'His music whispers, whirrs, rustles, creaks, and shines with a gentle light, often elegiacal... Its characteristic movement is shy, blinking in the sun, attuned better to half lights.’   Robin Holloway

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.

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’). In 2015, the contrabassoon concerto Falling Down received its London premiere at the BBC Proms, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons. Current projects include a collection of short string quartets entitled A Book of Inventions and Hark! The echoing air, a trumpet concerto inspired by music Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen for Alison Balsom. 


Ulysses Awakes

St Barnabas Church (Oxford, United Kingdom)

OUP Orchestra/Mark Prescott

A Book of Inventions – Volume III

The Voices of Dust

St. Andrew's Church (Deal, United Kingdom)

Salomé Quartet

Find Out More

Pianobook IX, Pianobook X, Pianobook I

The Green Room at the Grand (Folkestone, United Kingdom)

Huw Watkins

The Unlit Suburbs, A Singing Sky, Here is my Country, Stendhal's Observation, Good Morning - Midnight

The Green Room at the Grand (Folkestone, United Kingdom)

Kat Tinker/Rosie Middleton

Ulysses Awakes

Berwaldhallen (Stockholm, Sweden)

Maxim Rysanov/Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra