Howard Skempton – Composer
Sunday 21 August 2022
“Skempton’s harmony is nothing if not explicit and precise, and he wrings maximum effect from a pared minimum of matter . . . The pieces contain nothing they do not need, and nothing could be subtracted without loss . . . Skempton composes essences, and they go straight to the heart.” Tempo
Howard Skempton was born in Chester in 1947, and has worked as a composer, accordionist, and music publisher. He studied in London with Cornelius Cardew from 1967, who helped him to discover a musical language of great simplicity. Since then he has continued to write undeflected by compositional trends, producing a corpus of more than 300 works.
In May 2005, Skempton’s Tendrils for string quartet was awarded the prize for ‘best chamber-scale composition’ by the Royal Philharmonic Society, and in December 2005 it won in the chamber music category at the annual British Composer Awards. Skempton won a second British Composer Award in 2008 for The Moon is Flashing, a song cycle for tenor and orchestra.
Skempton’s works have been commissioned and performed by many leading artists and music organisations including the BBC, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Ensemble Bash, OKEANOS, New Noise, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Ensemble 10/10’. Skempton was commissioned as part of the New Music 20*12 Cultural Olympiad project, where his piece for the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers was performed in Kingston and played on BBC Radio 3 as the first music of 2012. It was heard again at the Spitalfields Festival in June 2013.
Recent commissions include two from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group — a work for oboe and string trio, Field Notes, and a setting of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for baritone Roderick Williams and ensemble — and a Piano Concerto for John Tilbury commissioned by the BBC for a premiere at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2015.
Skempton is an Honorary Professor of Music at De Monfort University and teaches at The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.