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Judith Weir (Composer, Arranger)

Born: May 11, 1954 - Cambridge, England

The British composer, Judith Weir, was born in Cambridge, England, into a Scottish family, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and had a few composition lessons with John Tavener during her schooldays (North London Collegiate School). She subsequently studied composition with Robin Holloway at King's College, Cambridge (Cambridge University), graduating in 1976.

Judith Weir spent several years as a community musician in rural southern England, followed by a period based in Scotland, teaching at Glasgow University and RSAMD. Since the 1990’s she has lived in south London. From 1995 to 2000, she was the Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival in London. She has continued to teach, presently at Cardiff University, where she has been a Visiting Professor since 2006.

Judith Weir is one of the most distinguished British composers. Her music has been performed, broadcast and recorded by artists of international renown. She held the post of Resident Composer in Association for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 1998. During this period, she wrote several works for orchestra and chorus (including Forest, Storm and We are Shadows) which were premiered by the orchestra’s then principal conductor, Simon Rattle. Orchestras around the world have played her music, and she has been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Music Untangled and Natural History) the Minnesota Orchestra (The Welcome Arrival of Rain) and the London Sinfonietta (Tiger under the Table).

Judith Weir’s music often draws on sources from medieval history, as well as the traditional stories and music of her native Scotland. She is best known for her operas and theatrical works, although she has also achieved international recognition for her orchestral and chamber works. Folk music from the British Isles and beyond has influenced an extensive group of string and piano compositions written for Domus, the Florestan Trio and the Schubert Ensemble. Her longtime collaborators include storyteller Vayu Naidu, with whom she has performed music and folk tales in England and India. Her growing choral catalogue began with Illuminare, Jerusalem (1985) a carol first heard in the King’s College Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. She is the composer and librettist of a series of operas (King Harald’s Saga,The Black Spider, A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom and Blond Eckbert) which have been frequently performed in Europe and America. She has written concert works for some notable singers, including Jane Manning, Dawn Upshaw, Jessye Norman and Alice Coote. Together with film director Margaret Williams, she has written music and screenplay for several film operas, including Scipio’s Dream, Hello Dolly, and Armida.

Judith Weir's musical language is fairly conservative in its mechanic, with a "knack of making simple musical ideas appear freshly mysterious." Her operatic musical writing is sometimes compared to Benjamin Britten's, and has been described as alternating "twee rhyming couplets and inert blank verse". Her first stage work, The Black Spider, was a one act opera which premiered in Canterbury in 1985 loosely based on the short novel of the same name by Jeremias Gotthelf. She has subsequently written one more "micro-operas", three full length operas, and an opera for television. In 1987, her first half length opera, A Night at the Chinese Opera, premiered at Kent Opera. This was followed by her other two full length operas The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990) and Blond Eckbert (1994), the latter commissioned by the English National Opera. In 2005 her opera Armida, an opera for television, premiered on Channel Four in the UK). The work was made in co-operation with Margaret Williams. Weir's commissioned works most notably include (2000) for Jessye Norman and We are Shadows (1999) for Simon Rattle. In January 2008, Weir was the focus of the BBC's annual composer weekend at the Barbican Centre in London. The four days of programmes ended with a first performance of her new commission, Concrete, a choral motet. The subject of this piece was inspired by the Barbican building itself - she describes it as ‘an imaginary excavation of the Barbican Centre, burrowing through 2,500 years of historical rubble’.

Judith Weir’s most recent major work is her opera Miss Fortune, which received its first performances on July 21, 2011 at the Bregenz Festival, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and designed by Tom Pye. The opera reworks a Sicilian folktale as a contemporary parable. This production opened at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in March 2012. For the 2012 BBC Proms, she composed What's in the Lake?, a site-specific work for Ai Wei Wei's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, as part of the John Cage Music Walk. New works for 2013 include Blue-Green Hill (for Boston Musica Viva), The Wild Reeds (for organist Thomas Trotter) and a new string orchestra work for the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival.

Sjudith Weir is the recipent of honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen (1995) and Glasgow (2005), Queen's University, Belfast (2001) and King's College, London (2007). She was appointed a CBE in 1995. She has received many prizes and awards for her compositions including the South Bank Show Classical Music Award (2001) for We Are Shadows and the British Composer Award in the vocal category (2004) for The Voice of Desire. She received the Lincoln Center's Stoeger Prize in 1997. In 2007, she was the third recipient of the The Queen's Medal for Music and in 2010 received the ISM’s Distinguished Musician Award.

Judith Weir is published by Chester Novello.

Works (selection)

The Black Spider (March 6, 1985, Canterbury)
The Consolations of Scholarship (May 5, 1985, Durham)
A Night at the Chinese Opera (July 8, 1987, Cheltenham)
The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990, Glasgow)
Blond Eckbert (April 20, 1994, London)
Armida (2005, television broadcast for Channel Four in the UK)
Miss Fortune (Achterbahn) (July 21, 2011, Bregenzer Festspiele, in a co-production with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London; English language with German surtitles)

Other key works:
King Harald’s Saga (1979; soprano, singing eight roles)
Piano Concerto (1997)
We Are Shadows (1999; choir, orchestra) (2000; premiered by Jessye Norman at Carnegie Hall)
The welcome arrival of rain (2001; orchestra)
Tiger Under the Table (2002; chamber ensemble)
Piano Trio Two (2003)

Source: Cardiff University Website; Wikipedia Website (July 2013)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2013)

Judith Weir: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Judith Weir (Wikipedia)
Professor Judith Weir's Profile (Cardiff University)
Judith Weir (Schirmer)

Judith Weir (NMC)
A guide to Judith Weir's music (The Guardian)
Judith Weir - Short Biography (Music Sales Classical)


David C. H Wright: 'Judith Weir', TheNew Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (London: Macmillan, 2001), vol.27, 246-7
Andrew Clements: Judith Weir', The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (London: Macmillan, 1992)

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