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26th September, 2019

Guildhall School of Music & Drama and The Royal Opera announce Oliver Leith as new Doctoral Composer-in-Residence 2019-2022

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Guildhall School of Music & Drama in association with The Royal Opera today announces Oliver Leith as the fourth Doctoral Composer-in-Residence, starting in September 2019.

Launched in 2013, the collaboration between Guildhall School and The Royal Opera is one of the first examples of an opera company and conservatoire joining forces to offer a Composer-in-Residence studentship which leads to a doctoral degree. Fully funded by Guildhall School and supported by The Royal Opera, the studentship offers one composer every two years the opportunity to be Doctoral Composer-in-Residence over a three-year period. During this time, the composer researches and writes a major work, which is staged by The Royal Opera at the end of the residency.

Leith’s forthcoming opera will explore how to create a theatrical world in opera, through the shifts between diegetic and non-diegetic sounds (sounds audible to actors versus sounds meant only for the audience) a convention regularly used in film to support creation of mood and atmosphere. He will take inspiration from moments in cinema that have made a particularly strong impression on him. He is especially interested in exploring ways of composing that start from a visual, rather than textual, stimulus.

Oliver Leith said of his appointment: ‘I am excited to be a fly on the wall at The Royal Opera and cannot wait to start working on something with them and my alma mater, Guildhall School, as I experiment and question what opera means to me. This is a unique collaboration between institutions of which I am thrilled to be a part.’

Having studied composition at undergraduate (2009-2013) and masters (2014-15) level at Guildhall School, supported by The Countess of Munster Trust and Guildhall School Trust, Leith has gone on to win a British Composer Award in the small chamber category (2016) and the Royal Philharmonic Composition prize (2014). He has been commissioned by groups such as London Sinfonietta, Festival Aix-en-Provence, London Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Festival, Heidelberg Festival, Musicon, Homo Novus/Valmiera theatre and St John’s Smith Square.

He has also collaborated with Apartment House, Ives Ensemble, EXAUDI, Plus Minus, Philharmonia Orchestra, An Assembly, Trio Catch, GBSR Duo, Loré Lixenberg, 12 Ensemble, Explore Ensemble, Matthew Herbert and John Harle. His music has been performed in many key venues across the world including: the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Snape Maltings, Liszt Academy (Budapest), Maison du Canada (Paris) and Leeds Lieder. His music has also been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and NTS Radio.

Professor Julian Philips, Head of Composition, Guildhall School said: ‘Guildhall School’s Composition Department is delighted at the continued flourishing of this unique doctoral Composer-in-Residence scheme. Composer Oliver Leith is one of the most distinctively expressive voices on the new music scene today and we look forward to supporting the development of his new over the coming three years.’

Kate Wyatt Creative Producer, The Royal Opera, said: ‘We are thrilled to be working with Oliver Leith, our fourth Doctoral Composer-in-Residence, who is developing such a distinctive body of work.  Developing artists and new work is vitally important for us, and our brilliant partnership with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama is key to this, enabling us to make the most of the learning opportunities and to provide a context and framework to nurture and produce opera with a new generation of artists. The Linbury Theatre is a place for brilliant storytelling, world class music making and above all, great theatre. Oliver’s music, often starting with the visual, grounded in human themes and exploring the poetry in the everyday and his collaborative approach to creation is a natural starting point for us to explore new ways of making opera together. We look forward to working with him, as he develops his processes over the course of the next three years.’

Matt Rogers is the current Doctoral Composer-in-Residence and this year enters his final year in the role, having joined the programme in September 2017. His opera She Described it to Death, featuring a libretto by Sally O’Reilly, takes its inspiration from a future hindered by over-population, to which a sci-fi angle brings an intriguing solution, and new problems of its own. It receives its world premiere performances at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House from Friday 17 July – Tuesday 21 July 2020.

The second recipient, Na’ama Zisser, premiered her first opera Mamzer Bastard in June 2018 at Hackney Empire.  The story is set within the Orthodox Jewish community and Zisser merged her own musical idiom with the music of Orthodox Hasidic Judaism: it was one of the very first operas to feature and reference cantorial music & singing. It featured the lead cantor of Hampton Synagogue, New York Netanel Hershtik in the role of David, a cantor in the plotline.

Philip Venables was the inaugural Doctoral Composer-in-Residence and his opera 4.48 Psychosis, which premiered in May 2016, has won numerous awards including the UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera (2016), the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Large-Scale Composition (2017) and the British Composer Award for Stage Work (2017). It was also nominated for the Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production (2017) and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Best Opera (2017). 4.48 Psychosis is currently being performed at Musica Festival Strasbourg.

The studentship aims to offer an enriching model of opera development that allows a composer substantial creative research experience in the development of operatic practice, within the setting of a unique collaboration between an opera company and conservatoire. It allows for both critical reflection and creative research, in both professional and academic contexts. Leith will be supervised, from Guildhall School, by Professor of Composition Dr Richard Baker, together with Head of Composition, Professor Julian Philips as well as Kate Wyatt, Creative Producer at The Royal Opera.

In addition to the Doctoral Composer-in-Residence, Guildhall School offers an MA in Opera Making and Writing in association with the Royal Opera House. Launched in 2014, this full-time, one-year Masters programme allows composers and writers to focus on how new opera is created, developed and performed.

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