The Symphonies of John Pickard: an overview

Richard Whitehouse
The premiere of the Eighth Symphony by David Matthews in Manchester last April marked something of a resurgence in the genre continued that July with the Fourth Symphony from James MacMillan. More symphonic premieres are to follow, with the Fourth Symphony by Matthew Taylor in 2017 and, before that, the Fifth Symphony from John Pickard this June.

Throughout the past quarter-century, Pickard has been a significant presence on the UK new music scene. A prominent academic (he is currently Professor of Composition and Applied Musicology at the University of Bristol) and perceptive writer, he has also amassed a sizable catalogue of works across which a symphonic strain predominates – whether in his series of vividly evocative tone poems, oratorio Agamemnon’s Tomb, concertante works for trombone and for piano, five string quartets and five symphonies. Although in his earlier years he was sometimes spoken of alongside such contemporaries as MacMillan, the late Steve Martland and Mark-Anthony Turnage as an ‘angry young man’ intent on confronting the then musical establishment, any provocation was always grounded in intrinsically musical considerations.

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