Richard Blackford was born in London in 1954. Early composition lessons with Elisabeth Lutyens later led him to study composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music. Whilst still a student, he wrote his first oratorio, The Dream of the Rood, which received its first performance with the RCM Choir and Orchestra under the baton of the college's director Sir David Willcocks. Blackford received his first commissions while an assistant to Hans Werner Henze in Italy in the 1970's. His Concerto for Seven (1976), Six Sappho Settings for soprano, harp and string sextet (1976) and Sinfonie Poliziane for three orchestral groups (1977) were important works from this period. He was hailed by the Italian press as 'the brightest new star in the constellation of the European avant-garde'.
On returning to London in 1977, he established the music theatre department at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, whilst at the same time continuing his work on the opera 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. Its success, designed for performance by children and amateurs, led to a series of commissions for children. It included the Dragon Songs of Granny Chang, the opera Gawain and Ragnall and the experimental opera-in-the-round The Pig, commissioned by the Royal Opera, to a libretto by Ted Hughes. In 1983 the Royal College of Music commissioned from Blackford a work to celebrate its centenary. The result was a multimedia extravaganza, Metaphorphoses, which brought together dance, drama, music theatre and film.
During the 1980s, Blackford became increasingly involved in theatre and television. He composed incidental music for plays and a number of scores for television dramas and documentaries, including The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, The Preston Front and A Little Bit of Lippy. Following a trip to the United States in 1984, he worked on a stage musical, King, based on the life of Martin Luther King, with lyrics by Maya Angelou. Premiered in London's West End in 1990, it was revived in 1997, forming part of the celebrations to mark US President Clinton's second inauguration. The cantata Mirror of Perfection was commissioned by the Royal Ballet School and first performed at the Royal College of Music in March 1996. The conductor Ronald Corp gave this important work its first public performance shortly afterwards, at the Royal Festival Hall, with the London Choral Society and the New London Orchestra This piece draws its inspiration from a painting of the Porziuncia (the chapel where St Francis of Assisi spent much of his life). The cantata was recorded on the Sony label in August 1998 with Bo Skovhus, Ying Huang and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta under the direction of the composer.
On 17th November 2001 the world premiere was given at the Poole Arts Centre of Richard Blackford's major choral work Voices of Exile. This work was commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Poole Arts Centre. The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, the ensemble Kokoro and the Dorset Youth Choir, under the baton of Neville Creed, with soloists Christine Botes (mezzo soprano), Robert Tear (tenor) and Paul Whelan (baritone) also gave its London premiere on November 19th 2001 at the Royal Festival Hall. Voices of Exile is a major addition to the choral repertoire: the composer sets the words of dissident writers from many countries. In a programme note Richard Blackford tells us that 'Voices of Exile makes no overt political point, it tries rather to give voice to a wide-ranging group of writers who have suffered exile, prison, sometimes torture, and who can give an insight in the shared experience of the refugee. It is an uncomfortable subject, yet one which, after being introduced to the work of the Medical Foundation and Prisoners of Conscience in 2000, I decided to make the theme of my commission from the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus'. The premiere of Voices of Exile was given in aid of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund The cantata contains taped songs from Bengal, Macedonia and Somalia played in strands of counterpoint with music for chorus, soloists and instrumental ensemble which is distinctively and uncompromisingly Blackford's own. The words set in the Prelude and Epilogue of this work are from a poem by Tony Harrison.
On 17 April 2004, the composer continued his close association with the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and the Dorset Youth Chamber Choir when they gave the world premiere of his new work Reconciliation - a setting of text by Goethe for chorus and strings. This world premiere, conducted by the composer, was given at the Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, with the Dorset Youth Orchestra.
Richard Blackford's music has been performed and broadcast all over the world, and has been featured in the Adelaide, Cork, Montepulciano and Berlin Festivals. It has been recorded on Sony Classical, Decca, Argo, Warner Classics and EMI. He is the recipient of several awards including the Houston Film Festival (First Prize), the Royal Television Society Award, the Mendelssohn Scholarship and the Tagore Gold Medal. In summer 2004 Richard Blackford's Rowing in Eden, with text by Emily Dickinson, received its world premiere at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham. This major song cycle was especially commissioned by the 2004 Cheltenham Festival. In 2005 Quartz records released a CD of the canatata, Voices of Exile, conducted by David Hill and the choral piece On Another's Sorrow was commissioned and premiered by the Vasari Singers. Music by Richard Blackford is published by Novello & Co.
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