An award-winning conductor and composer, Richard Prior has a deep family heritage in music that includes grandfather, Albert Waggett (flautist and a founding member of Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group), great uncle, Fred Waggett (a noted figure in mid twentieth-century British conducting and colleague of Eric Coates), and cousin, Tim Garland (composer and jazz saxophone legend).
His own musical training began in his native England with an upbringing in the rich tradition of English cathedral choirs; as an undergraduate at Leeds University, he was the Lord Edward Boyle Choral Scholar at Leeds Minster, studying vocal performance with renowned contralto, Jean Allister. He holds a BA (Hons) from Leeds, an AMusD from Nottingham University, and is an Associate Fellow (Church Music) of the National College of Music. Richard was later a visiting Fellow in Music, guest composer and choral conductor at Oxford University. For twenty-seven years, he taught composition and built nationally recognized symphony programs in higher education settings before moving exclusively to professional conducting engagements and composing.
Richard has held numerous conducting positions, including with large choral societies and church choirs. As the founding Director of Nottingham University Chamber Choir and the English Cathedral Chamber Choir, he led concert performances and cathedral residencies, including at Lichfield, Peterborough, and Wells. In the U.S., he has conducted a variety of choral groups as part of regular choral-orchestral collaborations (Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah etc.) and was also interim Director of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte. Notably, he stepped in to lead the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and ASO musicians in performances of Mozart’s Requiem during the ASO’s 2014 contract negotiations. Richard is a founding member and co-artistic director of the eight-voice a cappella ensemble, STELLARUM.
From 2008-15 the Music Director and Conductor of the Rome Symphony Orchestra, Richard was subsequently appointed Music Director and Conductor of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra, where he holds the Dr. George and Reverend Helen Henry Conducting Chair. As a guest conductor, he has led performances with members of the New York Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Houston Symphony, Montreal Symphony, New Orleans Philharmonic, Tulsa Symphony, Charlotte Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. Internationally, Richard has appeared with the National Symphony of Ukraine, the Odessa Philharmonic, and the Cairo National Symphony. Richard’s mentors and principal conducting teachers include Sir Simon Rattle, James Paul, and William LaRue Jones. Reviews in the professional press cite his “stirring conviction, precision” and “stylishness and flexibility”, and noted the “meteoric rise” of ensembles under his direction.
He has worked with many distinguished soloists, including singers Silvia McNair, Indra Thomas, Yulia Van Doren and Daveda Karanas; cellists Matt Haimovitz and Denise Djokic; violinists David Kim, Tim Fain and Sinisa Ciric; pianists William Ransom, Vijay Venkatesh and James Swisher; oboist Joseph Robinson, flautist Jonathan Keeble, jazz saxophonist Victor Goines; and vocal sensation, Janelle Monae. Richard was the conductor for the Concerto Gala Concert of the 2019 National Convention of National Flute Association, featuring concertos with Chelsea Knox (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Helene Boulegue (Stuttgart Symphony), and Christina Smith (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra), presented at Abravanel Hall, SLC, Utah. Jonathan Keeble (University of Illinois) gave the fourth U.S. performance of Richard’s own Concerto for Flute and Orchestra at that event.
From compositions written as a child (including one presented in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in Kent, in 1984), to his professional debut in 1988 at London’s Westminster Abbey, Richard’s own music has been performed, recorded, and broadcast widely in Europe and North America. His 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.
Richard is a recipient of the Harvey Philips Award for Excellence in Composition presented at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, both the Winship Faculty and Crystal Apple for Excellence in Education awards at Emory University, and the Wise-Diggs-Berry Faculty Award at Oklahoma State. 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.
Matt Haimovitz premiered Richard’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in 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 concerto has also been featured at the University of Delaware with faculty cellist Lawrence Stomberg, and at the Peninsula Music Festival with Maestro Victor Yampolsky and cellist, Denise Djocik.
The critically acclaimed tone poem commissioned and recorded by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, “…of shadow and light…(incantations for orchestra)” unusually won 3rd Place nationally for the 2021 American Prize in both Compositions for Orchestra and the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music. Critical review called the work “dramatic, stunning” and “jubilant”, identifying Richard as perhaps “the most gifted of the Atlanta [school of] composers”, citing his mastery of orchestration, lyricism, and musical drama.
“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.
The ASO went on to present three performances of his Symphony No. 3 under the direction of Robert Spano (a work also featured at Northwestern University under Maestro Victor Yampolsky, and the Cairo Symphony in Egypt, with the composer conducting). Reviews and media commentary from the Chicago/Midwest premiere called the composer “a symphonic sorcerer”. 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, featured on national public television as one of the first broadcasts in HD. Recent and current composition projects include Symphony No. 4 (also commissioned by Robert Spano and the ASO), a concerto for virtuoso pianist, Ian Hobson, and a concerto for renowned bassist, Jacqueline Pickett.
A committed music educator, Richard has conducted high school honor groups around the U.S. including multiple All State orchestras and has undertaken conducting and composition residencies at several universities. He is a founding member and past President of the College Orchestra Directors Association (CODA), South Central Division. Students from his private composition studio have gone on to successfully complete undergraduate and graduate programs in conducting and composition at Juilliard, Curtis, UC Boulder, Michigan, Northwestern, Columbia, Rice, Oberlin, MIT, Indiana, CIM, CCM, NEC, UMKC, and the Royal College of Music (U.K.).