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A prize-winning composer, Adam Johnson studied with Dr. Anthony Gilbert, Elena Firsova and Simon Holt at the Royal Northern College of Music. During this time, he also appeared in masterclass with Steve Martland and John McCabe.

Adam made his first TV appearance (aged 20) with legendary film composer John Barry in New York for a series called Masterclass (Zenith North productions).

His 2nd String Quartet Surrender Him the Apocolyptic Chrysalis (1999) was given its world premiére at the Montepulciano Festival, Italy in the same year and further won him the Edward Hecht Prize for Composition.

The following year, the Goldberg Ensemble commissioned Johnson to write a work inspired by Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and in 2004 he composed El Shahid (The Martyrs) commissioned by the Metropolitan Ensemble.


- Thomas Ades 2012

In 2012, Adam was a finalist of the Villiers Quartet Composition Competition for his 4th String Quartet Four Artists.


Their website Q&A is shown here:

Where are you from?

I am from Newcastle upon Tyne, in the North East of UK. I grew up at a time when contemporary music wasn't being pioneered in the north of England. However my school where I held a Music Scholarship, and my head of music Stephen J. Pettitt gave me amazing opportunities to experiment with, and showcase many of my earliest (unsophisticated!) works. I will always be grateful for that.

I was brought up in a household blissfully free of contemporary music, which gave me the necessary scope to develop an inner sound.

What got you hooked on composition?

A lot of the time it was essential to get the music or sounds out of my cluttered head! As a child composer I had no technique and my knowledge of the technical brilliance of Bartok, Stravinsky or Messiaen would be a revelation when I won a scholarship to study with Prof. Anthony Gilbert at The Royal Northern College of Music. I quickly realized that a regular composition "practise" method was not in my system and I could only work well when the music came to me - usually in a noisy night club, surrounded by the clamor of a weekend rave!

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

When I was studying with the extremely charismatic Prof. Anthony Gilbert, he exposed me to Messiaen, Cage, Janacek, Henze, Saariaho, Dutilleux and I found their musical language extremely powerful. I was (and still am) totally against "squeaky gate" music as it never relates to the regular concert-goer, and the music of Aulis Sallinen, Eduard Tubin, Tauno Marttinen has influenced my relation to the basic requirement of rhythm and emotion. Equally I find inspiration from modern masters such as Björk, Radiohead and Sigur Ros.

What are some of the advantages or challenges in writing for string quartet?

This is my 4th Quartet and I wrote it very quickly. However the same obstacles presented themselves. I was constantly aware of texture (usually by thinking of 3 not 4 players), and allowing the space of pitch-register to resonate over each tone. Another release in this piece is not confining the work to expectation, but a natural and organic motivic progression throughout the strictly structured harmony.

Anything else you wish to say about your piece 'Four Artists'?

As each movement is dedicated to Four Artists (Jackson Pollock, George Grosz, Dora Carrington, Tracey Emin) one difficulty was to balance mirroring their style musically as well as an abstract comment on their vision.

In the case of the middle movements (Grosz and Carrington) it was inspired by the events in their personal lives, and the outer movements (Pollock and Emin) in honour of their place in society at the time in which they lived.

The artists I have chosen commented artistically on reflection and relation to immediate modern life, which is precisely what I aim to achieve in the musical language of my work.

Adam Johnson and film composer John Barry


Adam Johnson preparing "Seven Skies of Winter" with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CH CBE



  • About Clown Torture (After Bruce Nauman) (2011 rev. 2015) for Orchestra

  • Aurora Borealis (2009) for large Orchestra

  • Blood Blue (1997) for Chamber Orchestra

  • Consummatum Est (2000) for Large Orchestra

  • Let the Spirit Speak (2009) for Chamber Orchestra

  • Soireé du Diable (1998 rev. 2014) Violin Concerto for Violin & Orchestra

  • Terror (2011) for Orchestra

  • The English National Anthem (Arrangement) (2008) for Full Orchestra


  • Come and Pray for Forgiveness (2006) for Choir (S.A.T.B)

  • Coventry Carol (1995) for Choir

  • Mists (2007) for Mezzo Soprano Voice & Ensemble

  • Songs for Eternity (1997) for Two Sopranos & Ensemble


  • A Large Blue Square, at Dawn, by the Sea (2006) for Piano Trio

  • Cities of Fear (2006) for Clarinet Trio

  • Desperate Lands (2005) for Clarinet & Piano

  • Drumtochty Castle (2006 rev. 2014) for Saxophone (or Clarinet) & Piano

  • Eagle over Byland Abbey (2014) for Cello & Piano

  • El Shahid (The Martyrs) (2004) for Flute Quartet (Str)

  • Four Artists (2011) String Quartet No. 4

  • Für Käthe (2008) for Clarinet & Piano

  • Innocence to Innocents (1996) String Quartet No. 1

  • (One) For Grace (2007) for Bassoon & Piano

  • One Final Bow (2010) for Flute, Clarinet & Piano

  • Peacock (2000) for Mixed Ensemble - Commissioned by the Goldberg Ensemble

  • Plural Affections (1998) for Saxophone Quartet

  • Rockets of Desire (2009) for Saxophone Quartet

  • Quartet No. 3 (2007) for String Quartet

  • Surrender Him the Apocalyptic Chrysalis (1999) String Quartet No. 2

  • To One Shortly to Die (2009) for Wind Quintet

  • Young Lady on the Beach (2006) for Violoncello & Piano

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