Kenneth Hesketh (born Liverpool, 1968) is a British composer of contemporary classical music in numerous genres including opera, orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo. He also composes music for wind and brass bands as well as seasonal music for choir.
Hesketh began composing whilst a chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and completed 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 Masters 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 Fellow 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 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.
An early enthusiasm for Franco-Russian music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was one of the stimuli behind Hesketh's interest in colourful orchestration, and he has always been inspired by the other arts. Several 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 has 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."
He is also intrigued by children's literature with a sinister or melancholy streak. His 2000-1 work, Netsuke (from the Japanese miniature sculptures called netsuke) — commissioned by the Endymion Ensemble at the request of Hans Werner Henze — 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 Netsuke as 'intricate and ornate', a description which could apply to most of his works. 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. His orchestral work At God speeded summer's end (2000, premiered by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) has a clarity of texture and orchestral virtuosity. Recent pieces 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.
Notable commissions, compositions and performances
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 the Endymion Ensemble (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, Dei Destini Incrociati for chamber ensemble, Poetic Conceits for piano solo, Detail from the Record for chamber orchestra, Music of a distant drum for Baritone and ensemble, Small Tales, tall tales four four singers and ensemble and At God speeded summer's end for orchestra.
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.
Recent 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 violinst 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.
Future performances include a specially commissioned work by composer-clarinetist Mark Simpson for bassett clarinet and a song cycle for the Welsh Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams. His work The Alchymst's Journal for brass band was released in 2008 on the NMC label and his work Detail from the Record was released on the final disk of the London Sinfonietta Jerwood CD Series in September 2009.
Kenneth Hesketh has recently been made an honorary professor of composition at University of Liverpool and is professor of composition and orchestration at the Royal College of Music. He lives in London and is married to the composer Arlene Sierra.
Chronology of important dates
1968 Born in Liverpool
1977 Chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
1987 First formal commission from Sir Charles Groves for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
1992 Now Springs the Spray for soprano and orchestra
1994 Recit. And Aria for Soprano and chamber ensemble
1995 Leonard Bernstein Fellow at Tanglewood
1996 Fromm Foundation commission (Harvard University, USA)
1996 Theatrum for chamber ensemble (Tanglewood/ Fromm Foundation Commission)
1996 Shakespeare Prize scholarship from the Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg
1997 Masters degree in Composition, University of Michigan, USA
1997 Torturous Instruments for chamber ensemble
1998 Die hangende Figur ist Judas for solo cello
1999 The Circling Canopy of Night for chamber ensemble (Faber/ BCMG joint commission)
1999 Award from the Liverpool Foundation for Sport and the Arts
1999 Awarded Constant and Kit Lambert Fellow at the Royal College of Music, London
2000 At God Speeded Summer’s End for orchestra (BBC Philharmonic Orchestra commission)
2000-1 Netsuke for chamber ensemble (commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for his 75th birthday)
2001 After Verdi for chamber orchestra
2001 Detail from the Record for chamber orchestra (Michael Vyner Trust commission for London Sinfonietta)
2002 Notte Oscura for orchestra
2002 Cautionary Tales for clarinet, violin and piano
2002 Dei Destini Incrociati for six players (Munich Biennale commission)
2002 Fra Duri Scogli for six players
2002 Three Japanese Miniatures for solo piano
2002-3 The Overcoat opera in 2 Acts (ENO/ Almeida Opera joint commission)
2003 A Land So Luminous for violin and chamber ensemble
2003 Appointed Professor of Composition and Orchestra, Royal College of Music, London
2003-5 New Music Fellow, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
2004 Polygon Window for violin, 2 pianos and 11 percussion
2004 Two Lapels and Pocket (Suite No. 1 from the Overcoat)
2004 Three Japanese Miniatures awarded Fondation Andre Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud Prize
2005 Threats and Declamations for chamber ensemble
2005 Three Pieces in the Shape of a Shoe for oboe, bassoon and piano
2005-6 The Doctrine of Affections for chamber ensemble (Britten Sinfonia commission)
2006 Music of a Distant Drum for baritone and chamber ensemble (Spitalfields Festival commission)
2006 Small Tales, tall tales for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and chamber ensemble (Opera Group commission)
2006 Poetic Conceits for solo piano
2006 Ein Lichtspiel (after Moholy-Nagy) for ensemble (10/10 Anniversary commission)
2007 Appointed Composer in the House with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
2007 A Rhyme for the Season for orchestra
2007 Like the Sea, like time for Tenor soloist, SATB chorus, Youth chorus and Orchestra
2007 Theatre of Attractions - for chamber ensemble with film
2008 Graven Image for orchestra
2008 The Gilded Theatre for symphonic wind band
2008 Wunderkammer(konzert) for ensemble
2008 Made Honorary Professor of Composition at University of Liverpool
2008 PatterSongs for orchestra
2009 Point Forms (after Kandinsky) for Bassett Clarinet and Piano
2009 La morta meditata (Death meditated upon) Four settings of Giuseppe Ungaretti for Baritone and Piano