John McCabe: 1939 – 2015

It is with great sadness that the RNCM announces the death of eminent composer and alumnus John McCabe on Friday 13 February 2015.

John McCabe studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) and worked in almost every genre, though large-scale forms lie at the heart of his catalogue. In addition to ballets such as Edward II and the two-part Arthur, his seven symphonies, at least 20 concertante works, and music such as Notturni ed Alba (for soprano and orchestra) and The Chagall Windows for orchestra place him at the centre of the repertoire. His output of chamber music, including seven string quartets and numerous quintets and trios, is equally outstanding.

Adam Gorb, Head of Composition , said that John was a ‘sublime professional in every way; an important and brilliant composer; an outstanding pianist, a persuasive advocate of music past and present drawing on an encyclopaedic knowledge; but above all as a warm, sympathetic and humorous person. I will miss him enormously.’

Clark Rundell, Head of Conducting, added: ‘It is hard to imagine the musical landscape without John McCabe. John was one of the first composers I met when I arrived in England 30 years ago. What struck me then (and ever since, for that matter) was the comprehensive craftsmanship of his music. Whether it was a piece for youth orchestra or a virtuoso chamber ensemble, John knew exactly what to write to engage every player on the platform with the powerful message of his music. He was a true master. One thing that is absolutely certain is that his music will live on the concert platform so long as we have ears to hear. He left us with so much.’

Having been awarded Honorary Fellowship of the RNCM in 1986, and a CBE for services to music in 1985, McCabe’s 50 year career as a composer was celebrated with an RNCM Festival of his work in February 2014.

RNCM Artistic Director Michelle Castelletti, who programmed the Festival, said: ‘I am deeply saddened by this news. I had the privilege of getting to know John when I came to the UK about eight years ago. I was struck by his music, and by him. He was a gentle person, yet one with almost silent gravitas that you immediately respected. He was loved and esteemed by all. There is optimism, colour, vibrancy and excitement in his music, juxtaposed with broad lyricism and a beautiful harmonic language. On a personal level, I consider myself very lucky and privileged to have known him. The world has lost not just an exceptional musician, but an extraordinary person.’