Born and educated in Aberdeen, John McLeod studied composition with Sir Lennox Berkeley and subsequently through close association with Witold Lutosławski, who became his mentor. McLeod also studied conducting with Sir Adrian Boult. He has won important awards for his compositional work, including the prestigious Guinness Prize for British composers. In 1989 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, and in both 2005 and 2010 was nominated for a BASCA British Composer Award. In 2014 he was presented with the Gold Badge of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) for services to British music.
McLeod’s brilliantly coloured orchestral and vocal music has been commissioned, performed and recorded in many countries by leading soloists and ensembles. Orchestras such as the Philharmonia, the Hallé, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (who made McLeod their Associate Composer from 1980–82), The National Youth Orchestras of Scotland (NYOS), the Orchestra of the Staatstheater, Saarbrücken, the Nashville Symphony and the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow have all featured his works. McLeod’s music has also been heard at international festivals including the BBC Proms, the Aldeburgh, Edinburgh, Canterbury and Perth festivals, the Sound Festival in Aberdeen and the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, as well as on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, BBC TV and Channel 4.
His formidable catalogue of compositions covers many musical genres – orchestral (including concertos for piano, percussion, clarinet and guitar, and three symphonic song cycles), choral works, church music, songs, instrumental and chamber music as well as scores for film and TV. Highlights include The Gokstad Ship (commissioned by NYOS and played by them all over Scandinavia), seven performances of his Percussion Concerto played by Evelyn Glennie in the UK and in the USA, and a revival of the latter work by international soloist Colin Currie in a stunning performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Yasuo Ishikawa. Peter Donohoe premiered McLeod’s Piano Concerto at the Perth Festival, Benjamin Luxon was the soloist in The Seasons of Dr Zhivago (an RSNO commission), and Jane Manning sang The Whispered Name with the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s direction. More recently, his ‘little Chinese opera’ Thrashing the Sea God was performed at London’s Tête à Tête Opera Festival.
Secure in his sustained productivity, McLeod at the age of eighty goes from strength to strength, his output in recent years a torrent of activity ranging from the Guitar Concerto (2010) to the mock expressionism of the song cycle Fearful Tales (2012); from his Fantasy on themes from Britten’s ‘Gloriana’ (2012) for guitar to the verve and virtuosity of Piano Sonata No 5 (2013), with which Murray McLachlan is at present touring the world. Major performances have also increased dramatically and in 2014 his music was heard at the St Magnus and Aldeburgh festivals as well as at the BBC Proms, where he scored a great personal success with the London premiere of The Sun Dances, played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Donald Runnicles. Amongst his latest commissions is a solo percussion work for Dame Evelyn Glennie in her 50th-birthday year.