Professor Simon Wills FGS BA ARCM

Key details:

Department:
Chamber Music | Wind, Brass & Percussion
Role:
Trombone & Ubu Ensemble
Simon Wills

Biography

Simon Wills began his career in the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. After some years with Welsh National Opera, he joined the London Symphony Orchestra and was simultaneously principal trombone of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, a post he held for fourteen years.  During his time with COE the orchestra recorded its celebrated Beethoven and Schumann cycles with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and gave the first performance in modern times of Rossini's Viaggio a Reims. He has worked with all the orchestras in the UK, particularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the BBC orchestras, and also been a guest principal with the Teatro all Scala, Milan, the Berliner Staatsoper under den Linden, the Moscow Soloists, Orquestra de Cadaques, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, the Symphony Orchestra of India and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.  

He was for many years a well known player on the contemporary scene, playing with London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern,  Lontano, Endymion, Composers Ensemble  and Critical Band, with whom he made several recordings of the works of Xenakis, supervised by the composer.  He played in the Fires of London in its latter years; Peter Maxwell Davies wrote his solo trombone piece Judas Mercator for him. He was engaged by the Biennale di Venezia for the creation and first performances of Luigi Nono's Prometeo and has taken part in many other  premieres including Elliott Carter's Dialogues, Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice, The House of Crossed Desires by John Woolrich and James Wood's Proms commission Two Men Meet, Each Presuming The Other To Be From A Distant Planet.   

Simon's work in historical performance has included the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble, Orchest van de Achttiende Eeuw, Gabrieli Consort and Freiburger Barockorchester, with whom he has appeared as soloist, recording the Michael Haydn Adagio and Allegrofor horn, alto trombone and orchestra for SWR. 

He is a widely performed composer, particularly for the theatre, and is usually his own librettist. Stage works include A Day Close to Summer, written for the Baden Baden festpielhaus, The Secret Agent  an opera based on Joseph Conrad's novella, written for the Feldkirch Festival in Austria and The Stolen Smells, a full-sized opera buffa which he conducted in Luzern in 2012.  It was subsequently produced by Norddeutsche Rundfunk at the Kampnagel in Hamburg.   A stage work for children, Du Bist Da, Du Bist Fort which was commissioned by the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus won the Junge Ohren prize for music theatre in 2013.  The same year, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester  opened its season with his Wodehouse-inspired orchestral overture Empress of Blandings; the BBC Symphony Orchestra later recorded the work for Radio 3.  The Münchner Philharmoniker has recently toured and broadcast his Dante symphony, Malebolge and, in 2014, Simon became the first British composer since 1959 to receive a Cuban premiere, when he conducted his tone poem Bolondrón in Havana with the Orquestra del Liceu. His Caribbean-inspired tone poem The Island, commissioned and premiered by the Tönhalleorchester in Zürich recently received its first UK performance with the Ulster Orchestra; in 2018, it was broadcast on Radio 3 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.  1816, Das Jahre öhne Sommer an experimental theatre work with a libretto by Anette Bieker, was commissioned for the 2016 Schumannfest in Düsseldorf.  It was conceived for a large industrial space, with the audience moving between scenes set around the building. In June of the same year, Anita Berber, Göttin der Nacht, Simon's narrative ballet for large orchestra, was produced by Thüringer Staatsballet at Gera opera house near Leipzig.  It was a collaboration with the choreographers Jiri and Otto Bubenicek, and the production has been revived several times at Gera and Altenburg.  Simon subsequently reworked some of the music into Death Dances: a symphony for Anita Berber.  His secular meditation for Christmas, Hoping It Might Be So, is regularly heard all over Germany and his Prelude and Fugue for Christmas was recently performed by the Berlin Philharmonic.  Other recent works include Katz!!!, a set of 'Symphonic Variations in the form of a fairytale' Concerto in Autumn for violin and orchestra and a piece 'for orchestra with a trombone sticking out of it', provisionally titled Nora Barnacle Assumes Command, is scheduled for performance in 2022.   

He frequently conducts his own works, and has appeared as guest conductor with the Luzern Symphony Orchestra, Cyprus State Orchestra, Turan Alem Symphony Orchestra in Kazakhstan and Stockholms Blasarshymphoniker. As part of the celebrations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala in 2007 he conducted what is believed to have been the Ugandan premiere of Mozart's Requiemin Namirembe Cathedral.  The performance used choirs from around Kampala and an orchestra drawn from Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda - suplemented by a number of GSMD students.    

He has been on the staff at Guildhall since 1986 and as well as teaching trombone there he conducts Ubu, a long-running project dedicated to understanding and promoting the classics of 20th century repertoire.  He has been a visiting professor at the Conservatoire Superieure in Paris, the University of North Texas, Hyogo Performing Arts Center in Osaka, Tallinn Academy, Kurmangazy Institute in Almaty and the Kazakh National University of the Arts in Nur-Sultan. He set up the western music teaching faculty and chamber concert series at the University of Trinidad and Tobago and taught composition and brass ensembles at the Institute for the Arts in Havana as part of the Cuba/Europe orchestral academy. 

His principal area of academic expertise is the London orchestral profession in the late Georgian and early Victorian eras, with a particular interest in the role of brass in popular and low-class entertainment.  He has presented academic papers in the UK, the USA, France, Italy and Kazakhstan, contributed two chapters to the Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments and wrote a number of entries in the recent award-winning Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Brass Instruments. His practice-based research concentrates on non-Western approaches to brass playing, particularly the Uzbek karnay and the street brass bands in India.  His study of these evolved into an interest in the breathing techniques used in Indian and Asian club swinging, and their application to brass playing. 

 

Recent Research Outputs

das Jahre ohne Sommer

Professor Simon Wills FGS BA ARCM

Wills, Simon. das Jahre ohne Sommer. Dusseldorf, Bui-Bui Bilk: Schumannfest, 2016.

Composition

Anita Berber - Gottin der Nacht

Professor Simon Wills FGS BA ARCM

Wills, Simon. Anita Berber - Gottin der Nacht. Germany, Gera: Thueringer Staatsballet, 2016.

Composition

Bolondrón

Professor Simon Wills FGS BA ARCM

Wills, Simon. Bolondrón. San Felipe Neri, Havana, Orquestra Liceu, 2014.

Composition

Christmas, Hoping It Might Be So

Professor Simon Wills FGS BA ARCM

Wills, Simon. Christmas, Hoping It Might Be So. Germany Edition Balthasar Neumann, 2013.

Composition