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Richard Blackford studied composition with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music and conducting with Norman Del Mar. He was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship and the Tagore Gold Medal. He spent a number of years as Hans Werner Henze's assistant in Italy on a Leverhulme scholarship, where he received his first commissions while immersed in the European avant-garde. He returned to London in 1977 to turn his sights to the dramatic potential of music, combining teaching at LAMDA with commissions for theatre scores along with concert commissions. After becoming first Composer in Residence at Balliol College, Oxford, he was commissioned to write the opera Metamorphoses for the Centenary of the Royal College of Music. Further collaborations with Ted Hughes and Tony Harrison led to international film and theatre projects, including The Prince's Play and Fram at the Royal National Theatre. In all he has composed four operas, two musicals, much concert music and the scores to over two hundred films, being nominated for an Emmy Award in 2001 for Outstanding Achievement In Music. The mid-1990s saw a renewed focus on lyrical and dramatic works for the concert hall, notably Mirror of Perfection and Voices of Exile, both subjects of television documentaries. 2011 saw the premiere of Not In Our Time, a 55-minute choral and orchestral work commissioned to mark the Centenary of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and for performance on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It was subsequently performed in Chicago and Bremen to standing ovations.
In 2014 Richard Blackford collaborated with wild soundscape recordist Bernie Krause to compose The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony. The work combines the traditional sounds of the orchestra with recordings of gibbons, humpback whales, Pacific tree frogs, mountain gorillas, beavers and the musician wren. The piece was premiered on the 12 July 2014 at the Cheltenham Festival with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Martyn Brabbins, then given at the Aberystwyth MusicFest and Birmingham Town Hall by the LSSO. Nimbus Records and Nimbus Music Publishing released the CD and score respectively. In 2015 Richard was awarded Die Goldene Deutschland for services to music in Germany alongside Plácido Domingo and Diana Damrau. 2017 saw the premiere of his concertante work for violin and orchestra 'Niobe', commissioned by the Czech Philharmonic and recorded with soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen for Signum Classics. The Czech Philharmonic also recorded Kalon for string quartet and string orchestra, a Cheltenham Festival commission in association with BBC Radio 3 for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival with the BBC NOW conducted by Martyn Brabbins. 2018 also sees the premiere of his string quartet Seven Hokusai Miniatures, commissioned by the Aberystwyth MusicFest for the Solem Quartet.
Blackford is President of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and is a Trustee of Music For Youth (MFY), the Aberystwyth MusicFest and The Bach Choir. He is published by Novello and Nimbus Publishing.
- 1974 – Leverhulme Scholarship to study in Rome with Henze; wins Mendelssohn Scholarship and Tagore Gold Medal.
- 1990 – premiere of the musical King, with lyrics by Maya Angelou, at London’s Piccadilly Theatre.
- 1990-5 – Director of Music at the Royal Ballet School where he wrote ballet Plea to Autumn performed at the Royal Opera House.
- 2000 – Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement In Music for Millennium (CNN).
- 2007 – Composer in Residence to Brno Philharmonic. Premiere of Violin Concerto.
- 2011 – Premiere of Not In Our Time, under auspices of Cheltenham Festival, with The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, The Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus and The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
- 2014 – World Premiere of The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony at Cheltenham Festival, wild soundscapes by Bernie Krause, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins
- 2015 – Awarded Die Goldene Deutschland in Cuviliestheater, Munich, for services to music in Germany. Other prizewinners included Placido Domingo and Jonas Kaufmann.
- 2017 – World Premiere of "Niobe" a Czech Philharmonic commission, performed by Tamsin Wales-Cohen (solo violin) and Ben Gernon (conductor)
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1978; soloists, children’s and adult choruses, orchestra)
- Mirror of Perfection (1996; soprano, baritone, chorus, orchestra)
- Not In Our Time (2011; tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, children's chorus and orchestra)
- Violin Concerto (2007, revised 2008)
- Clarinet Quintet (2009)
- Voices of Exile (2001, rev. 2004; soloists,children’s and adult choruses, orchestra)
- Barbara Wood – Das Haus Der Harmonie (2005; German-Singapore movie soundtrack)
- The Shell Seekers (2006)
- The Great Animal Orchestra (2014; Symphony for Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes)
- "The Better Angels of Our Nature" (2013) concerto for oboe and string orchestra
- "Five Naidu Songs" (2015) for mezzo-soprano, clarinet and string quartet
- "Niobe" (2016) for solo violin and orchestra
- "Kalon" (2017) for string quartet and string orchestra
- Mirror of Perfection – Nimbus Alliance NI 6205]
- Voices of Exile – Nimbus Alliance NI 6264
- Not In Our Time - Nimbus Alliance NI 6161
- The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony - Nimbus Alliance NI 6274
- On Another’s Sorrow – Signum Classics SIGCD059
- Voices of Exile – Quartz Records