I can’t quite figure this out. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has commissioned composer Philip Venables ‘to research and write’ an opera for the small Linbury Theatre. The work will gain him a doctorate from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Excuse me? It has to be one thing or the other. An opera is written for the enlightenment and entertainment of the paying public, not for securing academic honours. Someone’s got their wires crossed here. Read the press release below.
22 AUGUST 2013
Composer Philip Venables to research and write major work for performance at the Linbury Studio Theatre in 2016
This collaboration between the Royal Opera House and the Guildhall School 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. The notion of ‘Composer-in-Residence’ has long been established as a successful model for the development of orchestral music, but this model has been far less explored in opera. It was first tested by Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where Julian Philips was Composer-in-Residence from 2006-2009, and together they established an AHRC funded doctorate with Sussex University. Philips has further developed this model for the School’s new doctoral studentship.
The Doctoral Composer-in-Residence studentship is part of the Guildhall School’s existing doctoral programme (validated by City University London). Fully funded by the Guildhall School and supported by the Royal Opera House, this 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 will research and write a major work for the Linbury Studio Theatre which will be staged in the final term of Year 3.
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.
Philip Venables previously studied at Cambridge University and at the Royal Academy of Music with Philip Cashian and David Sawer. He is the Artistic Director of Endymion and founded/directs the Fourfortytwo agency. He holds a London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub residency at LSO St Luke’s and made his first solo disc in 2013. Venables’ music is often concerned with violence, politics and speech within concert music and opera. His work has been recently described as “brutally effective” (The Times), “brutally exhilarating” (Seen & Heard), “duly playful and occasionally disturbing” (The Guardian), “a dark and violent portrait of sexual desire” (SoSoGay.com) and “original and intelligent in both form and content… reminiscent of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle; dripping in inexplicable meaning” (Exeunt Magazine). Major previous works include Arc for the BBC Philharmonic, String Quartet which was premiered at the Wigmore Hall by the Duke Quartet and Hyaline for the LSO. He has also written for the London Sinfonietta, EXAUDI, Bregenz Festival for Ensemble LUX and the BBC Singers, amongst others. His work as part of the composer-in-residence scheme will be premiered in 2016 at the Royal Opera House.
Current opera projects include workshops for his first full-length opera The Schmürz with librettist Michael Brett and London Contemporary Opera in November 2013 at the Barbican, directed by Nicholas Broadhurst and conducted by Andrew Watts with the full production taking place throughout Europe and the UK in 2014 and a music-theatre project in planning with Turner Prize-winner Douglas Gordon, singer Ruth Rosenfeld and producer/dramaturg Laura Berman for 2015.
The principal supervisor of the studentship is the Guildhall School’s Head of Composition, Dr Julian Philips, who was the first ever Composer-in-Residence at Glyndebourne. Philips’ new opera, an adaptation of Ted Hughes’ How the Whale Became, receives its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in December 2013. The rehearsal period for this work will offer the opportunity for Venables to shadow Philips in the process of staging his new opera. Philip Venables will be supported in his research by a distinguished team, drawn jointly from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal Opera House.
Philip Venables said of his appointment, “I’m really excited about starting work on this opera with the Royal Opera House and the Guildhall School – it’s a potential game changer for me, and a chance, in a structured and supported way, to really explore what opera means to me, to be completely inventive, bold and daring and to present the results of that on a high-profile stage… I know there’s going to be a lot of collaboration with writers and hopefully some exciting and diverse cameo performers. It’ll be great to be able to try everything out over the next three years at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Bring it on!”
Dr Julian Philips, Head of Composition, Guildhall School commented, “I am really delighted to welcome the original and provocative composer Philip Venables as our first Doctoral Composer-in-Residence with the Royal Opera House. We received a strong field of applications for this new opportunity, both from home and abroad, but Philip Venables stood out for his uncompromising individuality and strong collaborative approach. His work has been attracting wide interest in the recent past and with the support of both the Guildhall School’s dynamic doctoral degree programme and the sparky creative environment of the Royal Opera House, I feel sure that he will develop significant and substantial creative research in the field of contemporary opera.”
John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House said “We’re delighted that Philip Venables is joining the Royal Opera and Guildhall School on our first joint composer residency. Philip’s work has increasingly embraced collaborative and multimedia practice and so it is a natural step for him to now research and write music theatre with us. We are looking forward to developing and making work with him. “