James Clarke


"James Clarke's Second String Quartet (2009) was thrillingly, almost treasonably, un-British. It began by summoning up a high-pitched, dust-stormy sound as if the Arditti [Quartet] were a crowd of Palestinian zaghareet-ers. Beefy trills, open strings, scrubbed pitches, squirty figures that sounded as if they'd come from tubes of toothpaste, were all heaped on top of each other to create a messy sandwich of ululating noise. An attempt was made to untangle the web of sound. Silence followed failure. And with this the opening caterwauling returned. Again and again the cacophony tried and failed to find a conclusion. It was as if the Ardittis were trying to find their way out of a maze - or a nightmare.

"One escape appeared to take place under the cover of night, with a crepuscular development that was fast and strange. Another journey saw the first and second violin (Irvine Arditti and Ashot Sarkissjan) engage in civil war. Many attempts faltered at a nowhere point. Somewhere along the line a consonance broke out, so profoundly startingly a moment I was convinced it was coming from beyond the hall. At the same time a scrubbing figure - like TV snow - muscled its way into things and attempted to consume the work and our ears. But yet again the din was de-composed.

"What a joy it was to see a British composer playing around with visceral and conceptual worlds in the manner of the big boys in Europe. The audience gave Clarke a hero's welcome."

Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk, Friday 4 February 2011

James Clarke was born in London in October 1957. He has written over one hundred compositions, for symphony orchestra, solo musicians and for ensembles. They include nine works written for the Arditti String Quartet; four for the ensemble Klangforum Wien; seven for the pianist Nicolas Hodges, including two for piano and orchestra; some for unusual forces, such as 2012-L for 200 musicians, 2014-Q for European and Asian instruments, and 2015-M for 308 musicians; a radio opera in collaboration with Harold Pinter. He has worked with some of the finest interpreters of new music, including, as well as those mentioned, Ernest Bour, Johannes Kalitzke, Harry Sparnaay, Ilan Volkov, Jürg Wyttenbach, Hans Zender, and the ensembles Apartment House, Linea, Phoenix and SurPlus.

Prestigious commissions have come from the BBC, French Ministry of Culture, Southwest German Radio, West German Radio, Beethovenfest (Bonn), the City of Darmstadt, Gaudeamus Foundation, Musik i Skåne (Sweden), the University of Cambridge, The Wigmore Hall (London), Wien Modern, the town of Witten, the Arts Councils of Great Britain, Greater London, and Northern Ireland, as well as from festivals in Amsterdam, Basel, Berlin, Bludenz, Dresden, Huddersfield, Leuven, Luxembourg and Riga. Important premieres have taken place at the Venice Biennale, in Donaueschingen, at the Lincoln Center (New York), at the Southbank and Barbican centres (London), and in many other major venues.

James Clarke has led composition courses at the Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland, where he was featured composer in 2000, and at the Festival junger Künstler Bayreuth in 2000-2003. In 2004 he was a featured composer at the Ars Musica festival in Brussels, where ten works were performed. He was composer-in-residence at Queen's University, Belfast, from 1994-97, and has lectured in Austria, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, UK and in Azerbaijan, where he was appointed honorary professor at the Baku Music Academy.

CDs of Clarke's music have been released on the labels Col legno, Corviello-Deutchlandradio, Composers' Art Label, Métier, NMC and others.

"Friday was a great day for British music, not so much on account of the swell of Parry et al billowing under Westminster Abbey's vaults [at a royal wedding], but because of the UK premiere later that day of James Clarke's marvellous piano concerto. Reflecting Clarke's second career as a painter, the concerto is labelled simply Untitled No 2 and, rather in the manner of an abstract painting, explores a limited number of harmonies and the relation between them. Despite this essentially static framework, the piece unfolds a beautifully balanced, dynamic structure.

"More surprising is the work's resemblance to traditional concertos in the phases of dialogue between soloist and orchestra, and the contrasting periods of dense activity and moments of calm which bathe the audience like sunlight. Superbly coloured, this is a piece to hear again and again, and also a wonderful one to get lost in — though not for the soloist, Nicolas Hodges, who, as ever, was masterful in his elegant control of some very challenging material."

Guy Dammann, The Guardian, Tuesday 3 May 2011