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Award-winning conductor and composer, Richard Prior is Senior Lecturer in Composition and Director of Orchestral Studies at Emory University where he holds the Edward Goodwin Scruggs Chair and conducts the Emory University and Youth Symphony orchestras. In addition to his conducting duties at Emory University, Prior is also conductor of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra.
With a rich family heritage that includes a prominent figure in mid twentieth-century British conducting, a founding member of the English Opera Group with Benjamin Britten and composer/ jazz saxophone legend, Tim Garland, Richard Prior’s career has encapsulated the hallmarks of other distinguished family members. His musical training began in his native England, where he received degrees in composition and conducting from Leeds and Nottingham Universities. He has taught at several universities and colleges in the United States and at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University where he was the 1997 Visiting Fellow in Music.
From music written as a high school student performed in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II to his professional debut in 1988 at London’s Westminster Abbey, Prior’s music has been performed, recorded, and broadcast widely in Europe and North America. Atlanta performances have included String Quartet No. 1: intimations of immortality and String Quartet No. 2: TRIPTYCH both premiered by the Vega Quartet, The Darkening Land with clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman and the Pulitzer-nominated choral-orchestral work Stabat Mater, the subject of a 2009 PBS broadcast. Prior’s Symphony No. 3 received its premiere at Emory in 2011 and his elegy for aurora dedicated to the memory of those lost in the tragedy in Aurora, CO received multiple performances in 2012 and 2013. Prior’s former teachers and mentors include Alan Ridout, Philip Wilby, James Fulkerson, Nigel Osborne and Trevor Wishart. He has been a selected participant in workshops and masterclasses with a diverse array of composers including Pierre Boulez, Henryk Gorecki, John McCabe and Milton Babbitt. He has undertaken a wide variety of projects ranging from concert music to multimedia projects and an acclaimed orchestration of BaBopbyeYa performed live with Janelle Monae.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra commissioned …of shadow and light… (incantations for orchestra) which premiered in October, 2013. Subsequent critical review called the work “forbidding and dramatic”, “stunning” and “jubilant and exuberant”; the piece identified Prior as “perhaps the most gifted of the Atlanta composers” citing his mastery of orchestration, lyricism and musical drama. The ASO will present three performances of his Symphony No. 3 in their 2014-2015 Season under the direction of Robert Spano, a work also featured at the finale of Northwestern University’s 2013-2014 Season under the direction of Victor Yampolsky. Reviews and commentary from the Chicago/Midwest premiere called Prior “a symphonic sorcerer” and “one of the most badass composers of all time”.
A winner of numerous awards for his compositions and teaching, Prior received the 2008 Harvey Philips Award for Excellence in Composition at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the 2009 Emory University Winship Senior Faculty Award and the 2011 Crystal Apple Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. His choral-orchestral work hymn for nations united received Awards of Merit in two categories (Symphonic Music and Composition) in the 2013 Global Music Awards. Current projects include works for the ASO’s Principal Oboist, Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, meditation on “let all mortal flesh keep silence” for organist Timothy Albrecht, a viola concerto for prodigy Stephen Upshaw, a double timpani concerto and just announced, a concerto for internationally acclaimed cellist, Matt Haimovitz.
In demand as a guest conductor and clinician, Prior has led numerous honor and all-state orchestras and a variety of professional consortiums from the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. He has appeared with the Charlotte Symphony, the New Orleans Civic Symphony, the Rome Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony of Ukraine, the Odessa Philharmonic. Prior has worked with a range of distinguished soloists including sopranos Silvia McNair and Yulia Van Doren, cellist Matt Haimovitz, violinists David Kim, Katherine Wolfe and Sinisa Ciric, pianists William Ransom and James Swisher, oboist Joseph Robinson, clarinetist Ashraf Attalla and saxophonist, Victor Goines. Reviews in the press cite his “stirring conviction,” “precision,” and “stylishness and flexibility,” with the noted “meteoric rise” of ensembles under his direction. Prior’s principal teachers include Sir Simon Rattle, James Paul and William LaRue Jones. Prior is a founding member and past president of the College Orchestra Directors Association, South Central Division; he served on the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Arts and Culture Assessment Committee and sits on various boards.
Students of Prior have gone on to successfully complete undergraduate and graduate programs at UC Boulder, Cornell University, Michigan, Northwestern, Columbia, Rice, Oberlin, MIT, Indiana, CIM, CCM and the Royal College of Music (UK).