Sir Karl Jenkins is one of the most performed living composers in the world. The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace alone has been performed close to 3000 times in 50 different countries since the recording was released and in 2023 gained the unique status of having achieved ‘1000 Weeks’ in the UK Classical chart, while his recorded output has resulted in 17 gold and platinum disc awards.
He was born in Wales and educated at Gowerton Grammar School before reading music at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He then commenced postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London.
It was in jazz that he initially made his mark. In those days of ‘Jazz Polls’ he was a prolific poll winner, playing at London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s club before co-forming Nucleus, which won first prize at the Montreux jazz festival and appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island.
This was followed by a period with Soft Machine, one of the seminal bands of the ‘70s. Through many incarnations, ‘Softs’ defied categorization playing venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, the classical ‘Proms’ at the Royal Albert Hall, and the Reading ‘Rock’ Festival.
In the field of advertising music he has won the prestigious D&AD award for best music [twice], the ‘Creative Circle Gold’ and several ‘Clios’ [New York] and ‘Golden Lions’ [Cannes]. Credits include Levi’s, British Airways, Renault, Volvos, C&G, Tag Heuer, Pepsi as well as US/global campaigns for De Beers and Delta Airlines and Bafta ‘gongs’ for his scores for the documentaries The Celts and Testament.
After this period as a media composer, his return to the music mainstream was initially marked by the success of the Adiemus project. Adiemus, combining the ‘classical’ with global vocal sounds and percussion with an invented language, topped classical and ‘pop’ charts around the world.
His output includes the harp concerto Over The Stone commissioned by King Charles III (when Prince of Wales) for the Royal Harpist, Catrin Finch, Euphonium Concerto for David Childs, the concertante Quirk commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sir Colin Davis, Tlep written for virtuoso violinist Marat Bisengaliev and based on Kazakh themes and In These Stones Horizons Sing, featuring Sir Bryn Terfel and Catrin Finch with the WNO Orchestra & Chorus, which was premiered at the Royal Gala opening of the Welsh Millennium Centre in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. Most recently his new saxophone concerto Stravaganza was premiered by Jess Gillam and the Deutschen Symphonie-Orchester at the Berlin Philharmonie in June 2023.
In the summer of 2005 he scored the feature film, River Queen starring Kiefer Sutherland and Samantha Morton, the soundtrack of which won the Golden Goblet award for best score at the Shanghai Film Festival.
Recording releases include Requiem, “Kiri Sings Karl” with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, This Land Of Ours with the award-winning Cory Band and Only Men Aloud, the Easter themed Stabat Mater, Quirk, a collection of concertos which includes La Folia, commissioned by Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Christmas themed Stella Natalis, and The Peacemakers. Releases on Deutsche Grammophon include Adiemus Colores with a Latin American theme and guest artists including tenor Rolando Villazón and guitarist Milos Karadaglic, Motets featuring a collection of choral arrangements sung by Polyphony conducted by Stephen Layton and Cantata Memoria, a reflection on the tragic loss of children in the Aberfan disaster of 1966. His most recent recordings on Decca are Symphonic Adiemus, an SATB version with orchestra of the iconic work, which reached No1 in the Classical Artist Albums Chart, a Piano Album with the composer at the keyboard and Miserere featuring Iestyn Davies, Polyphony and Britten Sinfonia conducted by Stephen Layton. His latest recording, One World, performed by the World Choir for Peace and the World Orchestra for Peace, was released by Decca in July 2023.
In 2004 Karl Jenkins entered Classic FM’s ‘Hall of Fame” at No8, the highest position for a living composer, as well as in 2006 ranking No4 amongst British composers. In 2015 he was confirmed as the most popular living composer in Classic FM’s ‘Ultimate Hall of Fame’. In 2023 The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace was placed fifth in the Hall of Fame and in a list of Great British Classics – in both cases the highest position of a living composer - and was selected to represent the decade 2000-2009 in BBC Radio 3’s Soundscape of a Century.
As a conductor, Karl has appeared on the rostrum in the Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall in London, the Welsh Millennium Centre and St David’s Hall in Cardiff, and Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, as well as conducting performances of his music as far afield as Johannesburg, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Beijing (The Forbidden City Concert Hall) and Tokyo. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, highlights from Karl’s The Armed Man: a Mass for Peace and Adiemus were performed and recorded by over 6000 members of the Stay at Home Choir from 72 countries.
Karl holds a D.Mus [Doctor of Music] degree from the University of Wales, has been made both a Fellow and an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, where a room has been named in his honour, and has fellowships at Cardiff University, Swansea University, the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Trinity College Carmarthen, Swansea Metropolitan University and was also presented by Classic FM with the ‘Red f’ award for ‘outstanding service to classical music’. Further awards include an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Leicester, the Chancellors Medal from the University of Glamorgan and two Honorary visiting Professorships, one at Thames Valley University/London College of Music and the other at the ATriUM, Cardiff.
In November 2009 he was given the Cymru For The World Award and in March 2010 was honoured with the Hopkins Medal given by the St David’s Society for the State of New York. He has been personally decorated by the Presidents of Hungary and Kosovo. He has been the subject of the ITV South Bank Show by Lord [Melvyn] Bragg as well as being a ‘castaway’ on ‘Desert Island Discs’. Karl is a Freeman of the City of London and of Swansea.
Karl Jenkins was awarded a Knighthood in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours for “services to composing and crossing musical genres”. His autobiography Still with the Music was published by Elliott & Thompson in September 2015. Tros y Garreg from the harp concerto Over the Stone was included in music for the Coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey in May 2023. His music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes and he records for Decca.
“As a composer he recognises no boundaries – musical, commercial, geographical, or cultural. His is a way of thinking and composing that is perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times” – citation on receiving CFM’s ‘Red f’ award for ‘outstanding service to classical music’.