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David Lancaster is a composer whose work has been performed, recorded and broadcast internationally.


Born in Wigan (UK), David Lancaster first encountered contemporary music when as a young cornet player he took part in a performance of Harrison Birtwistle's 'Grimethorpe Aria' at a brass band summer school. Music studies at York and Cambridge Universities and at Dartington Summer School (with Peter Maxwell Davies) followed, along with a period as Composer-in-Residence at Charterhouse. He gained a number of important awards including Lloyds Bank Young Composer Award, Michael Tippett Award, LCM Centenary Prize and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Composer Award; the Parke Ensemble presented a London concert series of his work and in May 2011 there was a major retrospective concert devoted to his work at York St John University.

David’s recent work includes music for choir, string quartet and several song cycles, such as Memory of Place (which sets poetry by the York-based poet Daniela Nunnari and which has recently been issued on CD on the Meridian label).  David’s choral work Fallen, originally composed for a performance in Canterbury Cathedral, was used in a documentary made for Sky Television and later became part of the Vestiges of Spirituality multimedia installation.

In 2014 his work was heard around the UK and also as far afield as Hong Kong and the USA.  A particular highlight was the premiere performance of the large-scale choral work Apocalypse, sung by The 24 under the direction of Robert Hollingworth on June 14th.  


In 2015 Strike was premiered in Hong Kong and Strata was recorded in the Czech Republic, for release on the Ablaze label; in 2016 Apocalypse was performed in Copenhagen by the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble, and Late Music featured two new pieces: Hiraeth (for the Albany Piano Trio) and Breathless (for brass quintet).

2017 saw the first American performance of Fallen and the premiere of The Dark Gate, a song cycle for Peyee Chen and Kate Ledger based on the words of David Vogel who perished at Auschwitz in 1944; Gentle  (for soprano and marimba) was released on CD by PercusSing. In March 2018 the Delta Saxophone Quartet released a new recording of Swan.

In 2018 David completed a large-scale collaborative project Music of a Thousand Breaths with poet Abi Curtis (performed in July amongst the extensive medieval wall paintings in Pickering Church which inspired them) and a major choral/orchestral setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets for the Oxford Harmonic Choir, which received its premiere performance in June 2019.  2019 also saw the first performance of Rendez-vous for saxophone quartet and film, part of the Delta Sax Quartet's Arts Council Funded 'Project Flix'.

During the coronavirus crisis of 2020 David was commissioned by Harrogate International Festival to create a new work for brass, to be recorded remotely and performed online: Eclipse has so far attracted more than 100 performers from all around the world, and it has since attracted many live performances.

2021 saw the first performances of Feathers, by the Elysian Singers (who subsequently recorded the piece for CD) and Before I fall asleep, the city, again... for flute, viola and harp, which received its first London performance by Trilogy Ensemble at St. James Church, Piccadilly.  The highlight of 2022 was a performance by Ex Corde Vocal Ensemble of At the Edge of the World, a second collaboration with Abi Curtis based on the life of Emma Raughton, an anchoress who lived in 14th century York. This busy year also included a first performance of Au Lapin Agile and the revival of Of Trumpets and Angels, now in a new version for soprano, choir and brass band.

In 2016 David successfully completed PhD in Composition at University of York (supervised by Prof. Roger Marsh). He is Associate Professor of Composition at York St John University  and Musical Director of York Railway Institute Band.

Since 2019 David's music has been published by UYMP.



What carved a more specific profile and won the laurels was David Lancaster's Ricercare... a significant piece. His command of brass vocabulary is broad but beautifully precise - a genuinely idiomatic piece of work. (Michael John White, The Independent)


Echoes from a Phantom City for flute, viola, and harp is an intriguingly different conception — a grave little processional of interacting musical images, somehow much more imposing than its small dimensions and gentle scoring would imply.  (Malcolm Hayes, Tempo)


David Lancaster…used the difficult medium with bold ingenuity.  (John Martin, The Guardian)


Long melancholic lines were tastefully placed with more rhythmic material in this heartfelt piece. This was the highlight of the evening. (Martin Scheuregger, York Press)


Lancaster’s piece was one of nobly fashioned melodies becoming fractured and frenzied, then quiet in portrayal of madness and death.  (Paul Griffiths, The Times)


David Lancaster’s cleverly-planned Six Downie Nocturnes…combined a deep melancholy with evanescent bursts of inspiration. (Martin Dreyer, York Press)


The clarinet and piano duo … radiated a consistent brightness in David Lancaster’s punchily spirited, tough Seconds into Infinity.  (Stephen Pettitt, The Times)


David Lancaster’s intriguing Bliss, to words from an old English carol, brought an enigmatic dissonance to its title word and omens of the Passion to “in excelsis gloria”. (Martin Dreyer, York Press)


David Lancaster’s Swan was a very impressive work. The opening had a mysterious, almost elemental sound that was very distinctive. The transition to a funky, driven last section was as pleasing as it was unexpected. (York Mix)


David Lancaster’s After Ophelia was an intensely dramatic piece, well constructed, and given an absorbing, thoughtful performance.  (Michael Tumelty, The Scotsman)


David Lancaster’s Snow / Dance took Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing as its source material.  The resulting score wove a series of intricate variants on the original material rather than departing too far from the source.  Lancaster’s own idiom eventually came into focus but the transition was effected subtly and with considerable panache.  In the upper reaches of the keyboard and sounding like a distant chiming of bells, the final section was especially evocative.   (Paul Conway, Musical Opinion)

The three songs of David Lancaster's Memory of Place (2010) are atmospheric evocations of mood. Lancaster is unafraid of using contrast, fragmentation and silence, together with a wide frame of musical reference - Bartokian counterpoint in the first song, borrowed fragments of Bach in the second, and an allusion to Schubert and the lieder tradition in the most directly tonal of the songs. The piano writing, always sensitive to the vocal line, contrasts and effectively layers the musical material through imaginative use of registers. (Timothy Raymond, Tempo,  January 2013)

Each of the new numbers is a winner, notably David Lancaster’s ‘Confound Winter’, exhorting us to ‘melt occasional snow’. (, December 2018)

David Lancaster's 'Angelus' was inspired by a poem of the same name by Bret Harte that features 'bells of the past, whose long-forgotten music still fills the wide expanse'. This introspective, directly communicative music perfectly captures confinement's slow passage of time'. (Paul Conway, Musical Opinion, December 2020)

Song of Light by David Lancaster is a different matter altogether.  Juxtaposed verses from Isaiah and St John's Gospel provide an ideal text for lilting phrases ... with delicious harmonic shifts at the ends of those phrases. The delicate accompaniment is perfectly judged.  In this anthem the composer has built a lovely little house from very few bricks.  (Jeremy Jackman, Choir and Organ Magazine, February 2021) 

This (Gently, for SATB choir) is a work of considerable sophistication and depth. Musically sophisticated, the  extraordinary fleeting harmonic clashes, which might sound quite dissonant on certain combinations of instruments, are here to be savoured.  (David Ashworth, New Music Cafe, September 2021)

Contemporary pieces written specifically for saxophone quartet both wowed and enchanted. They included David Lancaster’s ‘Swan’, with its serene soprano voice floating above a sub-marine tenor and baritone. (John Hargreaves Blog, January 2020)

Fell was an impressive piece – distinctive, memorable and extremely well written for the forces involved. (Steve Crowther,, February 2023)

David Lancaster is based in York and his wonderfully titled Hell's Bells Bagatelles, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2022) was influenced by the pealing and tolling sounds of the city's Minster bells and the change ringing patterns used by bell ringers. Due in part, perhaps, to the resounding nature of its source of inspiration, Hell's Bells Bagatelles was by far the most aptly festive and jubilant of all the items scheduled in this avowedly celebratory event. Lifting the audience's spirits with a welcome burst of good cheer, David Lancaster's short pieces ranged from classical elegance and tango-like playfulness to punchy rhythmic drive. It was rewarded with a first performance of heart and attention to detail by the Gemini players. (Paul Conway, Musical Opinion April 2023)

After a gentle introduction positing ruminative, widely spaced woodwind phrases, the main section of Au Lapin Agile was quick and lively, driven by fleet, hocketing rhythms. After a climax was reached, the measured phrases from the opening returned to close in an atmosphere of serene stillness. The Lapins presented a relaxed and flowing account of this finely wrought, satisfyingly well-balanced score. (Paul Conway, Musical Opinion April 2023)

All three of the works on this recording of choral music by David Lancaster are distinctive, unique, even. The middle work is a richly coloured setting of the Magnificat. Unlike the other two larger works, Magnificat is, of course, a well-established evensong canticle. However, Lancaster’s setting is explorative. The well-known words provide a firm foundation, but his musical lines and harmonies are like a sunlit stained-glass window. Glowing colours tell a story way beyond what is depicted by the familiar words.

The other two pieces are extraordinary, particularly in their subject matter. Apocalypse uses a text based upon a middle English poem Pricke of Conscience. It is also inspired by 15 panels in All Saints Church in North Street York, depicting the end of the world. Lancaster himself describes his piece as ‘one’s own disaster movie’.

At the Edge of the World was also inspired by something regarding the history of All Saints Church. This is the story of Emma Raughton, an anchoress, who lived in two small rooms in that church in the 14th century. The text for this work comes from three different sources, a modern poem by York based writer Abi Curtis, Ancrene Wisse, described as a ‘Guide for Anchoresses’ and in Latin, the lines of the Magnificat. The three sources are interspersed and interwoven throughout the work.

The chorus Ex Corde are amazing. Lancaster’s music requires perfect tuning and precise a cappella singing. In Apocalypse we pass through the fifteen days to the end of the world, often going back and forth through the days. Luminous harmonies, soaring melismas sung by Anna Snow and two other sopranos are blended with whispers, sprechstimme and spoken words from members of the chorus. This can sometimes seem chaotic but is a deliberate expressive technique used by the composer for this alarming subject.

In At the Edge of the World texts are not followed precisely, the words are an inspiration. We follow Emma Raughton to the end of her life. The result is quite moving. Male and female singers and soloist Anna Snow are used with colour and rich expressiveness to lead us into a world which I had never before imagined could exist. It was a revelation!

(Alan Cooper - British Music Society, November 2023)

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