Biography

Image: Andrew Palmer

Jonathan Dove’s music has filled opera houses with delighted audiences of all ages on five continents. Few, if any, contemporary composers have so successfully or consistently explored the potential of opera to communicate, to create wonder and to enrich people’s lives.

Born in 1959 to architect parents, Dove’s early musical experience came from playing the piano, organ and viola. Later he studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge and, after graduation, worked as a freelance accompanist, repetiteur, animateur and arranger. His early professional experience gave him a deep understanding of singers and the complex mechanics of the opera house. Opera and the voice have been the central priorities in Dove’s output throughout his subsequent career.

Starting with his breakthrough opera Flight, commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1998, Dove has gone on to write over twenty operatic works. Flight, a rare example of a successful modern comic opera, has been produced and broadcast many times, in Europe, the USA and Australia. More recently, The Adventures of Pinocchio, premiered by Opera North at Christmas 2007, achieves another rare feat in contemporary opera, being a successful full-length symphonically-conceived entertainment for a family audience. It too has been produced across the world.

Dove’s innate understanding of the individual voice is exemplified in his large and varied choral and song output. His carol The Three Kings was commissioned for the famous Nine Lessons and Carols service at King’s College, Cambridge. Dove’s confident optimism has made him the natural choice as the composer for big occasions. In 2010 A Song of Joys for chorus and orchestra opened the festivities at the Last Night of the Proms. Works such as his Missa Brevis, Wells Canticles and The Passing of the Year are in the repertories of choirs across the world.

A sure sense of dramatic narrative also informs Dove’s 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. In The Magic Flute Dances, a flute concerto, Dove imagines the life of Mozart’s eponymous instrument once the opera has ended.

Throughout his career Dove has made a serious commitment to community development through innovative musical projects. Tobias and the Angel, a 75-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 2012 opera Life is a Dream, written for Birmingham Opera Company, was performed by professionals and community choruses in a disused Birmingham warehouse, and a church opera involving community singers The Walk from The Garden was premiered at Salisbury Cathedral as part of the 2012 Salisbury International Arts Festival.

2015 brought the World Premiere of The Monster in the Maze, a new community opera commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, performed under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in three separate productions.

One reason Jonathan Dove’s Flight was such a triumph at Glyndebourne is that he understands the marriage of theatre and music. He knows how to rouse passions and raise smiles. Tunes flow in abundance, and for him, creating a mood, capturing a feeling for an instant, are second nature.

Fiona Maddocks | The Observer

Not since Benjamin Britten has a British composer succeeded in writing operas which communicate with such clarity and coherence to their audience as those by Jonathan Dove.

The Gramophone