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Kenneth Hesketh (born 20 July 1968)[1] is a British composer of contemporary classical music in numerous genres including opera, dance, orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo. He has also composed music for wind and brass bands as well as seasonal music for choir.


Hesketh was born in Liverpool, and began composing whilst a chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, completing his first work for orchestra at the age of thirteen. He received his first formal commission at nineteen for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Charles Groves. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London, with Edwin Roxburgh, Joseph Horovitz and Simon Bainbridge between 1987 and 1992 and attended Tanglewood in 1995 as the Leonard Bernstein Fellow where he studied with Henri Dutilleux. After completing a master's degree in Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, a series of awards followed: the Shakespeare Prize scholarship from the Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg at the behest of Sir Simon Rattle, an award from the Liverpool Foundation for Sport and the Arts, and on his return to London in 1999 Hesketh was awarded the Constant and Kit Lambert Fellowship at the Royal College of Music, with support from the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

From 2003 to 2005 he was New Music Fellow at Kettle's Yard and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge where he curated a series of new music chamber concerts. The Fondation André Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud prize was awarded to Hesketh at the 2004 Concours International de Piano d'Orléans after a performance of his Three Japanese Miniatures by pianist Daniel Becker.

In 2007, Hesketh took up the position of Composer in the House with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for two years. The scheme, devised by the Royal Philharmonic Society in partnership with the PRS Foundation, was designed to allow composers the time and space to create new work, and to take their place at the heart of the orchestral community. Hesketh's tenure with the RLPO saw the creation of works for many of the instrumental groups within the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, from the orchestra[2] and contemporary music ensemble (Ensemble 10/10, with whom Hesketh already has a thriving relationship) to youth ensembles, chamber groups and choirs. He also took part in teaching and outreach projects in Liverpool and Manchester during the two years.

Musical styleEdit

Hesketh's work is notable for its colourful orchestration, dense harmony and a highly mobile rhythmic style. His work has often been inspired by the other arts; several early works have their origins in medieval symbolism and iconography, notably three pieces for chamber ensemble: Theatrum (1996), Torturous Instruments (1997-8, after Hieronymous Bosch's depiction of Hell from The Garden of Earthly Delights), and The Circling Canopy of Night (1999). This was Hesketh's first piece to gain international attention. Commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Faber Music it was first conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and further championed by Oliver Knussen, who performed many of Hesketh's works. Performances at the Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, London (London Sinfonietta) and the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam (ASKO Ensemble) soon followed. The Times described this work as "a glistening whirl of nocturnal colours, [with] a driving sense of purpose and onward movement."[3]

Early works also displayed an interest in the sinister or melancholy nature of children's literature. His 2000-1 work, Netsuke (from the Japanese miniature sculptures called netsuke) – commissioned by the ensemble Endymion at the request of Hans Werner Henze[4] – comprises five short movements inspired variously by Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter, and a poem by Walter de la Mare. Other such works include Small Tales, tall tales after the Brothers Grimm, and Detail from the Record after Japanese folk tales.

Hesketh has described his work has 'intricate and ornate'; he favours complex textures, though the transparency of his instrumental writing ensures that every note is clearly heard, and the rhythmic flexibility typical of his style gives his music an improvisatory character. Hallmarks of his later style show an interest in what the composer describes as 'unreliable machines': short bursts of mechanistic material that repeat, are transformed but ultimately burn themselves out.[5]

More recently as an outgrowth of this, additional concepts of entropy (in humanistic as well as thermodynamic terms) aging, death, and failure in physical systems have expanded this concept, the process of which now utilizes aspects of computer assisted composition and limited randomised procedures. This has ultimately widened organisational approaches and made freer, as well as made more abstract, the ultimate musical work.

Notable commissions, compositions and performancesEdit

Hesketh has received numerous commissions from international ensembles and organisations including the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, the Continuum Ensemble, a Faber Millennium Commission for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the BBC Philharmonic, Hans Werner Henze and Endymion (in honour of Henze's 75th birthday), the Munich Biennale, the Michael Vyner Trust for the London Sinfonietta, an ENO/Almeida joint commission, the 10/10 Ensemble and the Opera Group at the Linbury Theatre, Covent Garden.

His many concert works, including opera, orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo works are published by Schott & Co., London and are performed by leading ensembles and orchestras in Europe and North America. A selection of major works include Two Lapels and a Pocket (from the Overcoat after Gogol) for orchestra, Theatrum for large ensemble, Forms Entangled, Shapes Collided for five instruments, Horae (Pro Clara) for piano solo, Detail from the Record for chamber orchestra, Music of a distant drum for Baritone and ensemble, Small Tales, tall tales for four singers and ensemble, Wunderkammer(konzert)" for large ensemble, and the orchestral works At God speeded summer's end,Knotted Tongues, Graven Image and Horae (pro Clara) for the British pianist Clare Hammond

Hesketh's other works for symphonic wind band have become contemporary classics of the genre. Tuneful and immediately accessible, regular performances of them around the world have led to British, Japanese, American and Canadian commercial recordings. These are published by Faber Music. His seasonal compositions for choir and orchestra are published by Novello & Co.

Performances have been given by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Hessicher Rundfunk), the Sudwest Rundfunk (Baden-Baden), the London Sinfonietta, Psappha, the ASKO ensemble, the Continuum Ensemble (Spitalfields festival). Conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, Oliver Knussen, Martyn Brabbins, Patrick Bailey, Philip Headlam, Christoph Mueller, Vassily Sinaisky and Vasily Petrenko. Soloists include violinist Simon Blendis, Clio Gould and Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, oboists Nicholas Daniel, Christopher Redgate and Hansjorg Schellenberger, sopranos Sarah Leonard, Claire Booth and Marie Vassilliou, baritone Rodney Clarke and pianists Karl Lutchmayer, Sarah Nichols and Daniel Becker.

Hesketh was a visiting guest composer at the Bowdoin Festival in the USA, and lectured on his works in Seoul, Korea at Yonsei and Ewha Universities. The first NMC recording devoted to large ensemble and orchestral works by the composer, titled "Wunderkammer(konzert)", was released in 2013. Hesketh's recent work for dance, Forms entangled, shapes collided, commissioned by ensemble Psappha and Phoenix Dance Theatre, through the support of The Royal Philharmonic Society Drummond Fund, toured nationally throughout 2013 with final performances in the Royal Opera House, Lindbury Theatre. In 2011 Notte Oscura for piano solo (Peter O'Hagan) was released on the UHR label, Point Forms (after Kandinsky) for Basset clarinet was released on the NMC label (Mark Simpson and Ian Buckle), and Three Japanese Miniatures was released on the Prima Facie label (Clare Hammond) in 2011 and in 2013 on the Teriyaki label (Hanna Shybayeva). Hesketh's third CD was released in 2016 on the BIS label featuring works for solo piano, performed by the British pianist Clare Hammond. An orchestral portrait disc, Hesketh's fourth disc, was released in 2018 to great critical acclaim,[6][7][8] and Hesketh's fifth portrait disc concentrating on music for 2 pianos and piano four hands, with the composer playing two solo works, will be released on the Prima Facie label, performed by the Françoise-Green piano duo in February 2019.

In 2017 Hesketh's In Ictu Oculi for wind orchestra won the 'Wind Band or Brass Band' category of the 2017 British Composer Awards. The panel described the winning piece “as a mature and highly imaginative work that gives the listener an ever more rewarding experience. The writing for instruments show complete mastery of the medium with continually evolving and evocative textures.”[9]


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  2. ^ Mon Hughes, Glyn, Music Review: Like the Sea, Like Time at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool Daily Post, 21 January 2008 [1]
  3. ^ Rye, Matthew, 'The highways and byways of modern music', The Telegraph, 23 August 2001 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Rickards, Guy, 'Voices: Henze at 75', Tempo No. 217 (Jul. 2001), pp. 48–52 [2]
  5. ^ Potter, Caroline, Unreliable machines: an interview with Kenneth Hesketh, Musical Times, Winter 2008 [3]
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  9. ^ Hesketh work claims British Composer Award 2017

External linksEdit