Janet Owen Thomas (1961-2002)
Janet Owen Thomas leapt to prominence with the UK premier of Rosaces
at the 1991 BBC Proms, where she was the youngest composer featured
that year. The work has now been performed in over a dozen countries
Born on Merseyside of Welsh and German parentage, Janet
Owen Thomas was already composing actively when she entered Merchant
Taylors Girls School, before reading music at St. Hugh’s College Oxford
where her teachers included Jane Glover and later Robert Saxton (composition).
In 1984 a James Ingham Halstead Scholarship took her to Hamburg to continue
her studies with Ligeti: it was also the year she received the commission
for Rosaces from the distinguished German organist Johannes Geffert.
With her return to the UK, requests for new works and a developing career
as a concert organist with recitals throughout Britain allowed her to
follow her passions of composition and performing well into the ‘90s
when the demands of composing, teaching (privately, at the Minster School
York, later at the music department of Huddersfield University), and
ill health increasingly forced playing to take a back seat.
Following the premier of her choral New and Better
Days, commissioned to mark the opening of Liverpool’s new Tate Gallery,
she spent a year reading for a degree in Music Technology at York University
before taking advanced composition studies with Anthony Gilbert at the
Royal Northern College of Music. It was at this time that she developed
an interest in fractals, on which she has written a number of articles.
In 1992 she wrote her Concerto Grosso Cantus for Bang-on-a-Can
(the only British work scheduled for that year’s festival), subsequently
performed at the Goldberg Ensemble’s Contemporary series at the RNCM,
at Manchester University and broadcast by R3, leading to the series
of small ensemble works which have been extensively performed and broadcast.
Always structurally based, her work is seldom purely
abstract in concept, but often employs intellectual processes and disciplined
form to shape and clarify ideas that find their stimuli in extra-musical
inspirational areas. She was active in many musical genres with a special
affinity and flair for ensemble and solo, particularly vocal, writing
- qualities combined in Under
the Skin (a BBC Commission for the 1999 Huddersfield Festival
of Contemporary music), and the strong rhythmic and harmonic sense that
permeates the Preludes for piano of which a selection
was premiered in London in 2000.
Widely performed in the UK, Janet Owen Thomas is
perhaps better-known overseas, and enjoyed recent performances in the
US, Germany, France, Denmark, Spain and Eire. In Britain she was commissioned
or performed by The BBC, Goldberg Ensemble, Park Lane Group, the Allegri
and Bingham Quartets, Gemini, Boccherini String Trio, Stephen De Pledge,
Mary Wiegold, Lontano, Kevin Bowyer, The Option Band and others. She
lived and worked in York dividing her time among teaching, writing and
composition; at the time of her sudden death in June 2002 she was about
to embark on a commission for a concertante for organ, strings and percussion.