It is with great sadness that we heard today of the death of the British composer John McCabe. We asked John to write a work for us in 1986, and he chose to set words by the British architectural historian Peter Reyner Banham, chronicling his travels through the deserts of the Southwestern USA. It was, perhaps, an unlikely subject for a piece of music, being prose rather than poetry, but John chose the text wisely, and created a work that shimmers with the heat of the desert. We never tired of singing it, and it was an obvious choice to be included in our tour programme with Sean Curran Dance Company, where John’s atmospheric music proved to be a great inspiration to Sean in developing his choreography. John had such an innate understanding of the group’s sound that we returned to him a second time in 2002 to be one of the seven composers commissioned to write works for us for the BBC Proms, reflecting on life in Britain in the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Due to the limitations of time, John was only able to set part of the commissioned poem by Jo Shapcott, titling the work From ‘Cartography’. He later extended the work to include all the text, and we were delighted to perform this longer version, Cartography, at John’s festival in Broadstairs. We also looked to John’s other works for repertoire, and his exquisite setting of The lily-white rose, which he adapted for us, has become a staple in our Christmas programmes.
John was a modest and gentle man, who quietly achieved great things as a composer and educator. He was also a hugely valued friend of the KS, who we will miss greatly. We send our love to Monica, and thank John for his remarkable music.
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