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Celebrating his 80th birthday in February, Karl Jenkins conducts the 3000th performance of The Armed Man at the Royal Albert Hall on 10 March, followed by a UK tour. His recent saxophone concerto Stravaganza for Jess Gillam receives its UK premiere in Swansea and Jenkins is featured on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.

The 80th birthday of Karl Jenkins, one of the world’s most performed living composers, is celebrated on 17 February. The following month sees the composer embarking on a UK tour, launched at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 10 March. The concert marks the 3000th performance of Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, which has travelled the world since its premiere at the turn of the millennium. The programme also features the UK concert premiere of music from his recent work One World. The tour travels on to Glasgow (17 March), Birmingham (30 March), Nottingham (6 April), Cardiff (13 April) and Manchester (14 April), all conducted by Jenkins.

> Details of the UK tour

Together with his global ‘cross-genre’ phenomenon Adiemus (1995), Jenkins’s best-known work is The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (2000), which is now achieving the landmark of 3000 performances around the globe. Commissioned by the Royal Armouries for the millennium, The Armed Man is based on the 15th century French poem, L’homme armé, and remains a powerful and moving reflection on the horror of war and its consequences. Particularly memorable events within the 3000 have included a performance in New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and in 2018 Jenkins conducted the work at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin with the World Orchestra for Peace and a choir of 2000 from 30 countries, commemorating 100 years since the end of World War I. As well as the classic Decca recording of the version with full orchestra, a new recording of the ensemble version has just been released by Signum Records in honour of the composer’s 80th birthday.

Jenkins’s most recent large-scale work is One World (2022), also included on the UK tour programme, which deals with a fractured world, heralding a vision of a peaceful and egalitarian planet. The recording was released by Decca Records last summer, going straight to number one in the UK Classical chart, and the work’s concert premiere was presented at the Brucknerhaus in Linz in November by the World Choir for Peace and the World Orchestra for Peace with contributions from the Stay at Home Choir and soloists Roderick Williams and Ruby Hughes. One World’s US premiere is scheduled for January 2025 at a Carnegie Hall concert presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York.

The 80th birthday month also brings the UK premiere of Jenkins’s saxophone concerto Stravaganza (2019), written for and performed by star saxophonist Jess Gillam, at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea on 29 February. The piece was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and explores themes of carnival and extravagant fantasy, inspired by Gillam’s experience of learning the saxophone with her local carnival band. After a sequence of COVID-related postponements Gillam finally gave the world premiere of Stravaganza in June 2023 at the Philharmonie in Berlin. The St David’s Day concert in Swansea with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under conductor Nil Venditti also includes Jenkins’s cantata Dewi Sant exploring the life and work of the patron saint of Wales, sung by the BBC National Chorus of Wales and National Youth Choir of Wales.

> Stravaganza in Swansea

BBC Radio 3 presents five programmes about Karl Jenkins’s life and music in its Composer of the Week series, scheduled to be broadcast on 12-16 February, the week before the composer’s 80th birthday. Donald Macleod discusses with the composer his musical roots, his performing life with jazz fusion group Soft Machine, his work in advertising, and his much-loved choral works and concertos. Special features are also planned on Classic FM in the build up to the birthday including an interview and highlights from recordings and performances, followed by a Jenkins feature within the Classic FM Live concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 22 April.

> Karl Jenkins: Composer of the Week

>  Further information on Work: Stravaganza

Photo: Rhys Frampton

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