Stephen McNeff studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and did post-graduate research at the University of Exeter. He has composed for opera, music theatre and drama in the UK, the USA and Canada. He was Composer in Residence at the Banff Centre, and worked with Comus Music Theatre and the Canadian Opera Company. His music has won awards in Toronto and the Edinburgh Festival, and he has been widely performed and recorded in the UK and Europe, Singapore, Japan and North America. His collaborations span a broad range of music making, from the Canadian Brass (with the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Brass), to the percussion quartet Ensemble Bash and Joanna MacGregor’s Sound Circus series at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. His music for children is widely played and broadcast by groups like the BBC Concert orchestra on Radio 3. Music theatre works have been heard at the Covent Garden Festival (The Wasteland at the Donmar Warehouse), the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith (Slump), the Edinburgh Festival (Aesop) and BAC (Passions). Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe, written for soprano Patricia Rozario, which was premiered at Dartington International Summer School and BAC in London in 2002, and featured at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music in 2004.
His music is played from Mexico (Guanajuato Festival) to Japan where the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra recorded Ghosts (which has received dozens of performances since 2002 and recently been recorded again in the USA). In the last few years he has had had highly successful premieres at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Purcell Room, and, in July 2003, Zoë Martlew gave the first performance of his Cello Sonata. The Winged Lion for Wind Orchestra was first heard at the Royal Northern College of Music in March 2004 and was recorded in 2006. His opera for the Unicorn Theatre (in collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra) based on Philip Pullman’s novel, Clockwork, opened in Bury St Edmunds and toured the UK before arriving at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio for three weeks in March and April 2004 where it played to full houses and highly enthusiastic reviews. His Clarinet Concerto for Linda Merrick was premiered in 2005 in Finland, London and Warrington and featured at the International Wind Conference at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. His music has been regularly performed at Dartington International Summer School: works premiered there have included the Piano Quintet (a companion work for Schubert’s Trout Quintet), The Unknown, a song cycle for tenor and piano based on poems by Edward Thomas and Dissolve Me Into Ecstasies for Emma Kirkby and Richard Edgar-Wilson.
In 2005 McNeff was appointed to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as their ‘Composer in the House’. This appointment - funded by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Performing Right Society Foundation - early on resulted in two substantial works (Heiligenstadt and Secret Destinations) as well as music for summer and Christmas concerts. Other works include Echoes & Reflections for brass and percussion and a number of pieces for Kokoro, the BSO’s contemporary ensemble.
In 2006 Gentle Giant, an opera for young people commissioned by the Royal Opera House (based on Michael Morpurgo’s book), was premièred in London and toured to Cambridge, Kent and Devon. McNeff then went to work with Opera North on What I Heard About Iraq (commissioned by Fuseleeds 2006), traveled to Mexico for the CD launch of a new work for pianist Ana Cervantes and returned to the UK for the premiere of Tarka the Otter a community opera for the Two Moors Festival.
Later works for the BSO included the Sinfonia (premiered by Marin Alsop in March 2007) and Strip Jack Naked (April 2007) and LUX (2008). 2007 also saw works for the Swansea Philharmonic Choir, the Irish Youth Wind Ensemble and Ensemble Cymru. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra invited him to return as Composer in Residence for a further season (2007/8) and he completed Weathers, a choral work based on the poems by Thomas Hardy. He won a British Composer Award for his opera Tarka the Otter, and Gentle Giant returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in March 2008. He traveled to California for the US premiere of the Sinfonia under Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Festival and this was followed by the premiere of Near Avalon, a choral work commissioned by the BBC and performed by the Ulster Orchestra and Ulster Youth Choir.
His new orchestration of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande for November 2008, was enthusiastically praised by the London critics as a landmark development in approaches to performing the opera. A CD devoted to his music performed by the Royal Northern College of Music winds was released on the Campion Classics label in late 2008 and features Image in Stone, his song cycle for mezzo soprano and winds conducted by Mark Heron.
Stephen McNeff was resident at Lawrence University in the USA in May and June 2009 where, as well as attending a retrospective of his works, he researched a new music theatre work about Marie Curie. Other projects for 2009 included a major wind orchestra commission for a consortium of UK colleges, premiered at Birmingham Conservatoire in November 2009, and The Darwin Dilemma, a large-scale work for choir and orchestra for the Schools Prom. 2010 saw the premiere of Stephen’s ConcertO Duo written for the ODuo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Future plans include an opera based on Giles Foden’s award winning novel, The Last King of Scotland and a viola concerto for Philip Dukes.