A much commissioned and frequently performed composer, a highly creative teacher and an original programmer, John Woolrich is an important figure in British musical life. His output covers all genres and has been championed by, amongst others, the Britten Sinfonia – with whom he is currently Associate Composer – the BBC, Nicholas Daniel, Joanna MacGregor and Steven Isserlis. His successful collaborations with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group have led to his appointment in the 2002/3 season as their Artistic Associate. His 50th birthday was recently celebrated with concerts by the Schubert Ensemble and OSJ (Orchestra of St John’s). He was Guest Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 2004 and is Associate Artistic Director of the festival from 2005.
A number of preoccupations thread through his varied output: the art of creative transcription (Ulysses Awakes, for instance, is a recomposition of a Monteverdi aria, and The Theatre Represents a Garden: Night – a work for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – is based on fragments of Mozart), a fascination with machinery and mechanical processes (heard in many pieces including The Ghost in the Machine and The Barber’s Timepiece), a love of song and a passionate interest in literature.
Woolrich has a practical approach to music making: he has founded a group, the Composers Ensemble, and a festival, the Hoxton New Music Days. In 1994 he was appointed the first Composer in Association to the Orchestra of St John’s, a post he held until 2000. He has also formed ties with the Philharmonia Orchestra, who gave a Music of Today concert devoted entirely to his works in 1999, and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Woolrich has built up a considerable reputation overseas: for instance, Ulysses Awakes has had over 150 performances in seventeen countries worldwide, including Egypt, Romania and the Lebanon, and received nine performances in Australia during the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s 2001 tour.
Throughout the 1990s, Woolrich had a string of prestigious orchestral commissions which resulted in some of his most outstanding works: his concertos for viola, oboe and cello. NMC recently released a CD of the Viola and Oboe Concertos which attracted particular attention and was acclaimed as the BBC’s ‘Record of the Week’. Other orchestral pieces written during this period include The Ghost in the Machine, premiered in Japan with Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Si Va Facendo Notte which the Barbican Centre commissioned to celebrate the Mozart European Journey Project. In 2001, Woolrich undertook a music theatre commission from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group which resulted in Bitter Fruit, a masque for mime actors and large ensemble. BCMG and the Trestle Theatre Company gave the premiere with Thomas Adès, who then handed over to Pierre-André Valade for an eight date English tour.
Recent pieces include a suite from Bitter Fruit for the London Sinfonietta and Thomas Adès, and more works for the Britten Sinfonia, including Double Mercury and After the Clock for the BBC Proms, and Tales of Transformation for the Britten Sinfonia and the Ely Sinfonia. Arcangelo, a work based on Corelli, was premiered by The Academy of Ancient Music, who commissioned the work, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham in March 2003, whilst Blue Drowning will be premiered by the Scottish Ensemble at the 2005 Aldeburgh Festival.
Woolrich was born in 1954 in Cirencester and now lives in Kent.
© Faber Music Ltd, October 2004
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