Born in Wales in 1969 and brought up in Warwickshire, Julian Philips studied music at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and is one of Britain’s most versatile and busy young composers.
Philips’ music has been performed widely across the world at major festivals and venues including the Proms, the Tanglewood Music Festival, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne and the Wigmore Hall, by international artists including Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw, Sir Thomas Allen, the Vertavo String Quartet, the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra and the BBC orchestras. He has received numerous broadcasts, and his work has been the subject of a BBC Wales television documentary.
Philips has enjoyed a particular affinity with music for the voice and has received critical acclaim for his settings of E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson and Arthur Rimbaud among others. His song cycle I lay me down to dream of spring (1992) was an early success when performed by baritone Martyn Hill and broadcast by Radio 3. Fern Hill was featured in Dawn Upshaw’s 1997 Wigmore Hall masterclass and subsequently commercially released on the Sain label, while There is a morn by men unseen, premiered by Gerald Finley and Julius Drake, was commissioned for the Director’s Festival Gala Concert at the Wigmore Hall in May 2003. In April 2005 Philips’ String Quartet with baritone, Sweet Love Remembered, was premièred by the Vertavo String Quartet, and then taken up by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker for performance in Autumn 2011. His Masque for Caliban, commissioned by Orchestra of the Swan was premiered at Three Choirs Festival in 2006 with baritone David Stout.
In addition to solo vocal works, Philips has written several works for choirs: in November 2002, his anthem for the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund’s annual Festival of St Cecilia, Song’s Eternity, was premiered by the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral; other choral works include The Moving Image (Highgate Choral Society/New London Orchestra), Vertue, Two Carols and a Curse (New London Childrens’ choir) and Reach for Andromeda, a birthday tribute to Sir Michael Tippett, premiered by the Finzi Singers at the Wigmore Hall in 1995, and recently taken up by the BBC Singers. In 2011, Philips was commissioned to write a new work, Church music, for the Choirbook for the Queen, an anthology of the best of British contemporary choral writing, and 2012 will see the world premiere of Sea and Stars, a work for choir and orchestra commissioned by Ealing Choral Society in celebration of their fiftieth anniversary.
Following the success of Philips’ 1999 orchestral work Strange Seas, commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia and later performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the BBC Proms commissioned a symphonic poem,
Philips has recently worked on a full-length ballet based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with choreography by Michael Corder for English National Ballet. This was followed in 2007 by a new ballet, The Snow Queen, also for Corder and ENB, and based on the music of Prokofiev. The Snow Queen was toured again by ENB in early 2010.
In 2007 Philips took up a position as the first ever Composer in Residence at Glyndebourne Opera, during which time he wrote two chamber operas - Of Water and Tears, and Followers, both completed during 2007. Of Water and Tears was performed in The Jerwood Studio with soloists from the Glyndebourne Chorus as part of the Jerwood Chorus Development Scheme. Followers, written by librettist Simon Christmas, was a site-specific promenade opera using three spaces at Glyndebourne: The Organ Room, The Old Green Room and the Ebert Room. A new one act chamber opera, The Yellow Sofa, written for the Jerwood Chorus Development Scheme and premiered in August 2009, was a collaboration with librettist Edward Kemp to create an adaptation of a novella by one of Portugal’s best loved writers, Eca de Quieros. On the strength of his tenure as Composer in Residence, Philips was also commissioned to write a new full-length opera with a libretto by Nicky Singer for production in 2010; Knight Crew, a re-creation of the Arthur legend in a contemporary gangland setting, gave an unprecedented opportunity for young performers and community groups to take part in a Glyndebourne production, and received critical acclaim following its premiere run in March 2010. BBC Television filmed the development of Knight Crew over the year leading up to the premiere, and a new series, Gareth goes to Glyndebourne, was aired in June 2010, and won an International Emmy® in November 2011. Philips’ opera commission for The Opera Group based on the Varjak Paw stories by S.F. Said premièred and toured in Autumn 2008. These opera projects follow recent success with Welsh National Opera, for whom Philips was commissioned to compose two chamber operas, Dolffin and Wild Cat, as part of WNO’s Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. These operas, with librettos by Gwyneth Lewis and Berlie Docherty respectively, were toured extensively in Wales and England, before being performed together at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Philips has recently received a commission from W11 Opera for new opera.
Ballet and opera are natural progressions for Philips, who already has an impressive track-record in composing for the theatre. He has enjoyed a particularly fruitful artistic partnership with director Michael Grandage, with whom he has collaborated on productions including The Tempest starring Sir Derek Jacobi (Old Vic, London), Richard III with Kenneth Branagh (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield), and Edward II starring Joseph Fiennes; their production of As You Like It (Lyric Hammersmith/Crucible Theatre) went on to win the South Bank Theatre Award (2001). In 2006 Philips’ music for Chris Luscombe’s production of The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare’s Globe received widespread acclaim.
A vital force in education, Philips took up the post of Joint Head of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in September 2004. He has tutored at Cambridge University, and led innovative adult learning programmes at the Wigmore Hall and for the Orchestra of the Swan. In 2007 Philips was made Honorary Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.