Stephen McNeff

Irish born composer Stephen McNeff grew up in South Wales, where an inspirational teacher awoke his interest in music.  After studying composition at the Royal Academy of Music, his career started by working in theatres throughout Britain, followed by a period in Canada where his posts included composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre. Recognition has come steadily; a decade ago McNeff’s name would be known mainly in theatre circles through his film noir operatic version of The Wasteland (1994), his many scores for the Unicorn Theatre (including a highly successful Beatrix Potter Suite in 2002), or among windband fraternities for Ghosts (2001).  However, from the première of his opera for young people Clockwork in 2004, based on Philip Pullman’s book, at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, and his appointment the following year to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as the first Royal Philharmonic Society/Performing Right Society Foundation Composer in the House, his reputation has gone from strength to strength.    

McNeff’s theatrical work has continued to flourish with the operas Gentle Giant (2007), commissioned by the Royal Opera, and Tarka (2005-6) which won a coveted British Composer Award for Best Stage Work in 2007. His new orchestration for smaller forces of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (2009) received plaudits galore and his opera-oratorio The Chalk Legend, composed for Kokoro, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music ensemble and community music forces, to mark the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in Dorset, was premiered in Portland and performed in London. Also in 2012 his music-theatre work, The Secret Garden (1985, revised 2012) was revived in a critically praised new production in London by Trinity Laban and in Canada by the Banff Festival.  Other recent works include ConcertO Duo, premiered at the 80th birthday concert of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2010, and a work for dance, Seven for a Secret (based on the music of Ravel) was premiered by Rambert Dance in 2011.  2014 saw concertos for flute and oboe (the latter as part of his residency at the Presteigne Festival) and a highly successful new version of Bizet’s Carmen for Mid Wales Opera.

Recent works have included A Half Darkness for Chamber Choir Ireland (on the Centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising), and Eden Rock - a BBC Radio 3 commission for tenor Mark Padmore and guitarist Morgan Szymanski.  His most recent opera, Banished, was premiered in London in June 2016 to widespread acclaim and plans for future productions. 

This year his new opera commissioned by Welsh National Opera and the Welsh TV channel S4C will be seen internationally on the Opera Platform.

He has given seminars, led courses and held residencies at many music colleges and conservatoires in the UK, Canada, the USA and Ireland.  His Composers Studio programme has been extremely successful at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music, The Academy of Music at the University of Slovenia in Ljubljana and, over the last three summers, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s summer opera programme in Fontainebleau, France.