An award-winning conductor and acclaimed composer, Richard Prior has a rich musical family heritage that includes Fred Waggett (a prominent figure in mid twentieth-century British conducting), flautist Albert Waggett (a founding member of the English Opera Group with Benjamin Britten) and composer/ jazz saxophone legend, Tim Garland. His own musical training began in his native England, where he received degrees from Leeds and Nottingham Universities; he was visiting Fellow-in-Music and guest composer at Oxford University, U.K. in 1997. For twenty-five years, he taught composition and related areas extensively and built notable symphony programs at several universities and colleges in the United States before moving exclusively to professional conducting engagements and composing.
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, the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra and the Auburn Community Orchestra. Prior has worked with a range of distinguished soloists including sopranos Silvia McNair and Yulia Van Doren, cellists Matt Haimovitz and Denise Djokic, violinists David Kim, Tim Fain and Sinisa Ciric, pianists William Ransom and James Swisher, oboist Joseph Robinson, flautist Jonathan Keeble, 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 opera and standard major choral-orchestral repertoire in addition to contemporary works.
Prior was the Music Director and Conductor of the Rome Symphony Orchestra from 2008-2015, holding the Georgia Power Conducting Chair; in July of 2015, he was appointed the Music Director and Conductor of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra and in addition serves as Music Director and Conductor for Symphony Without Borders. A committed music educator, Prior has conducted high school honor groups all over the country including multiple All State orchestras. He undertook conductor-composer residencies in 2016 with the Texas Tech University Symphony and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Symphony. Prior was the National Flute Association’s conductor for the 2019 National Convention’s Concerto Gala Concert featuring concertos with Chelsea Knox (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Helene Boulegue (Stuttgart Symphony), Jonathan Keeble (University of Illinois) and Christina Smith (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra).
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. 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.” This work was also featured at the University of Delaware in the 2016-2017 Season with faculty cellist Lawrence Stomberg and at the Peninsula Music Festival’s in 2016 with Maestro Victor Yampolsky and cellist, Denise Djocik.
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 released a recording on their own label in 2020.
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, emotion, flow and orchestration. It should be heard and the ASO should record it.”
Other notable 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 dedicated 2009 PBS broadcast. 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 Winship Award and the 2011 Crystal Apple Award for Excellence in Education at Emory University. 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.
Works for forthcoming seasons include Symphony No. 4 (commissioned by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra), the second piano concerto and an oboe quartet for a Naxos recording project. Prior’s compositions are published by Alliance Music Publishers and Theodore Presser.
Former private students have gone on to successfully complete undergraduate and graduate programs at Curtis, UC Boulder, Michigan, Northwestern, Columbia, Rice, Oberlin, MIT, Indiana, CIM, CCM, NEC, UMKC and the Royal College of Music (UK).