Gramophone Award-winning conductor Richard Bernas was born in New York City. Based in London for many years, he has conducted most of the UK’s finest orchestras and performed extensively in Europe. An important part of his activity is working with many of today’s leading composers. The scope of Richard’s collaborations with composers has ranged from the world premieres of Nicholas Maw’s Odyssey at the Royal Festival Hall and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Sternklang in the Berliner Tiergarten to James Dillon’s Oceanos for the BBC Proms.
He made his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra debut in March 2009 conducting Samuel Barber’s First Essay and Leonard Bernstein’s On the Waterfront for Destino (Dance United) at Sadlers Wells. The Bernstein, coupled with other American film scores, was then recorded for the RPO’s own CD label and this was also used as the soundtrack of a documentary about Dance United’s unique outreach programme (Sky Arts). Subsequent appearances with the RPO have included works by Beethoven, Elgar, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and Gorecki.
For over twenty years he was artistic director of Music Projects/London, a chamber orchestra that explored contemporary music, gave regular workshops for composers, toured extensively for the Arts Council in Britain and the British Council in northern Europe. It also recorded for BBC Radio 3 and France Musique, and gave an annual winter series, New Images of Sound, first at Riverside Studios Hammersmith, later at the Almeida Theatre and Royal Academy of Arts. The series focused on introducing new music to London that had been first played elsewhere and was particularly innovative in its explorations of New Complexity, Japanese composers and the French spectralist group.
The association with the Almeida Theatre led to close relationship with their influential festival, where he conducted premiere performances of Wolfgang Rhim’s Jacob Lenz, John Casken’s Golem and Detlev Glanert’s Drei Wasserspiele as well as curating programmes in association with Tate Modern which ranged from Monteverdi to Steve Reich.
Other highlights of his theatre work include Britten’s Death in Venice and Prince of the Pagodas (Covent Garden and MET), the Gavin Bryars & Robert Wilson Medea (Lyon and Paris Operas), Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale (ROH2), Henze’s Ondine, Mozart’s Idomeneo and both the Ravel Operas. As well as the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, where he has been a guest for many years, other dance companies Richard has worked with include the Paris Opera, Theatre du Capitole (Toulouse), San Francisco, Hong Kong and New York City Ballets. His DVD of the world premiere of Roland Petit’s Clavigo (score by Gabriel Yared for the Paris Opera Ballet) is released by TDK.
Richard’s first discs were as a pianist for Brian Eno’s legendary Obscure label, where he taped music by John Cage and Harold Budd. His many CDs as conductor include the operas Greek by Mark Anthony Turnage (Decca) and Golem by John Casken (NMC) which won the 1991 Gramophone Award. “When the Moon” (Decca) was the first recording to systematically gather Charles Ives’ Sets for Theatre Orchestra and pair them with the songs which share the same material. Richard also conducted the BBC television production of Greek which won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Award for Best Broadcast and was subsequently issued on DVD.
As music consultant at Tate Modern, Richard has developed events that are without equivalent in European museums, being gallery rather than concert based. They have introduced contemporary music to new audiences in the context of major exhibitions and further broadened the range of performances at the museum. They have included Feldman’s Rothko Chapel and Tallis’ Lamentations in Tate’s Rothko Room, commissioning Rebecca Saunders’ Chroma for the large Turbine Hall and curating and/or performing works by Monteverdi, Nono, Berio, Satie, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage, Curran, Glass, Reich and others during such exhibitions as Arte Povera, Surrealism, Kandinsky and Twombly.
A fluent and experienced communicator, Richard contributes to Radio 3 programmes such as Music Matters and Hear and Now; this year he made an hour long documentary tracing the origins and history of musical minimalism and its links with visual arts practice.