John Hopkins came to composition via an unusual route, involving a series of rock bands working the pub and club circuits of South-Eastern England in the late 1960s, and as a member of a parish choir, singing in turn treble, alto, tenor and finally bass parts. His musical education progressed through University College Cardiff, where his teachers included Alun Hoddinott, David Wynne and Arnold Whittall, and the Dartington Summer Schools, where he took part in the composition classes run by Peter Maxwell Davies. Early works such as Four Songs from Ariel and Round were commissioned and performed at the Cardiff Festival of 20th Century Music, while Angelus was written for the Cardiff Composers’ Ensemble, of which he was a founder member.
After leaving university, Hopkins worked for two years as Music Co-ordinator of the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, before becoming composer-in-residence for the Eastern Arts Association. During this time, a number of important works were written: The Cloud of Unknowing, commissioned by Peter Maxwell Davies for the Fires of London, and The Magic Mountain for the Swiss pianist, Charles Dobler. This large concertante piece for piano and orchestra brought international acclaim at the ISCM Festival in Aarhus, Denmark, as part of a concert curated by Hans Werner Henze. This work was taken up by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with Stephen Pruslin as soloist, and a number of BBC commissions followed: White Winter, Black Spring (first given at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival by Martyn Hill, Henry Herford and the Lontano Ensemble conducted by Odaline dela Martinez), Aquamarine for pianist Philip Mead, and Faustus, a 50-minute symphonic work written for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
His Double Concerto for trumpet, saxophone and orchestra was commissioned by John Wallace and first performed by him with John Harle and the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by the late Richard Hickox. This brought to a conclusion a triptych comprising Sinfonia (which had also been conducted by Hickox for a BBC recording), Concerto da Camera and Double Concerto. Hopkins then decided to work towards a DPhil with Martin Butler at Sussex University, which was awarded in 2000 for a portfolio of works that included The Floating World, an exploration of the microcosmic world of the haiku, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, first performed by Olivia Ray and conducted by Peter Britton. Recent works include Akhmatova Songs, commissioned for the University of Hertfordshire’s Mayfest, and included on a CD of vocal works performed by Olivia Robinson, a vibrant soprano soloist with the BBC Singers, and released on the UHR label in 2009. Piano Trio and Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano explore new concepts of non-linear formal structures, while Disjunct Variations, for solo piano, was written for a BAMA concert at the University of Montevallo, Alabama, in September 2012, where it was given by the brilliant young American pianist, Adam Bowles. Since then, Hopkins has composed Broken Forms for string orchestra and 3 percussionists (in memory of his parents), a Cello Sonata, and is currently writing a Flute Sonata and a new work for solo tenor and 14 instruments based on Dante’s La Vita Nuova.
In 2009, John Hopkins joined the Faculty of Music at Cambridge University, where he is Director of Undergraduate Studies, and also runs a weekly Composers’ Workshop for the thriving composing scene at a department whose alumni include George Benjamin and Thomas Adès. After an early association with Schirmer, his music has been published by Ricordi London since 1986.