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Guest of the Month January 2010: John Browne

John Browne is an Irish composer living in London. He has become first-ever Composer-in-Residence at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery with funding and expert advice from the PRS for Music Foundation. Browne studied composition at University College Cork (with Gerald Barry) and at The Manhattan School of Music in New York with the assistance of a Fulbright Award.

Operas for the Royal Opera House include: Demon Juice, a hip-hop opera in 2007;Babette’s Feast, a chamber opera in 2002 (revived there in 2004); Separation (The Story of Bullman and the Moonsisters), created with children to open the new Linbury Theatre in 1999. For English National Opera he composed Midnight’s Children in 1998 and a trilogy of operas The Early Earth Operas in 2004. 

Commissions in Ireland include Four Tableaux for The Cork International Choral Festival and the opera The Pied Piper for The Ark in Dublin. He was a founding member of Meridian Theatre Company in Cork composing music for more than a dozen shows and his music has been chosen to represent Ireland at the International Rostrum of Composers.

Other work includes visiting Rwanda in 2006/07 to create The Mother’s Ring a music-theatre piece with survivors of the genocide (with plans to create a new work in 2009/10) creating choral arrangements for the band Elbow in 2008 and teaching the Write-An-Opera course at Dartington Summer School. He has also lead many education projects for The Royal Opera House, ENO, Opera North, Welsh National Opera, The British Council and The Southbank Centre.

Here’s what John has been listening to:

Gaudi/Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – ‘Dub Qawwali’
This is a bit like having your cake and eating it too. It’s the glory of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice with William Orbitesque electronic noodling and dub reggae and the overall effect is like a superior Ibiza Chill-out album. It doesn’t outclass the two Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan albums I have (Rapture and Love Songs) but nevertheless it’s a deep sensual pleasure.

Harry Christophers: The Sixteen – ‘Ikon
A brilliantly curated compilation of Russian and British spiritual choral music. Pärt, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky side by side with MacMillan, Tavener, and Holst. The singing is sublime.

Britten – ‘Lachrymae’
This piece moves me profoundly. I find it so texturally, tonally and emotionally rich and so perfectly shaped. It’s a key reference for my own composing – I always listen to it when I’m about to start a new piece. I used to have Yuri Bashmet’s recording but lost it so now have the Nash Ensemble CD which is doubled with another Britten favourite of mine – Phaedra.

Fleet Foxes ‘Fleet Foxes’
I had the honour and privilege of working with the band Elbow at last year’s Meltdown and Fleet Foxes were the support act. I know there is a very vital British folk revival going on and I’m enjoying the likes of the Unthanks but Elbow and Fleet Foxes are to my mind much better examples of new “Folk” bands – though they wouldn’t be classed as such.

Joseph Campbell Lectures 
When your traveling on a bumpy bus, you can’t read and don’t want to listen to music it’s great to have something like this. Something compact but serious and meaty to listen to. Campbell integrated the elements of the worlds religions with those of ancient mythologies, Freud and Jung and early 20th century literature to form key insights into what is to be human and a series of 60 minute lectures have recently been released for download. Ideal.