His relationship with the Canadian Brass resulted in a Brass Quintet and he arranged numerous albums – including those with the Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic Brass. As his reputation grew in England his work was performed in major concert hall like the newly opened Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, but it was his quirky take on T S Eliot’s The Wasteland – presented operatically as a film noir thriller – that grabbed the attention of the London critics at the 1994 Covent Garden Festival.
Although specialising in opera and music for the theatre and voice he has written important instrumental pieces, including a Cello Sonata, a Piano Quintet and a large range of works for wind ensembles of various kinds. Ghosts, his first major success in this genre, has been played extensively in Europe, Japan and the USA and been recorded twice. The Royal Northern College of Music recorded a portrait album of his wind music, Image in Stone, available on the Campion label and other recordings of wind music recordings feature the University of Indiana on the Klavier label.
A long relationship with the Unicorn Theatre produced many new scores, notably his music for a series of plays based on Beatrix Potter’s children’s stories. These have been very successfully made into the Beatrix Potter Suites recorded on Chandos by the BBC Concert Orchestra with Imelda Staunton.
Other orchestral commissions include Near Avalon for the Ulster Orchestra and a Double Percussion Concerto for the ODuo and BBC Symphony Orchestra (both Radio 3 commissions). His new orchestration of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande was performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and was unanimously praised by the London critics as a landmark development in approaches to the opera. It was nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. For Rambert Dance he adapted Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges into Seven for a Secret and in 2012 there was a transatlantic revival of a newly revised version of The Secret Garden at Trinity Laban Conservatoire and the Banff Festival of the Arts.
2013 saw the release of two very warmly received new CDs. Madrigali Dell’Estate features mezzo soprano, Clare McCaldin, singing Italian themed works, while the release on Dutton Epoch is of four major works from his time as composer in residence with the BSO.
Recent new works include The Darkling Serenade for the British Clarinet Ensemble, premiered in Madrid last year (published by Maecenas). His latest choral work A Half Darkness will be premiered by Chamber Choir Ireland at the Wexford International Choral Festival and then tour Ireland, while another new choral work, Everyone Sang will be premiered in Dorchester and in Germany in the autumn. Meanwhile his new opera, Banished will be first performed by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in June and a new song cycle for Mark Padmore and Morgan Szymanski (a Radio 3 commission) will be heard as part of a BBC lunchtime concert from the Wigmore Hall in September. Vivienne, McNeff’s five-star rated one women song-cycle opera for Clare McCaldin, is now released on the CD Notes from the Asylum on Champs Hill Records.
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