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Biography

Professor Richard Chew is Director of the Arts Academy at Federation University Australia. He studied at the University of Birmingham and the Royal College of Music, and began his professional career as a singer, before focusing on composition, under the mentorship of Judith Weir CBE, Alec Roth and Mark Anthony Turnage CBE. He subsequently undertook advanced composition studies with Louis Andriessen and Peter Sculthrope at Dartington.

Richard’s music encompasses works for solo voice, choral and instrumental music and music for theatre and film. His music is often inspired by visual or literary source material and is characterised by its transparent, lyrical melodic lines, subtle rythmic shifts and complex, jazz-inflected harmonic voicing.  

 

Richard co-founded the professional a cappella vocal ensemble The Shout with fellow composer Orlando Gough in 1999.  This group recorded and toured internationally for over a decade, winning many awards and established ‘a blueprint for 21st century choral singing’ (The Times). Richard’s choral work Tall Stories became the centrepiece of a ‘staged song-cycle’ directed by Rufus Norris (Director of the National Theatre), which toured the UK, USA and Vienna Festival. He collaborated with Norris on two further projects, the opera The Spirit Level, for English National Opera’s Youth Company The Knack, directed by Rupert Goold CBE, and Sleeping Beauty, for Young Vic Theatre Company (Barbican and New Victory Theatre, Broadway). 

 

Richard’s commissioned works include operas for the Baylis Programme at English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and Lindbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His oratorio Stari Most, commisioned for the 750th Anniversary of Salisbury Cathedral, has also received performances in Adelaide, London and Ballarat, in a Concert for Compassion, featuring guest artist Lior. This work was the focus of his PhD, (completed at UniSA in 2014), which considered the role of music and performance in the commemoration of tragic events, and as a pathway for peace and reconciliation. 

 

Richard’s music has been widely performed in the major concert halls in the UK, including the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall (Southbank Centre), Barbican Theatre, Wigmore Hall, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Sage Gateshead, Bridgewater Hall Manchester and Millenium Centre, Cardiff.  His music has featured in the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Festival of Arts and Ideas (New Haven, USA), Vienna Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Three Choirs Festival (Hereford Cathedral), Norfolk and Norwich Festival (Norwich Cathedral), Amsterdam Choral Biennale, Haarlem Festival (Holland), Bath International Music Festival, Purcell Room and National Portrait Gallery (London).

 

Richard’s solo piano work The Last of England was premiered at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 2016 as the official opening event of the Australian Historical Association’s Annual Conference, with a specially-curated exhibition The Last of England: Emigration in Prints. In 2021, he founded the Inscape Piano Trio, with international concert violinist Dunja Lavrova and cellist Lachlan Dent. Recent projects with this ensemble include The Music of Images, a concert to mark the opening of the international touring exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Drawings and Watercolours, from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Art Gallery of Ballarat). 

Reviews

"Richard Chew’s eerie music casts the image into a kind of Uri Geller mind warp."

Daily Variety, NYC. (Sleeping Beauty, Young Vic Theatre Company, New Victory Theatre, Broadway)

"Chew skilfully blends Caribbean and European musical ingredients, and the singers are accompanied by a chamber orchestra. The musical highlight is overpoweringly the end of the first half, when Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ is used to build a grand passacaglia which left the whole audience stunned…something that will remain firmly, movingly in the memory of anyone who saw it."

The Spectator (Mary Seacole, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London)

"We could easily be attending an RSC production (Richard Chew's subtly harmonious music is in keeping with this)"

The Independent

"Richard Chew’s atmospheric score proves highly effective."

The Telegraph (Sleeping Beauty, Barbican, London)

"The Shout continues to develop an ensemble sound and attitude like no other. It encompasses at least a dozen different singing styles and traditions, with the freewheeling flexibility of a jazz trio and the power and range of a classical choir twice its size. It is entertaining, funny and deadly serious. It is full of enormous egos and talents, yet they work effortlessly to create intricate and contemporary textures with no apparent effort or tension: all the energy is directed towards the audience."

The Guardian

 

"Every choral director in Britain should hear The Shout. In the hands of these 17 professional singers and their composer/directors – Richard Chew and Orlando Gough – the dusty old notion of the ‘choir concert’ has been transformed into a virtuoso display of vocal art and visual spectacle…The Shout offers a blue-print for 21st century choral singing. Few choirs will be able to emulate these performers’ virtuosity. But none should remain impervious to their influence."

The Times

"Tall Stories is not what most people would call an opera, but it packs a punch most contemporary operas could only dream of."

London Evening Standard (Tall Stories, an a cappella opera for The Shout)

 

"Richard Chew's music adds to the sense of pleasurable sophistication by incorporating mock-medieval Latin chants with catchier songs from Hazel Holder's bumptious minstrel. That in itself speaks, and sings, volumes about a production that is as socially and theatrically inclusive as anyone could wish."

The Guardian

STARI MOST, an extraordinary musical celebration by the composer Richard Chew, reminded a packed Salisbury Cathedral last week that the River Neretva — like the Tisza, Sava, Morava, Danube, and Olt — has been one of the lifelines of Eastern Europe since before the New Stone Age…

Richard Chew in a masterstroke assigned the voice of the bridge to a choir of children…This splendidly prepared, robust, and keyed-up ensemble delivered the music as if their lives depended on it. Every syllable told, and their vocal projection, audibility, and clarity in so vast a building as Salisbury — the placing of choir and orchestra at the West End paid dividends, as often it does in English abbeys and cathedrals — was superb. 

There was no thin sentiment in the music they had to sing: Chew, who has studied with the Australian Peter Sculthorpe and the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen — and teachers don’t come much more objective or wiser than that — has a voice like neither of them: fresh in spirit, rich in allusion, judicious in orchestration, shrewd in his use of musical time and space, and masterly at gauging how to draw the best from his forces. 

These are not luxuries in composition, they are the very tools of the trade; I sensed a master not in the making, but one already arrived.

Church Times (Stari Most, Salisbury Cathedral, 2008)

"An important piece of music…composer Richard Chew, together with his librettist Peter Cann, have produced a piece of genuine power and approachability, the tension never dropping for a second…a highly skilled piece of orchestral and choral writing, laced with sounds and melodies from Bosnia."

Musical Opinion (Stari Most)

"...an important musical moment... The music: excellent... The message: eternal."

The Advertiser (Stari Most, Come Out Festival, 2011, Adelaide)

The story of emigration to Australia is close to the bone for composer-educator Richard Chew, who with his family made that long journey back in 2005. He felt, however, that perhaps the seeds of that trek had always been there, remembering from his youth a visit to the Birmingham Art Gallery where he was struck by Ford Madox Brown's painting The Last of England.

When, years later, he found that it was a self portrait of the artist and his family, about to leave on that same long journey, it struck a chord that wouldn't go.

And so, to an appreciative audience in the resonant acoustic of the barrel room at Coriole, Chew unveiled a developing suite for piano, inspired by this painting. And what variety in his music. The business of preparing for the journey, the fond farewells, definitely goodbyes in those days. Then in Voyage, the rippling waves and the vast expanses of sea, the driving wind in Spinnaker, and a twenty-first century song without words in Leave Taken, with an aching melody.

Certain aspects of the painting, like the magenta of his wife's scarf (on which Ford apparently laboured for six weeks) receive special emphasis, in this case a driving, rhythmical pulse as he works and works the colour. Others are more broadly considered, like Waltz on the Sand, on their arrival.

If this is a work in progress, just wait for the finished product.

The Advertiser (The Last of EnglandCoriole Winery, Chamber Music Adelaide, 2013)

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