Halifax, Nova Scotia (Kanada) und der University of Birmingham
Vortrag bei der Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis für gemischten Chor und Orgel, komponiert für Evensong und Thanksgiving an der Durham Cathedral
World premiere of "That Subtle Knot" - double concerto for violin, viola and orchestra with Thomas Zehetmair, violin; Ruth Killius, viola and the Royal Northern Sinfonia
World premiere of "Apollinaire's Bird" for oboe and orchestra with Stéphane Rancourt, oboe and the Hallé conducted by Mark Elder
"Apollinaire's Bird" shortlisted for the 2014 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and BASCA Awards
World premiere of "Stolen Airs" for cello and piano with Philip Higham and Alasdair Beatson
World premiere of "Lines from a Wanderer" for baritone and piano for Marcus Farnsworth

World premiere of "Kokoschka's Doll", a melodrama for bass baritone and ensemble for John Tomlinson, at the Cheltenham Music Festival with further performances at the Deal Festival and Buxton Festival
Becomes Organist of St Mary’s Church, Wooler, Northumberland


World premiere of "Misted Land" by the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall


Appointed Visiting Fellow in Musical Composition, University of Aberdeen


World premiere of "From this red earth" by the Choir of Lincoln's Inn


World premiere of "Madonna of Silence" by The Hallé and Katy Jones


NCM album release of John Casken: The Dream of the Rood featuring The Hilliard Ensemble and Asko | Schönberg Ensemble


Royal Musical Association awards Tippett Medal for "The Shackled King*


Creates and is Artistic Director of Wooler Arts Summer Concerts, replacing Alwinton Summer Concerts


"Shackled King" receives Ivors Composer Award nomation
Chairman of Wooler Arts


ECM New Series album release of the Royal Northern Sinfonia's recording of "That Subtle Knot"