Few composers working today have embraced the modern opera house as consistently and successfully as Jonathan Dove. His incomparable catalogue of more than twenty diverse operatic works is indicative of a practical and lively theatrical mind, steeped in operatic experience. In all his music, Dove has a strong desire to communicate, to entertain, and to provoke transformative experiences. His musical language is at once immediately appreciated by listeners new to the concert hall and has provided performers, audiences and directors with rich possibilities for interpretation; several of his major operatic works have been performed in multiple productions all over the world, and his list of commissioners includes some of the world's greatest musicians. He is one of the only living composers able to write successful comic opera, to sustain a company through 150 performances of a single opera, or to captivate a million viewers with a single performance.
“I believe that opera can be for everyone - it's an exciting place of beauty and wonder and fun and enchantment.”
Born in London in 1959 to architect parents, Dove's early musical experiences came from playing the piano, organ and viola. He studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge and, after graduation, worked as a freelance accompanist, repetiteur, animateur and arranger. During these formative years, Dove got to know singers and the complex mechanics of the opera house through playing for rehearsals and devising outreach projects for large- and small-scale opera companies. In 1987 he briefly joined the music staff at Glyndebourne, beginning an informal association which lasted for a decade. Glyndebourne gave Dove his first major professional compositional projects, the community operas Hastings Spring, Dreamdragons, and In Search of Angels, and a work for wind octet Figures in the Garden, an al fresco amuse-oreille for the picnicking audience of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Meanwhile Dove immersed himself in the compositional process of the operatic literature by producing a sequence of brilliantly conceived re-orchestrations for chamber forces of great operas such as Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Verdi's Falstaff and Rossini's La Cenerentola for City of Birmingham Touring Opera, designed to enable access to great opera for a much wider audience. The most audacious of these projects was a version for 18 players of Wagner's complete Ring Cycle to be performed over two evenings. These ingenious arrangements have subsequently been performed by small-scale companies around the world.
Glyndebourne provided Dove with his breakthrough commission, the airport comedy Flight. Originally commissioned for Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1998, Flight was soon produced as part of the main festival and broadcast on network television, and has since gone on to achieve astounding success, with some 13 productions to date in Europe, the USA and Australia, and a CD released commercially by Chandos records. Inspired in part by the story of Mehran Nasseri, an Iranian who lived for 17 years at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Flight is an ensemble opera on a grand scale which reconnects contemporary opera with the comic tradition of Mozart and Rossini. At the same time, through its awareness of 'CNN Opera' and the music theatre innovations of Sondheim and Bernstein, and through its brilliantly witty libretto by April de Angelis, Flight speaks in an utterly up-to-the-minute voice.
Important concerns from Dove's early projects have consistently occupied him in his work to date. Dove's commitment to community development through innovative musical projects is serious and honest, and he remains passionate about introducing new audiences to opera. Tobias and the Angel, a 70-minute opera written in 1999, brings together children, community choirs, and professional singers and musicians in a vivid and moving retelling of the Book of Tobit. His large-scale opera The Palace In The Sky commissioned by ENO in 2000 brought together musicians of many backgrounds from around Hackney; Turkish Saz players side-by-side with a Salvation Army Band, a community choir of elderly singers (Old Spice), children, and professional singers and instrumentalists. In The Hackney Chronicles schoolchildren do not just perform all the roles, learning quite a bit of history as they do so, but manage all other aspects of the production, from set designs to front of house. Community history and diversity is also celebrated in the 2005 community cantata On Spital Fields a piece of work recognized by a Royal Philharmonic Society Award in 2005 and a British Composer Award in 2006.
In his works for professionals Dove always has a broad audience in mind. Two operas were commissioned specifically for broadcast by Channel 4 television (UK), both dealing with subjects notable for uniting large numbers of people in a television experience - the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in When She Died, and the first moon landing in Man on the Moon. This latter opera won the Opera Special Prize at the Rose d'Or Festival for Television Programming in 2007 and a Gold Medal at the Park City Film Music Festival 2008. In three of his most recent works for the stage, Dove and his librettist Alasdair Middleton have adapted fairy tale sources to provide thrilling entertainments for children and adults. The Enchanted Pig, commissioned by The Opera Group and The Young Vic, an irreverent retelling of a Romanian folk-tale, has enjoyed a number of performances more usually associated with Broadway or West End musicals, and the Opera North commission Swanhunter, inspired by the Kalevala legends, has introduced young audiences to the heroic-adventure opera tradition. Dove's most notable opera success in recent years has been the full-scale main-house opera The Adventures of Pinocchio. First produced by Opera North at Christmas 2007, Pinocchio achieves another feat rare in contemporary opera, being a successful full-length symphonically-conceived entertainment for all the family. The Adventures of Pinocchio does not hide the macabre elements of Collodi's original story, and the dark and colourful drama has had full houses gripped. In its first three years, The Adventures of Pinocchio has been performed more than 80 times in productions in the UK, Germany and the USA with several new productions and revivals planned. Pinocchio won a British Composer Award in 2008.
It is perhaps natural that a composer who so completely understands the individual voice should also be a brilliant and sympathetic writer of choral music. Dove has composed many works, both for concert and liturgical use, which are in the repertoires of choirs around the world. His carol The Three Kings was commissioned for the famous Nine Lessons and Carols service at King's College Cambridge on Christmas Eve 2000 and has been recorded by EMI. His recent Missa Brevis, commissioned by the Cathedral Organists' Association was premiered by the Choir of Wells Cathedral in 2009, has subsequently been performed at services all over the UK and was chosen for the BBC's Christmas Day Worship broadcast in 2009. Other works include anthems; I am the day, Bless the Lord, O My Soul, The Star Song, I will lift up mine eyes and the cycle of seasonally inspired poetry The Passing of the Year. Larger scale works with chorus include Köthener Messe, in which the spirit of Bach's early cantatas can be heard informing the music (and is one of several works in which Dove exploits his fascination with early musical instruments), the epic and moving There Was A Child, a unique 'celebration of life' for chorus, soloists and orchestra inspired by the untimely death of a young man, and For an Unknown Soldier which commemorates the centenary of World War 1.
Dove's sure sense of dramatic narrative also informs his orchestral and instrumental music. Stargazer, a concerto for trombone and orchestra commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and premiered by them with Ian Bousfield and Michael Tilson Thomas, has been described by Dove as an opera for the solo instrument - the initial stimulus being a typically theatrical image of the trombone as a kind of musical telescope. In The Magic Flute Dances, a concerto for flute and orchestra, Dove imagines the life of Mozart's eponymous instrument once the opera has ended. Moonlight Revels a double concerto for trumpet and saxophone describes the volatile relationship between Shakespeare's Titania and Oberon. Commissioned as part of BBC Radio 3's 60th birthday celebrations and first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Lawrence Zazzo and Jiri Behlolavek, Hojoki , is a 30 minute concert scena for Dove's beloved counter-tenor voice and orchestra. Recent work has included a large-scale orchestral piece for the BBC Proms 2014, Gaia Theory which explores Dove's increasing concern with ecological ideas.
While Dove's language suits a broad canvass extremely well, he has written several compelling works for intimate chamber forces. These include the String Quartet Out of Time and the Piano Quintet, written for the Schubert Ensemble in 2009, a demonstration of Dove's innate understanding of pianism and chamber music technique.
Dove's confident optimism has often made him the natural choice as the composer for big national occasions. His music ushered in the millennium, with fanfares performed as part of London's celebrations at the new Millennium Dome. The inauguration by the Queen of the Millennium footbridge across the Thames was celebrated with Handelian aplomb in Fanfares Across The Thames, with groups on each bank of the Thames and on a barge in the middle firing musical volleys at each other. In 2010 A Song of Joys for chorus and orchestra opened the festivities at the Last Night of the Proms.
Apart from his intensely busy compositional schedule, Dove has demonstrated his brilliance as a programmer and administrator. He was acclaimed for his term as Artistic Director of London's Spitalfields Festival between 2001–2006.
Outside of the concert hall and opera house, Dove has provided many scores for major theatrical productions. He is an Associate of the National Theatre (most recently providing music for His Dark Materials and Oedipus), and for many years was Music Advisor to the Almeida Theatre. He has also written for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Dove was presented with the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music in 2008.
© Peters Edtion Ltd; this biography may be reproduced until 28.02.2015