John Pickard was born in 1963 and started to compose at an early age. He read his B.Mus. degree at the Bangor University, where his composition teacher was William Mathias. Between 1984 and 1985 he studied with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands on a Dutch Ministry of Culture Scholarship. He was awarded a PhD in composition in 1989 and has worked at the University of Bristol since 1993.
John is best known for his orchestral and chamber music. He has written five symphonies (No. 2 premièred by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989; No. 3, a BBC commission for BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Mark Wigglesworth, premièred in 1997; No.5 written in 2014, once again for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and due to be premièred in Cardiff on 7 June 2016), and other orchestral works of symphonic dimensions: Sea-Change (1989), The Flight of Icarus (1990), Channel Firing (1992-93), the Trombone Concerto: The Spindle of Necessity (1997-98) and the Piano Concerto, premièred in Dresden in 2000. The Flight of Icarus (a BBC commission), received its first performance in 1991 by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was repeated by them at the 1996 BBC Proms and has since been played many times, both in Britain and abroad. In January 2006 it received its US première by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and subsequently performed by the Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra in 2010.
Other major works include the large-scale oratorio Agamemnon’s Tomb (2005-08), commissioned by the Huddersfield Choral Society, and premièred by them in 2008, Tenebrae (2008-9) composed for the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, and first performed in 2010, and the hour-long Gaia Symphony (Symphony No.4, 1991-2003) for brass band, first heard in its complete version at the 2005 Cheltenham Music Festival. John Pickard’s commitment to the brass band movement was marked in 2001, when he was appointed Composer in Residence to the renowned Cory Band, a position he held until 2004. In 2005 he was commissioned to compose the test piece for the finals of the 2005 National Brass Band Championship, held at the Royal Albert Hall, London in October. This piece, Eden, has since been performed all over the world and is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important works ever written for brass band.
John Pickard’s music has been praised for its large-scale architectural sense and bold handling of an extended tonal language. In a five-star review of a disc of his orchestral music (BIS CD-1578), BBC Music Magazine characterised his music as ’grounded in a much-expanded tonality that encompasses a huge and stimulating harmonic spectrum’ and describing him as ’a born master of the orchestra’. Reviewing the same disc, International Record Review described it as ’music that immediately engages the attention and, above all, amply rewards repeated listening’.
John’s five string quartets (1991, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2012), have received particular acclaim. Reviewing the première of the Fourth Quartet in June 1998, The Strad called it ’one of the best pieces of British chamber music to be heard for years’ while the January 2003 edition of Tempo, reviewing the Sorrel Quartet’s CD of Quartets 2, 3 & 4 (Dutton Epoch CDLX 71117), said ’even if Pickard were never to write another quartet in his life, his place among the greats is secure’. His most recent quartet was premièred in the Purcell Room at London’s Southbank Centre in April 2013 and was described by ’Classical Source’ as a work of ’hard-won affirmation’ by a composer ’whose contribution to the genre has already set him among its leading practitioners’.
A disc of six chamber pieces was issued by Toccata Classics in July 2012 and a second disc of orchestral works on the BIS label (Sea-Change; Piano Concerto; Tenebrae) was issued in March 2013 and featured on the cover of the May 2013 edition of International Record Review as one of its ’outstanding’ releases. Tenebrae was also shortlisted in the 2013 British Composer Awards. 2013 also saw the critically acclaimed release of a recording of John’s First and Fifth Quartets (Toccata Classics). During 2014 a new recording of the Gaia Symphony was issued by BIS Records to international acclaim and John’s new orchestral piece Sixteen Sunrises was premiered in Japan by the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra in May of that year. John has recently completed his Fifth Symphony, which will be premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in 2016.
In addition to his compositional activities, John is General Editor of the Elgar Complete Edition.
In Sea-Cold Lyonesse was specifically written for the Online Orchestra. The long-term ambition of the Online Orchestra team is to create a new culture of online performance, opening up opportunities to musicians living in remote locations around the UK, and giving people the opportunity to make music together with anyone with a broadband connection, anywhere in the world.
The legend of the submerged city of Lyonesse dates back to Arthurian times when it was associated with the story of Tristan and Iseult. Though geographically vague in the early literature, the legend eventually came to be associated with the lost Cornish town of Lethowsow, which some believed to lie submerged between Land’s End and Scilly. The story of Lyonesse has inspired many writers and poets and this work sets poems by Thomas Hardy (When I set out for Lyonesse) and Walter de la Mare (Sunk Lyonesse), the latter embedded between the second and third verses of the former.
The story seemed especially appropriate for a work designed to be performed by the UK premiere’s group of musicians, two groups on the Cornish mainland and one group on the Isles of Scilly. Towards the end, the brass on the mainland and the flutes on Scilly call to each other across the sea, their music conveyed via a fibre-optic cable running across the sea-bed and - who knows? - perhaps through the streets of the submerged town itself. Thus, modern technology and ancient myth meet.
The Online Orchestra world premiere took place on 12 July 2015 to an audience of some 400 people across 4 locations.
For more information and to listen to the work in full CLICK HERE