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John Hopkins - Composer

Although my first musical experiences were mainly centred on the pop music of the 1960s, I was drawn from my late teens onwards ever deeper into the world of what we loosely call ‘classical music’. Throughout my composing and teaching careers, I have always tried to bring this richly diverse field of music to as broad an audience as possible. It has become increasingly clear to me that this area of the arts is in a very perilous condition, being increasingly marginalised in our society, and I will devote my remaining time to attempting to remedy this situation.

I was born in 1949, at Polegate in Sussex and educated at Lewes Grammar School, where my main ambition was to leave school as soon as possible. My first musical aspiration was to play the guitar like Hank Marvin, which was later modified to emulating Keith Richard and other more blues-based players. At the same time as playing in a number of local bands, I was also an unlikely member of the parish church choir, and it was through that experience that an awareness of music other than the current pop and rock scene began to dawn on me. After a couple of years as a junior draughtsman in an Eastbourne architects’ office, I had become sufficiently interested in a wide range of music to want to go back to college and to study it properly. Around this time too, I began to compose pieces that attempted to be more than pop songs.

After two years in Cambridge at the then College of Arts and Technology, I had enough A-levels to apply to Cardiff University, where I spent the next 6 years under the watchful guidance of David Wynne, Arnold Whittall and Alun Hoddinott. Four consecutive visits to the Dartington Summer Schools brought me into close contact with Peter Maxwell Davies, whose encouragement and stimulation were vital in my own creative development. After leaving university, I ran the Music and Dance programmes at the Arnolfini in Bristol for two years, before moving back to Cambridge to become composer-in-residence for the Eastern Arts Association. 

The 3-year term of the residency was a period of rapid musical development during which I was awarded many commissions from organisations and festivals in East Anglia, as well as from the Fires of London, the Lontano Ensemble, Gemini and the Nash Ensemble. This was also the time when I wrote The Magic Mountain, a work for piano and orchestra, which was taken up by the BBC and the ISCM Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. Further commissions soon followed from the BBC, the Huddersfield and Aldeburgh Festivals. John Wallace commissioned my Double Concerto for trumpet and saxophone, which was given its premiere by him with John Harle, and the City of London Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox. This piece was more recently performed at City Halls in Glasgow by Marco Blaaw and Marcus Weiss, with the BBC SSO conducted by Geoffrey Paterson.


After the completion of the Eastern Arts residency, I was awarded an Arts Council Bursary, but inevitably turned to teaching in order to earn a living. This aspect of my work ended as a lecturer in the Faculty of Music at Cambridge University, where I established the Composers’ Workshop programme and initiated the development of a Ph.D in composition. For three years I was also composer-in-residence at Homerton College, and wrote a considerable number of pieces for the college’s Charter Choir. My most recent works include a 3-Act opera, Russian Jerusalem, based on the book by Elaine Feinstein, and a large-scale piano piece, Corona di Sonetti commissioned by Clare Hammond, which was given its premiere at the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival, with subsequent performances at Cardiff University and in Folkestone. Since 1985, my work has been published by Ricordi.

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