Karl Jenkins | Biography

Biography

Karl Jenkins, 2013
Karl Jenkins’s Adiemus project has been called pop music in Germany, and ‘healing music’ in Japan. The Welsh composer has said that he is not interested in how to classify his works, but writes from instinct and feeling. As one who has written music for advertising, he also knows what sells. His choral music shares certain qualities with new-age mood-music, while implying something vaguely spiritual. Born in Swansea, South Wales, Jenkins took early lessons in music from his father, a school teacher, organist and choirmaster who introduced him to Bach’s organ music, religious choral music, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Initially a pianist, Jenkins played oboe in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales before training at Cardiff University and studying oboe and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1976, he took up the saxophone and began working as a jazz musician at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. A fan of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans, he initially made his living in jazz, co-founding the award-winning jazz-rock group Nucleus, before going on to join the progressive rock band, Soft Machine, which embraced a variety of styles, from jazz to minimalism.   In the 1980s, Jenkins turned his attention to writing music for advertising, helping to create some of the industry’s winning campaigns. He provided a catchy French violin theme for the Renault Clio commercials, sourced Motown for the famous Levi’s launderette-based commercial, and created spiritual-sounding vocal music with an entirely made-up language for Delta Airlines. He turned to writing larger works, initially with his choir-and-orchestra work Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary. Begun in 1994, some of its material was given its first airing on the Delta commercial, drawing on ethnic percussion instruments with the aim of creating a global sound. The album went on to sell over a million copies worldwide, and Adiemus II, Cantata Mundi, featured on the Cheltenham & Gloucester ad campaign, too, topped the classical crossover chart. Jenkins would go on to enjoy success with three further Adiemus albums – Dances of Time, The Eternal Knot and Vocalise – and with his Requiem, which topped the classical charts in 2005. His recording of The Armed Man, another emotive work for strings and choir which promoted peace, went gold, selling more than 100,000 copies, and has since been performed in 20 different countries. Among Jenkins’s other works are a harp concerto, commissioned by the Prince of Wales for harpist Catrin Finch, a Stabat Mater and The Peacemakers, based upon texts from historical figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Mother Teresa.