ABOUT JOHN HAWKINS
John Hawkins, born in 1949, studied composition with Malcolm Williamson and Elisabeth Lutyens. He has written many chamber, vocal and orchestral pieces, which have been performed worldwide, as well as music for students and children.
On leaving Highgate School, a brief attempt at studying dentistry at Guy’s Hospital was followed by more than 40 years’ work at the book publisher Thames & Hudson in production, design and finally digital book publishing. Musically, a course at London’s City Lit. led to private study with Malcolm Williamson and then with Elisabeth Lutyens.
On the recommendation of conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, John Hawkins was commissioned by the Marine Society to write a Sea Symphony, The commission specified first the experience of a four-week voyage to Australia on a container ship! The BBC broadcast one of three performances of the Symphony by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, followed by a broadcast by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Following the Symphony came other pieces to create a large-scale trilogy. The first of these, Voices from the Sea for voice and string orchestra (‘… a stunning song cycle’ – THE STRAD), sets words by working merchant seamen. Sung by Martyn Hill, it is available on CD from Meridian Records. The final part of the trilogy is The Seafarer for tenor, choir and chamber orchestra in which a translation of the Anglo Saxon poem ‘The Seafarer’ is counterpointed with a dramatic letter from a seaman on a foundering cargo ship, written by Liverpool writer George Garrett.
The one-act opera Echoes was commissioned by and performed as part of Covent Garden’s ‘Garden Venture’ scheme.
Chamber music includes Urizen, a virtuoso piece for viola and piano (first published by Boosey & Hawkes, now available from Comus Edition) which has been performed and broadcast many times worldwide. A recording by its dedicatee Paul Silverthorne was made on the Black Box Music CD ‘Invocations’. Nardo Poy and the New York Orpheus Chamber Orchestra gave the first performances of a version with string orchestra. A further version with chamber orchestra was made in 2007 for a performance in Japan by Yuko Inoue.
String quartets include an early (1977) three-movement quartet, published in 2014 by Fountayne Editions, and two single-movement quartets: Fuzon (2013) – published by Comus Edition – and Caged Moon. The string trio Quietus is included on the ‘Voices from the Sea’ CD and is published by Comus Edition.
The largest of John Hawkins’s choral pieces is This World for choir and two trumpets. The libretto was inspired by working with the poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine on her book about William Blake ‘The Human Face of God’. It was commissioned by the choir Cryes of London and broadcast by the BBC Singers.
Performances in 2017 included the Sonata for clarinet and piano, Sonata Serenata for flute and piano, BoBop for solo violin, several performances of ‘Urizen’ for viola and piano and ‘Another Orpheus’ for string orchestra (recently published by Comus Edition). The setting of ‘Silk Road’ by the poet Sarah Pope for tenor and piano quartet was premiered on 20th February 2017.
2018 included these performances and recordings:
- ‘String Quartet 1976’ (video recording for YouTube)
- ‘Clarinet Concerto’ (Steve Dummer, Musicians of All Saints)
- ‘At Two’ (St Olave’s, London and CD recording for forthcoming Meridian CD)
- ‘Romantique’ (Duruflé Trio, Brighton)
- ‘Last Tango in Brighton’ (two performances by COMA Sussex)
- ‘Cortège’ (Ric Graebner piano and Ellie Blackshaw violin, Brighton)
- ‘Looking Back’ (Siân Philipps violin and Constance Chow piano, Blackheath Recital Hall, London)
- ’Tri’ (Guildhall School of Music Viola Day)
- ‘Urizen’ (Paul Silverthorne at the Viola Fest in Xi’an, China)
2019 has seen performances of my pieces by four students of the Royal College of Music in their final exams – a great sign for the future! The pieces were ‘Urizen’ (viola and piano, two players chose this); ‘Grounds’ (oboe – using a piano reduction of the string orchestra parts); and ‘Variations’ (piano solo).
Other performances in the first part of 2019 included ‘Take Two’ (guitar duo) and ‘Cortège?’ (violin and piano). Later in the year, ‘Sonata Serenata’ for Flute and piano will be performed at the Presteigne Festival and in London at St Martin in the Fields.
A CD of all my music for clarinet is in preparation with Claudio Records. Already recorded are the works with string orchestra (Clarinet Concerto and ‘Simplicius Simplicissimus’) and the setting of ‘The Dong with a Luminous Nose’ (voice and solo clarinet). These will be followed by the ‘Clarinet Sonata’, ‘Palinode’ (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) and ‘In Touch’ (clarinet, cello and piano).
John Hawkins is married with three children and lives in Lewes, East Sussex. He is a member of the composers’ group New Music Brighton.