Born near Manchester, of German/Irish descent, Alec Roth studied music at the University of Durham, and gamelan at the Academy of Indonesian Performing Arts (ASKI) in Surakarta, Central Java. From 1986 to 1989 he was holder of the Collard Fellowship, and in 2000 received a major grant to further his composition work from the Gulbenkian Foundation. Posts he has held include Founder/Artistic Director of the Royal Festival Hall Gamelan Programme and Southbank Gamelan Players; Music Director of the Baylis Programme at English National Opera; and Composer in Association, Opera North. He now works as a freelance composer.
Alec Roth’s collaborations with the Indian writer Vikram Seth include the song cycles Chinese Gardens (Chester Festival commission) and Romantic Residues (Bury St Edmunds Festival commission) and Earth and Sky for children’s chorus (BBC commission for the Proms 2000 season). Vikram Seth was also the librettist for Arion and the Dolphin, commissioned by English National Opera and premiered in the Royal Navy Dockyard, Plymouth in 1994.
Other works include a version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with gamelan; Gretel and Hansel, an opera for young people, libretto by David Sulkin; The Big Wash Cycle, songs to words by Jo Shapcott; All Summer in a Day, a musical drama for children to perform to adults, based on the story by Ray Bradbury; and four commissions for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields: Departure of the Queen of Sheba for oboe, cor anglais and string orchestra; Nocturne for viola and string orchestra; Concertino Piccolo for string orchestra with two groups of young violinists; and Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra. The concerto was for the Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski for whom he has also composed a Quintet and numerous solo works.
Between 2006 and 2009 he completed The Rivered Earth, a sequence of four major works – Songs in Time of War; Shared Ground; The Traveller; Seven Elements – created in collaboration with Vikram Seth and violinist Philippe Honoré, co-commissioned by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals. Vikram’s book The Rivered Earth (Penguin 2011) tells the story of the project, including an account of “the pleasures and pains of working with a composer”.
Recent works include Earthrise for unaccompanied choir in 40 parts, commissioned to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jeffrey Skidmore’s choir Ex Cathedra; the song-cycle My Lute and I – the latest in a series of works composed for the tenor Mark Padmore; A Time to Dance, a cantata for soloists, choir and orchestra, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer Music Society of Dorset; and Old Earth, a music-theatre piece, words by Samuel Beckett, for actor (Alan Howard) and unaccompanied choir (Harry Christophers and The Sixteen), commissioned by the Spitalfields Festival. In November 2012, the anthem Jubilate, commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund for the annual Festival of St Cecilia, was given its first performance at St Paul’s Cathedral by the combined Choirs of St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.