John McLeod, born in Aberdeen and a former pupil of Aberdeen Grammar School, is one of the UK’s busiest and most prolific composers. He first studied clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music with Jack Brymer, Reginald Kell and Gervase de Peyer but eventually changed direction and became a pupil of Sir Lennox Berkeley. Later he studied conducting with Sir Adrian Boult. John has won many important prizes for his work including the prestigious Guinness Prize for British composers in 1979. In 1989 he was elected a Fellow of the RAM.
His brilliantly coloured orchestral and vocal music has been commissioned, performed and recorded in many countries by leading orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Halle Orchestra, the RSNO, the BBC SSO, the SCO (who made McLeod their Associate Composer from 1980-82), the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow, the Orchestra of the Staatstheater, Saarbrücken and the Nashville Symphony (USA). The Chronicle of St Machar, commissioned by Aberdeen Bach Choir, was first performed in St Machar's Cathedral in 1999.
Soloists such as Evelyn Glennie, Colin Currie, Jane Manning, Peter Donohoe, Benjamin Luxon, Murray McLachlan, Ananda Sukarlan, Sam Haywood and Raimund Gilvan have all performed his music and conductors including Sir Charles Groves, Sir Alexander Gibson, Neemi Jarvi, Norman del Mar, George Hurst, Janos Furst, Takuo Yuasa, Rumon Gamba, Yasuo Shinozaki and a host of younger conductors have all included McLeod’s works in their programmes. John’s music has also been featured at many festivals including the London Proms, Edinburgh, Bath, Cambridge and St Magnus (Orkney) and most of his works have been heard on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, BBC TV and Channel 4.
His compositions cover most musical genres – orchestral (including concertos for piano, percussion, and symphonic song-cycles), choral works, church music, songs, instrumental and chamber music as well as many scores for film and TV. Fourteen of his works are now available on eight commercial CDs.
Described by The Scotsman as a major force in contemporary Scottish music, McLeod is the subject of a new article by Francis Morris in the latest Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
He has had particular success lately with a series of outstanding works. In January 2001 Takuo Yuasa and the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland premiered The Sun Dances (which the BBC SSO performed on BBC Radio 3 in 2002). Also in 2001 the new ECAT Ensemble gave the first performance of his Symphonies of Stone and Water to wide critical acclaim and in 2002 the Hebrides Ensemble premiered A Moment in Time – McLeod’s response to the events of 9/11. In 2003 his new piano work Balinese Rituals – again another response to shattered lives - was featured on the world tour of pianist Ananda Sukarlan.
More recent works have included Chinese Whispers (nominated for a British Composer Award in 2005), a Clarinet Concerto, Piano Sonata No.4 and a large-scale orchestral piece Fling for two orchestras (commissioned by BBC Radio 3) and recently performed by 180 musicians. McLeod also has a new association with Chandos Records who have taken ten of his orchestral and instrumental works for their Chandos Artists Showcase label and these can be downloaded as an MP3 file. His new piano work Haflidi’s Pictures was commissioned by the pianist Mark Tanner and premiered by him at the Wigmore Hall in July 2008.