Robert Fokkens is a South African composer based in the UK. His work explores a range of influences from traditional South African music to 20th- and 21st-century experimental music, via jazz, electronic dance music and the classical canon, creating a music characterised by twisted cycles, rhythmic energy, and microtonal inflections. The Times has described his work as being “fascinating”, “imaginatively orchestrated” and having its “own engaging quirkiness”.
In 2021, Robert’s work was premiered by the Riot Ensemble, David Adams (violin) and Alice Neary (cello) at the Penarth Chamber Music Festival, and the Villiers Quartet. His mixed octet Lavernock Loops was broadcast on the BBC Radio 3 New Music Show in a pre-recorded studio performance by UPROAR. A film of his monodrama Bhekizizwe featuring baritone Themba Mvula was premiered by Opera’r Ddraig as part of the BBC Wales/Festival of Voice Gwyl 2021 online festival, and a recording of his 2002 orchestral score Journeys (Uhambo Olunintsi), by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Miguel Harth-Bedoya was released on Naxos, and described by BBC Classical Music magazine as “joyously polyrhythmic”.
2022 sees new works for guitarist Sam Cave and Music Theatre Wales being developed, performed and recorded, as well as an Arts Council Wales-funded tour of Wales for Bhekizizwe. Other projects include premiere recordings of glimpses of a half-forgotten future by the Signum Quartet and works for string trio by the Karolos Ensemble, the world premiere of On Dancing and Quietude for solo piano in the UK, performances of works for quartertone flute in Germany, a repeat performance of Pier Music in Cardiff, and the world premiere of new orchestrations of Soshanguve Dances at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival.
In past seasons, Robert’s work has been performed in major venues in the UK (including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and Royal Festival Hall), South Africa, Australia, the USA, Japan, and across Europe. He has received commissions from the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust, Arts Council Ireland, the PRS Foundation, Cape Town Opera, the SAMRO Foundation, the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, and the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. Performers of his orchestral music include conductors Pierre-André Valade, Gérard Korsten, Kenneth Woods and Tim Murray, and orchestras such as the South African National Youth Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and English Symphony Orchestra. Other musicians and ensembles who have performed his music include violinists Ernst Kovacic, Darragh Morgan, Harriet Mackenzie, Lucy Gould, and Philippa Mo; cellists Oliver Coates, Richard Lester and Robin Michael; singers Ian Partridge, Claire Booth, Sarah Dacey and Patricia Rozario; flautists Liesl Stoltz and Carla Rees; and ensembles such as the Carducci, Armida and Capriccio Quartets, Fidelio and Fibonacci trios, rarescale, New Juilliard Ensemble, EXAUDI, juice vocal trio, Tête à Tête Opera, and Chroma.
His music is published by Composers Edition and Tetractys Publishing, and his debut CD of chamber music – Tracing Lines – is available on the Métier label. The violin concerto An Eventful Morning Near East London was released on Nimbus in 2017, garnering a range of excellent reviews, BBC Music Magazine describing it as “exquisitely crafted…an arresting work”. His music has also been released on Orchid, Naxos, Herald, Prima Facie, TUTL and Foundry labels, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio, Swedish Radio P2, Portuguese Radio Antena 2, and various South African radio stations.
Robert is Reader in composition at Cardiff University, and regularly gives masterclasses and presentations on his work at other institutions in the UK, Ireland and South Africa. He was composer-in-residence for the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival 2017, NewMusicSA Indabas in 2008 and 2015, Festival Capriccio-en-Maine 2017, and for the South African National Youth Orchestra Courses in 2005 and 2013. He is Course Director of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival’s Peter Reynolds Composers Studio. Robert studied at the University of Cape Town and at the Royal Academy of Music, also holding the Manson Fellowship at the RAM in 2001-2002. He completed his PhD at the University of Southampton in 2007, where he was supervised by Michael Finnissy, and n 2014 was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.
Robert is an experienced conductor, currently working as director and conductor of the Cardiff University Contemporary Music Group. With this ensemble he recorded “Only Breath”, a CD of contemporary Welsh choral music for the Ty Cerdd label in 2018, and gave world premiere performances of two recently-discovered early works by Peter Maxwell Davies in December 2021. In 2021 he conducted two of the world premiere recordings for the National Youth Orchestra of Wales’s NYOW75 anniversary project, as well as conducting the world premiere film of his opera Bhekizizwe.
Two Songs on texts by Ibn al-Arabi