In 1995, as a newly appointed composer-in-residence at Birmingham's
Talk to musicians, colleagues and friends about Weir and the same words come up time and time again. Integrity. Thoughtfulness. Generosity. Radiance. Clarity. Wit. And privacy. Weir, 60, is a composer who despite a huge body of work that ranges from grand operas to piano concertos to songs for children has never sought the limelight.
"She's not naturally a public figure, but everything she says is extremely considered and valuable," says the Southbank Centre's head of classical music,
"She would be the perfect choice. She really thinks about the place of music in the world. She's a composer who works very much on her own but has demonstrated that she absolutely has a commitment to involving a wide range of people in everything that she does."
"As a composer you feel very much on the edge - even of the classical music world," Weir told an interviewer in 2008. "But I don't mind that. I think it appeals to my temperament."
The palace is neither confirming nor denying the appointment, news of which leaked out at the weekend, but sources in the classical music world confirmed that she had accepted the position. An announcement will be made "in due course", at which point it will also be made clear whether Weir, like her predecessor
Weir is no stranger to royal approval. In 2007 she was the first (and remains the only) composer to be awarded the Queen's medal for music, while her name was one of those mentioned even in 2004 when a successor to
The post has been in existence since 1625, when Charles I made
"She's passionate about music education but I can't imagine her waving a big flag and politicising anything," says her longtime publisher,
Weir was born in
A music degree at
"She's a very private person. That was apparent even when she was an undergraduate, says Holloway. "Her music is made up of very spare, beautiful images, precise and delicate. She's very exact. As the pieces developed and as she grew into her full nature I saw that she was something very special."
Storyteller and novelist Vayu Naidu has known Weir since the two collaborated in 1997. She was very struck by how Weir "encouraged the musicians to listen to the stories, to inhabit their space, before playing the music she'd written. It wasn't just about coming in on tune," says Naidu. "Judith's silences could be very communicative too."
Weir's quietly held principles extend to living in an environmentally friendly way. She bikes around
"She is actively engaged with a wider cultural life in a way that I find very inspiring," says
Weir's feeling for language and her alertness to other cultures, both high and low, were evident from the outset. "She was very interested in unusual texts and poems. I used to put things her way that sometimes she used," says Holloway. "She has a very special feeling for words and atmosphere and mood."
Her sources are voraciously eclectic, united simply by the desire to tell stories. Chinese opera, 11th-century Taoist texts, Scottish traditional music and folklore,
"You don't so much interview
Friends and colleagues say Weir has a gift for communication that will be invaluable in the role. "I'm always impressed when I see her standing in front of crowds of people talking about her work. There's no smoke and mirrors," says Graham. Eastburn agrees. "She's one of the best communicators I've ever met about music."
"She's like her music," says Newbould. "Both have an economy, a directness. But there's an enchanted quality to her music that is in her. It's like northern European light. It's clear, it's absolutely communicative."
Central to Weir's musical life is her support of her fellow musicians and her outreach work. "She's very supportive of her younger colleagues, and collegiate and generous with her time and skills," says Eastburn.
Weir has been a muse to many younger composers, women particularly, but neither she nor her colleagues will be comfortable with headlines that will inevitably focus on her gender. "I've only ever seen her say that she's a composer who happens to be a woman. She's supportive of other women composers, but the only thing that's been important is that she's an really original fresh voice," says Moore.
"The important thing about Judith is not that she's a woman but that she's a fantastic composer and a great spokesperson for music," adds Eastburn.
The appointment will bring greater - and overdue - exposure to Weir's enormously accessible compositions. "People who think they don't like contemporary music will be surprised," says Moore. "She'll make the role her own," says Eastburn. "She'll be a strong advocate for music education and for a broader range of people having music in their lives.
"And I'm sure she'll write some wonderful music that will charm and delight many, and maybe mystify a few."
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