John Woolrich

(1954 - )


John Woolrich was born in 1954 in Cirencester. A much commissioned and frequently performed composer, a creative teacher and an original programmer, he is an important figure in British musical life. 

Woolrich has a practical approach to music making: he has founded a group, the Composers Ensemble, and a festival, 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. His successful collaborations with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group led to his appointment in the 2002/3 season as an Artistic Associate. He was Guest Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 2004 and Associate Artistic Director of the festival 2005–10.  From 2010-13 Woolrich was Artistic Director at Dartington International Summer School, and Professor of Music at Brunel University.

A number of preoccupations thread through his varied output: the art of creative transcription (Ulysses Awakes, for instance, is a re-composition 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), and a fascination with machinery and mechanical processes (heard in many pieces including The Ghost in the Machine and The Barber’s Timepiece).

Throughout the 1990s, Woolrich had a string of prestigious orchestral commissions which resulted in some of his most important works: his concertos for viola, oboe and cello.  A CD of the viola and oboe concertos on the NMC label 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 (1990), 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 and Trestle Theatre Company which resulted in Bitter Fruit, a masque for mime actors and ensemble.

More recent pieces include Capriccio for violin and strings commissioned by the Scottish Ensemble,  Between the Hammer and the Anvil  for the London Sinfonietta, a Violin Concerto for the Northern Sinfonia featuring Carolin Widmann and Falling Down, a double-bassoon concerto commission by the Feeney Trust for the CBSO and Margaret Cookhorn.

John Woolrich’s 60th birthday in 2014 was celebrated by many organisations – including the CBSO, Britten Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, BCMG, Schubert Ensemble, London Contemporary Orchestra and St John’s Smith Square (which held a ‘Woolrich Day’). He was also commissioned to write new works for the 2014 Cheltenham Festival and Dartington International Summer School.

June 2015




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