Stephen McNeff was born in Ireland and grew up in South Wales, where his inspirational teacher awoke an interest in music. After studying composition at the Royal Academy of Music, his career started by working in theatres throughout Britain, followed by a period in Canada where his posts included composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre. Recognition came steadily; until the early 2000s McNeff’s name would be known mainly in theatre circles through his film noir operatic version of The Wasteland (1994), his many scores for the Unicorn Theatre (including a highly successful Beatrix Potter Suite in 2002), or among windband fraternities for Ghosts (2001). However, from the première of his opera for young people Clockwork in 2004, based on Philip Pullman’s book, at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, and his appointment the following year to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as the first Royal Philharmonic Society/Performing Right Society Foundation Composer in the House, his reputation has gone from strength to strength.
In 2016 A Half Darkness for Chamber Choir Ireland (on the Centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising) was premiered in Cork and Dublin, and Eden Rock - a BBC Radio 3 commission for tenor Mark Padmore and guitarist Morgan Szymanski – was first heard at the Wigmore Hall. His opera, Banished, was premiered in London in June 2016 to widespread acclaim and plans for future productions.
In early 2017 he completed recording 2117/Hedd Wyn for Welsh National Opera in preparation for the filming of this opera especially commissioned by WNO and S4C the Welsh television channel. It will also be widely seen in cinemas in Wales and internationally on the Opera Platform. More recently The Burning Boy, a new opera for professionals and the community was commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It was premiered to acclaim (and a 4 star Times review) in Launceston, Cornwall (the home-town of its librettist, Charles Causley). Spring 2018 will see the new a new production of Gentle Giant at the Staasoper, Hannover, of Pelléas et Mélisande in the USA and the commercial release of two news CDs.
McNeff’s theatrical work continued to flourish with the operas Gentle Giant (2007), commissioned by the Royal Opera House, and Tarka (2005-6) which won a coveted British Composer Award for Best Stage Work in 2007. His new orchestration for smaller forces of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (2009) received plaudits galore (and an RPS nomination) and his opera-oratorio The Chalk Legend, composed for Kokoro, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music ensemble and community music forces to mark the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in Dorset, was premiered in Portland, performed in London - and nominated for another British Composer Award.
Also in 2012 his music-theatre work, The Secret Garden (1985, revised 2012) was revived in a critically praised new production in London by Trinity Laban and in Canada by the Banff Festival. Other works in this period included ConcertO Duo, premiered at the 80th birthday concert of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2010, and a work for dance, Seven for a Secret (based on the music of Ravel) was premiered by Rambert Dance in 2011 choreographed by Rambert’s Artistic Director, Mark Baldwin. 2014 saw concertos for flute and oboe (the latter as part of his residency at the Presteigne Festival) and a highly successful new version of Bizet’s Carmen for Mid Wales Opera.
McNeff, formally Associate Director and Composer in Residence at the Banff Centre in Canada, has given seminars, led courses and held residencies at many music colleges and conservatoires in the UK, Canada, the USA and Ireland. His Opera Composers Studio programme has been extremely successful at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music, the Academy of Music at the University of Slovenia in Ljubljana and, in 2014-16, as part of the summer opera programme in Fontainebleau, France given by Guildhall School of Music and Drama - where in 2018 he will be a Visiting Artist on the Opera Making and Writing Programme.