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Francis Pott PDF Print E-mail

Francis Pott [b.1957] has acquired a national and international reputation as a composer over the past 25years. His dramatic and emotionally challenging music unites a distinctive personal voice with a highly disciplined but versatile technique rooted in a keen awareness of the past. To date his works (including a steady flow of major commissions) have been heard across the UK and also at prestigious venues in Eire, France, Belgium, Italy, Madeira, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Canada, the USA, and Australia. They have been broadcast in the UK, the USA, Canada and the Czech Republic, are published by four major houses in the UK, and enjoy increasingly prominent representation on CD, including a particularly fruitful relationship in recent years with the innovative British company, Signum Records.

Francis has been the recipient of four prestigious national awards for composition, including First Prize at the 1982 Lloyd’s Bank National Composing Competition (associated with the Cornhill Festival, London) and also the associated Special Prize for a composer under 30 years of age. In 1997 his virtuoso Toccata for piano (written for his friend, Marc-André Hamelin) was awarded First Prize in the second S.S.Prokofiev International Composing Competition, held in Moscow. In 2004 his sacred choral works My Song is Love Unknown and The Souls of the Righteous received ‘Honorable Mention’ from the Barlow International Foundation (USA), placing him second in a worldwide field of 362 and ceding First Place on that occasion to his friend and compatriot Judith Bingham; this was the first occasion on which any British composer had been honoured by the Foundation.

An academic and senior university manager as well as a practising musician, Francis was John Bennett Lecturer in Music at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, from 1992 to 2001. In 2001 he took up the post of Administrative Head of Music at London College of Music & Media, now the Faculty of Arts at Thames Valley University, based in Ealing, West London. In 2002 he became Head of Research Development at LCMM, with a remit covering not only Music but also Media Studies and Creative Technologies. In 2007 he celebrated the conferment of a Personal Chair at the same establishment, becoming the college's first Professor of Composition.

A chorister in the 1960s at New College, Oxford, as an adult Francis served in the Choirs of the Temple Church, London (1987-1991) and Winchester Cathedral (1991-2001), but as a performer he is primarily a pianist (with past training also as an organist and second-study oboist). His performing experience has embraced jazz (as pianist in Vile Bodies, now in its second incarnation but founded originally in Oxford by the late Humphrey Carpenter), mediaeval consort music (playing reedcap instruments and recorders), choral participation at a professional level, theatre-based keyboard work and harpsichord continuo work specialising in the French Baroque. In frequent demand as a solo pianist and accompanist, he currently maintains regular piano duo partnerships with Roger Owens, former winner of the Royal Overseas League Competition, and also with Jeremy Filsell, the internationally acclaimed virtuoso pianist and organist who has been a particular champion of Francis’s own work over the past two decades. An especial interest for Francis is the pianistic tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; in particular, Russian repertoire and the music of Nikolai Medtner, on whom Francis is completing a major critical study which is under contract for publication by Ashgate Press.

This eclectic mix has been compounded by Francis’s work teaching compositional techniques at Oxford between 1987 and 2001. It results in a distinctive meeting of virtuoso keyboard technique, rhythmic freedom derived from the syllabic flexibility of 16th century and earlier choral music, an interest in the common ground between mediaeval dance music and post-War jazz and a conscious extension of aspects of Medtner’s thinking, where a radical approach to rhythm contrasts strikingly with a more conservative harmonic language.

A highly personal harmonic voice lies at the heart of Francis’s own style. His output includes several solo piano compositions. However, he has attracted particular attention hitherto for his organ music and sacred choral works. In both he has harnessed fifteenth and sixteenth century polyphonic techniques to a distinctively recognisable idiom. An unusually rigorous use of motivic counterpoint, allied to a concern with the symphonic methods of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen, has found favour in Britain and also particularly in the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and Scandinavia. Francis’s style, difficult to pigeon-hole, has been compared in the press with composers as diverse as Nielsen, Barber, Janácek, Messiaen, Martin, Tippett, and even Fauré, though it could be mistaken for none of these.

Francis's growing concert output includes sonatas for violin and for 'cello (both with piano), songs, a piano quintet and a number of works for oboe (his own second instrument). In these a greater Romantic lyricism is apparent, although use of tonality remains free: one US critic has noted that in the 'Cello Sonata it "fades in and out like a radio signal, but you know it originates somewhere and is strong there".

Francis’s most ambitious works to date are his oratorio A Song on the End of the World, composed as the Elgar Commission of the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester in 1999 and The Cloud of Unknowing, written in response to a commission from the Vasari Singers celebrating their 25th anniversary. First heard a bare four months before the turning of the new Millennium, A Song on the End of the World articulates a passionate plea for world peace while exploring the Crucifixion as an event re-enacted within all the inhumanities and atrocities of successive ages. Drawing upon an immense range of poetic texts, A Song on the End of the World takes as its title that of a translated poem written in the Warsaw of 1944 by the late Czeslaw Milosz. The music is scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, orchestra and optional organ and lasts approximately seventy minutes, thus complementing the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten while projecting subtly different concerns of its own. The work made a profound impression upon a capacity audience at Worcester Cathedral on 26th August 1999 and received a five minute standing ovation.  More recently, The Cloud of Unknowing has made a large impact on the choral world, having been written as a commentary on the injustices of man's treatment of fellow man, and completed days before the 7/7 terrorist atrocities in London.  Scored for SATB choir with organ and tenor soloists, the 90-minute work has been performed and recorded (on Signum) by the Vasari Singers.

2011 heralded another major achievement, the completion of the Mass for Eight Parts, a 45-minute unaccompanied setting of the Latin Mass for double choir and soloists.  Commissioned and first performed by Commotio and Matthew Berry, the choir has recorded this exquisite exploration of C16th counterpoint onto CD, due for release on Naxos in February 2012.

Works planned for the future include a concerto for cor anglais and sinfonietta-sized orchestra, a piano concerto relating to the history and topography of the remote North Atlantic archipelago of St Kilda (a passionate interest of the composer’s), many songs, further piano music (including a set of transcendental studies), a work for brass and percussion exploring links between modern and mediaeval idioms, and a large-scale symphony, inspired in part by a 2003 visit to the 1941-1945 War Museum in Moscow and also by themes already explored in A Song on the End of the World.    Chorally, he has commissions for anthems for Donald Nally's choir The Crossing and The Traherne Association for Hereford Cathedral, a setting of the Evening canticles for Chester Cathedral, and an extended work for the Merton Choirbook, setting the words of RS Thomas.


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