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1945: Born in Sunderland, Co. Durham, England, to parents who are ministers in Salvation Army.
1953: Commences piano lessons – first youthful attempts at composition follow. Starts playing in a brass band.
1963-67: Completes secondary education at Manchester Central Grammar School – begins studies at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London: composition with Alan Bush, piano with Russell Chester. Wins five prizes for composition. In final year composes a Concertante for piano and brass band, which he premieres as soloist at the Royal Festival Hall. Graduates from RAM.
1967-68: Works as visiting peripatetic music teacher in two London primary schools. Marries Susan Smith, with whom he later has two sons: Mark and Justin. Brass Quintet is finalist work in BBC competition for young composers – toured and broadcast by Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, recorded by Hallé Brass Consort (first commercial recording) – published by Novello, his publisher to this day.
1968: First professional commission, Music for Chamber Orchestra, (English Chamber Orchestra), intended for South American Tour with newly appointed Principal Conductor, Daniel Barenboim – Barenboim does not take to the work and it is not performed – composer puts it in ‘bottom drawer’!
1969: Signs a five year rolling contract with publisher R.Smith to write four new works a year for brass band.
1970-72: Visiting music lecturer at two Colleges of Education in/near London – composes first concerto: Horn Concerto for Ifor James. Appointed full-time music lecturer at Rachel McMillan College of Education in London.
1976: Joins staff of music department at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Composes Tuba Concerto for John Fletcher, principal tuba of LSO – featured in ‘Omnibus’ documentary on BBC TV presented by André Previn. Composes Connotations – test piece for 1977 National Brass Band Championships of GB – youngest composer so to be commissioned.
1979: Writes Trombone Concerto for Michael Hext, winner of first BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. Conducts premiere of Metamorphoses – commissioned by Goldsmiths College – seminal work exploring new compositional techniques.
1980: Appointed Head of Composition at Goldsmiths College. Commences conducting activities at College with student orchestra and New Music Ensemble. Invited to teach and conduct at the Royal Academy of Music.
1988-91: Writes music for Royal Shakespeare Company productions of six of Shakespeare’s history plays. Music later adapted for three symphonic suites for wind and brass bands. Elected Chairman of the Association of Professional Composers. Nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Best TV Title Music’ (BBC’s Young Musician of the Year competition).
1990-93: Receives Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Music, his alma mater. Commissioned by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to write new work for 150th Anniversary Royal Gala Concert. First CD release on Doyen label in project to record all his music for brass band.
1994-95: Composes Clarinet Concerto for Michael Collins and BBC Philharmonic. Elected a Writer Director of the Performing Right Society (UK’s music rights collection society) – a position he held until 2021.
1996-99: Appointed Principal of Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester, Receives Honorary Doctor of Music from the University of Sunderland, his place of birth. Awarded the Iles Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians for his contribution to brass bands.
2000-03: Composes Violin Concerto and The Trumpets of the Angels. Honorary Fellowship from Royal College of Music. Major retrospective of his music held in Manchester. First CD of orchestral music and concertos released on Chandos label – ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Gramophone magazine.
2006-07: Composes Saxophone Concerto (commission from Nobuya Sugawa) – premiered in Manchester with BBC Philharmonic and in Japan with Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Receives Honorary Doctor of Music from Lancaster University. Composes concerto for cello and chamber orchestra (A Song for Chris), written and dedicated in memory of Christopher Rowland.
2008-09: Retires from RNCM to concentrate on composition. Honorary Doctor of Music of University of Manchester, Companion and Emeritus Professor of RNCM. Volume 2 of Chandos recordings released.
2010-11: Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to write new work, Dream Song, as a companion work to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony for ‘Mahler in Manchester’ festival. Volume 3 of Chandos recordings released.
2012-13: Composes two major works for brass band: Symphony in two movements (jointly commissioned by the National Youth Bands of Great Britain and Wales), and Of Distant Memories (commissioned as the test piece for the National Brass Band Championship of GB). Three John Donne Settings for National Youth Choir of Wales. Orchestral version of Horn Concerto premiered in Belfast. Volume 5 of brass band works released on Doyen label. Nominated for British Composer’s Award for his Symphony in two movements.
2014: Commissioned by English Schools Orchestra and PRS for Music (centenary celebrations) to write World War I commemorative work: Remember for baritone solo, children’s choir and orchestra. Volume 4 of Chandos recordings with BBC Philharmonic released to critical acclaim.
2015: 70th birthday year celebrations commence with premiere of String Quartet – commissioned by Manchester Mid-day Concerts Society for their centenary year. Featured composer at RNCM’s Festival of Brass – performances of six of his major brass band compositions. Visits Norway, Canada, and Sweden, to conduct/attend performances of his music.
2016: 70th birthday celebrations continue with a performance of the Concerto for Piano and Wind by Ronan O’Hora and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at Maida Vale Invitation Concert. Appointed Composer-in-Residence by Black Dyke Band (with Arts Council funding), with Cornet Concerto as first commission. Gregson mini-festival to take place in Oslo with performances of ten works.
2016-18: Gregson mini-festival in Oslo with performances of ten works. Composer in Residence at the Presteigne Festival where his 2nd String Quartet is premiered by the Nightingale Quartet from Denmark. Commissioned by David Childs to write a Euphonium Concerto, premiered and recorded on the Chandos label with the BBC Philharmonic. Four Etudes for brass band nominated for Ivors Academy Composer Award.
2019: Wins Ivors Academy Composer Award for his Hallé commission The Salamander and the Moonraker, a work for children’s choir, two narrators and symphony orchestra, with story and text by Susan Gregson, the composer’s wife.
2020: 75th birthday celebratory year begins with premiere of A Vision in a Dream, an oboe concerto commissioned by the BBC for Jennifer Galloway and the BBC Philharmonic. Release of new Chandos album ‘Music of the Angels’, performed by London Brass/Rumon Gamba. Pandemic strikes in March and postpones further celebratory
2021-22: Retires as a Writer Director of Performing Right Society for Music after 25 years of service on the Board of Directors. The World Rejoicing finally premiered in Netherlands and Switzerland. Release of 2nd Naxos recording (Instrumental Music) with solo performers from the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic orchestras. Featured as ‘Composer of the Week’ on BBC Radio 3, together with his composition teacher from his student days, Alan Bush. Release of 3rd Naxos recording (including the two string quartets), performed by the Navarra Quartet. The World Rejoicing receives UK premiere at Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
2023: Commissioned by Presteigne Festival to compose a Viola Concerto for Rachel Roberts and the Presteigne Festival Orchestra conducted by George Vass, for premiere at the end of August 2023.
Picture index from top of page:
- Playing football in his back garden at the age of 11
- Performing the Concertante for piano and brass band as soloist at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1967
- Photo drawing made in 1975
- Photo taken in 1977 by John Clark at the time of writing Connotations
- With Andre Previn at rehearsals for the première of the Tuba Concerto in 1976
- Photo by John Clark in 1984 at the time of writing Dances and Arias
- Conducting in BBC Studio 7 in 1985
- Picture taken with his wife Sue at a reception following his conferment as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London
- Receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2000 from HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace, as the then Principal of the RNCM
- Chandos recording session with Guy Johnston (cello) and the BBC Concert Orchestra (Bramwell Tovey) at Watford Coliseum in 2010
- At rehearsal for the première of the new version of the Horn Concerto (Ulster Hall, Belfast, 2014)
- Receiving a BUMA International Brass Award in the Netherlands in 2014
- Playing Sibelius’s piano in 2012 at the composer’s home/museum in Finland
- With the Nightingale Quartet after premiere of 2nd String Quartet at the Presteigne Festival
- Sharing a joke with Jennifer Galloway and Ben Gernon at rehearsal for the premiere of the oboe concerto: ‘A Vision in a Dream’
- With Donald Macleod, interviewer for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’ programmes