Award-winning conductor and acclaimed composer Richard Prior holds the Edward Goodwin Scruggs Conducting Chair at Emory University. As Director of Orchestral Studies he conducts both the Emory University Symphony Orchestra and Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra in addition to being the senior lecturer in composition. Prior has been the Music Director of the Rome Symphony Orchestra since 2008 where he holds the Georgia Power Conducting Chair.
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.
As a guest conductor, Prior has led performances with members of the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Houston Symphony, Montreal Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra. Internationally, he has also appeared with the National Symphony of Ukraine, the Odessa Philharmonic, the Cairo National Symphony and in the USA, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the New Orleans Civic Symphony, the Rome Symphony Orchestra and most recently the LaGrange Symphony. 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, jazz saxophonist, Victor Goines and vocal sensation, Janelle Monae. With a strong background in choral music, Prior is a genuinely versatile conductor who can draw together the forces for not only opera but also standard major repertoire including Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Mozart Requiem (most recently with the ATL Symphony Musicians and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus), Haydn Creation, Orff Carmina Burana, Handel Messiah, Faure Requiem in addition to contemporary works.
Reviews in the professional press cite his “stirring conviction,” “precision,” and “stylishness and flexibility,” with the noted “meteoric rise” of ensembles under his direction. Prior’s mentors and 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 Cultural Assessment Committee and is past-President of the 501c(3) ReStringHaiti organization dedicated to restoring and expanding music education and performance opportunities to Haiti.
From works written as a child and presented in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II to his professional debut in 1988 at London’s Westminster Abbey, Richard Prior’s music has been performed, recorded, and broadcast widely in Europe and North America. Recent premieres have included String Quartets No. 1 and 2 with 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 composition teachers and mentors include Alan Ridout, Philip Wilby, James Fulkerson, Nigel Osborne and Trevor Wishart. He has been a selected participant in workshops and master classes with a diverse array of composers including Pierre Boulez, Henryk Gorecki, John McCabe and Milton Babbitt.
Matt Haimovitz premiered Prior’s cello concerto in October 2014 in a performance conducted by the composer and said of the work “Richard’s music embraces a soaring lyricism, cinematic in scope with a rich sense of orchestral colors. The cello writing is wonderfully idiomatic, deeply satisfying for the cellist to play and interact with the orchestra. This new concerto is a major contribution to the cello repertoire.”
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Robert Spano 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 went on to present three performances of his Symphony No. 3 in November 2014 under the direction of Robert Spano, a work also featured at the finale of Northwestern University’s 2013-2014 Season with Victor Yampolsky and the season finale of the Cairo Symphony in Egypt with the composer conducting. Reviews and commentary from the Chicago/Midwest premiere called Prior “a symphonic sorcerer” and “one of the most bad-ass composers of all time”.
“Richard wrote us a fantastic piece last season, and, as with many of our family of composers, we wanted to follow up this season with more of his music. His music is so powerful, dramatic and colorful, that it has an immediate impact. But living with it over time, it grows deeper and richer.” Robert Spano quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Reviews in Atlanta called the work “a major new symphony”, “always engaging and the soundscape is constantly changing” and the long-time Atlanta Journal Constitution critic James Paulk said “…it’s the best new work I’ve heard here. Prior is rapidly becoming Atlanta’s preeminent composer”. Atlanta music critic William Ford wrote “This is a major work that is a triumph of integration, flow, emotion, flow and orchestration. It should be heard and the ASO should record it.”
A winner of numerous awards for his compositions and conducting, 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, a third string quartet, a flute concerto, a violin concerto and a work for flute and harp.
Students of Prior have gone on to successfully complete undergraduate and graduate programs at UC Boulder, Michigan, Northwestern, Columbia, Rice, Oberlin, MIT, Indiana, CIM, CCM and the Royal College of Music (UK).