John Pickard was born on 11 September, 1963 and started to compose at an early age. He read for his B.Mus. degree at the University of Wales, Bangor, 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 is currently Professor of Composition and Applied Musicology at the University of Bristol, where has worked since 1993.
John Pickard is best known for a series of powerful orchestral and instrumental works. 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), and other orchestral works of symphonic dimensions: Sea-Change (1989), The Flight of Icarus (1990), Channel Firing (1992-93) and the Trombone Concerto: The Spindle of Necessity (1997-98). 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.
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 (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 widely praised for its large-scale architectural sense and bold handling of an extended tonal idiom. His four string quartets (1991, 1993, 1994, 1998), 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 orchestral music has also received critical praise. The U.S. première in 2006 of The Flight of Icarus by the San Francisco Symphony was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as ‘a translucent and achingly lovely memorial to the fallen Icarus’ and ‘a serious contender for the most exciting musical premiere of 2006.’
An increasing number of John Pickard’s compositions is available on CD. The major international label BIS Records has issued three discs devoted to his music. Two discs of his chamber music have been issued on the Toccata Classics label, including Quartets 1 & 5.
In addition to his compositional activities, John is General Editor of the Elgar Complete Edition.
John Pickard’s music is published by Bardic Edition and available through Schott Music