‘A Nordic composer par excellence’
– from a new monograph on John McLeod and his music which can be downloaded at:
For over 30 years John McLeod has been at the forefront of contemporary Scottish music and is still one of the UK’s busiest and most prolific composers. Born and educated in Aberdeen, he has been resident in Edinburgh since 1970. He first studied clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music, London with Jack Brymer, Reginald Kell and Gervase de Peyer, but later changed direction and became a composition pupil of Sir Lennox Berkeley. Subsequently he came under the influence of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski whom he knew and admired. Conducting studies were undertaken with Sir Adrian Boult.
John has won important awards for his work including the prestigious Guinness Prize for British composers. In 1989 he was elected a Fellow of the RAM and in 2005 and 2010 was nominated for a British Composer Award. Renowned also as a teacher, he was Director of Music at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh for eleven years before holding Lectureships at the RSAMD, RAM and Edinburgh Napier University. Latterly he was Head of Composing for Film and TV at the London College of Music (Thames Valley University) and the Ida Carroll Research Fellow at the Royal Northern College of Music where he specialised in the works of Messiaen, Boulez and Birtwistle.
His brilliantly coloured orchestral and vocal music has been commissioned, performed and recorded in many countries by leading orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the RSNO, the SCO (who made McLeod their Associate Composer from 1980-82), the Orchestra of the Staatstheater, Saarbrücken and the Nashville Symphony (USA). The BBC SSO has broadcast 12 of his major orchestral works over the years and in 2010 the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland achieved the 20th performance of a McLeod work by featuring The Gokstad Ship in their Edinburgh and Glasgow concerts. In 1994 he travelled to Poland to conduct the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow in a CD of his orchestral music entitled Visions from the North.
Soloists such as Evelyn Glennie, Colin Currie, Jane Manning, Benjamin Luxon, Raimund Gilvan, Peter Donohoe, Murray McLachlan, Sam Haywood and Mark Tanner have all performed his music and conductors including Sir Charles Groves, Sir Alexander Gibson, Neeme Jarvi, Janos Furst, Takuo Yuasa, Yasuo Shinozaki, Rumon Gamba, Gary Walker and a host of younger conductors have all included McLeod’s works in their programmes.
His music has also been featured at international festivals including the London Proms, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Perth, Aberdeen’s ‘Sound’ Festival and St Magnus (Orkney). Most of his works have also been heard on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, BBC TV and Channel 4.
McLeod’s compositions cover most musical genres – orchestral (including concertos for piano, percussion, clarinet, guitar and 3 symphonic song-cycles), choral works, church music, songs, instrumental and chamber music as well as scores for film and TV. Described by The Scotsman as ‘a major force in contemporary Scottish music’, McLeod is the subject of a new article by Francis Morris in the latest Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Recent highlights have included Colin Currie performing the Percussion Concerto with the BBC SSO under Yasuo Shinozaki, Chinese Whispers for brass (nominated for a British Composer Award in 2005), a Clarinet Concerto, Piano Sonata No.4 and a large-scale orchestral piece Fling, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, and recently performed by 180 musicians. His new piano work Haflidi’s Pictures was commissioned by the pianist Mark Tanner and premiered by him (with the composer narrating) at the Wigmore Hall in July 2008. Mark’s CD of this work on the Priory label has received international praise and attention.
2009 to 2011 saw numerous performances of McLeod’s music in Saarbrücken, Warsaw, USA, Denmark, London and throughout the UK and new works continued to emerge including Quicksilver for flute and piano (again premiered at the Wigmore Hall), Imagined Corners (Carlisle Festival commission) for choir, brass and organ and a new Guitar Concerto (commissioned by three orchestras – with Ian Watt as soloist) which was nominated for a second British Composer Award.
In April 2012 Edinburgh Contemporary Music Trust (ecat) featured McLeod in their final concert of the season which included a staged performance of his little Chinese opera for solo percussion Thrashing the Sea God, performed by Joby Burgess, and the world premiere of The Song of Leda for cello and piano played by Robin Michael and Peter Evans. These works elicited a 5* review by Conrad Wilson in The Glasgow Herald.
Chandos is now featuring ten of his works online – www.theclassicalshop.net (enter
John McLeod Mp3 into the search box). His music and CDs can also be bought online at
www.tutti.co.uk and at www.scottishmusiccentre.com
You can also follow John and his music on Facebook, LinkedIn and SoundCloud
For information on John McLeod and his work please refer to the following publications:
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians – Stanley Sadie (Macmillan 2001)
(main entry under John McLeod other entries under Scotland, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Evelyn Glennie)
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music – Michael Kennedy (OUP 1996)
The Penguin Dictionary of Music – Arthur Jacobs (Penguin Books 1997)
New Vocal Repertory Volume 2 – Jane Manning (Clarendon Press – OUP 1998)
The complete Shostakovich Catalogue – Derek C Hulme (Clarendon Press – OUP 1991)
Good Vibrations – An Autobiography – Evelyn Glennie (Hutchinson 1990)
The Great Scots Musicography – Martin C Strong (Mercat Press 2002)
Scotland’s Music (new edition) – John Purser (Mainstream 2007)