Martyn Brabbins was Music Director of English National Opera 2016-2023. An inspirational force in British music, Brabbins has had a busy opera career since his early days at the Kirov and more recently at La Scala, the Bayerische Staatsoper, and regularly in Lyon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He guests with top international orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw, San Francisco Symphony, DSO Berlin and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, as well as the Philharmonia, BBC Symphony and most of the other leading UK orchestras. He is a popular figure at the BBC Proms, who in 2019 commissioned 14 living composers to write a birthday tribute to him. Known for his advocacy of British composers, he has conducted hundreds of world premieres across the globe. He has recorded nearly 150 CDs to date, including prize-winning discs of operas by Korngold, Birtwistle and Harvey. In 2023 he received the RPS Conductor Award for his "colossal" contribution to UK musical life.
He was Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1994-2005, Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic 2009-2015, Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic 2012-2016, and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music 2005-2007. He is Prince Consort Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music, Visiting Professor at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire and Artistic Advisor to the Huddersfield Choral Society, and has for many years supported professional, student and amateur music-making at the highest level in the UK.
In Autumn 2023, Brabbins opened the season at English National Opera with Britten Peter Grimes, directed by David Alden. Other highlights of the season include concerts with the BBC Symphony at the Barbican; Tippett’s opera, New Year, in concert and recorded with BBC Scottish Symphony; Handel’s Messiah with Opera North and the Huddersfield Choral Society, and a return to the Aldeburgh Festival with Nash Ensemble, whom he also conducts earlier next season in their Brett Dean focus. Concerts abroad range from Wagner, Elgar and Beethoven with the Symphony Orchestra of India, Rachmaninoff with Malmo, Vaughan Williams with the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias, and Szymanowski with the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra.
His discography ranges from Romantic to contemporary repertoire, with over 60 recordings for Hyperion Records alone, notably of Elgar, Walton and Tippett. He has received two Gramophone Awards, one for Birtwistle’s Mask of Orpheus with the BBC Symphony (NMC) and another in 2021 for Pickard chamber works with the Nash Ensemble (BIS); also the Cannes Opera Award for Korngold's Die Kathrin with the BBC Concert Orchestra (CPO), and the Grand Prix du Disque for Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream.
Brabbins studied composition in London and conducting with Ilya Musin in Leningrad, subsequently winning first prize at the 1988 Leeds Conductors' Competition which launched his international career.
MacMillan Exsultet (version for symphonic brass)
Gubaidulina Seven Words upon the Cross
De Sabata Gethsemani (comtemplative poem)
Wagner Parsifal: Extracts
Dvorák The Noonday Witch
Lutoslawski Cello Concerto
Pärt Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta
World War I:
Gurney War Elegy / Ravel Mother Goose Suite
Beamish Violin Concerto
Walton Symphony No.1 / Vaughan Williams Symphony No.3 'Pastoral'
Songs and Dances:
Mussorgsky Songs and Dances of Death (Pesni i plyaski smerti) (mezzo soprano & orchestra)
Fujikura Song cycle in a new orchestral version
Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)
“Firsts” – including a first performance by Kalevi Aho:
Beethoven Symphony no.1
Aho Trombone Concerto
Shostakovich Symphony no.1
Sibelius En Saga
Shostakovich Symphony no.5
Rachmaninov The Miserly Knight
Dance of the Earth:
Birtwistle Earth Dances
Stravinsky Sacre de Printemps
Harvey Body Mandela / Ades Asyla / Anderson Stations of the Sun
Holst The Planets
Bartok Miraculous Mandarin suite
Bartok Piano Concerto No.1
Hindemith Trauermusik (Viola solo)
Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, on theme by Weber
Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel
The Mask of Orpheus
The Second Mrs Kong
Volo di Notte
Der Prinz von Homburg
Alice in Wonderland
Le nozze di Figaro
Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail
Les mamelles de Tiresias
Love of 3 Oranges
War & Peace
Francesca da Rimini
The Miserly Knight
A Dog’s Heart
L’enfant et les sortileges
From Morning to Midnight
Der Ferne Klang
Queen of Spades
Child of our Time (staged oratorio)
The Flying Dutchman
Troilus and Cressida
Also possible: Borodin, Dvořák, Glinka, Martinu, Korngold, Rimsky-Korsakoff
"Brabbins’ Vaughan Williams symphony cycle continues to go from strength to strength with this impressively cogent, self-effacing reading…scrupulously attentive, uncommonly humane, utterly free of artifice and, to my mind, deserving of a place alongside Barbirolli, Boult, Previn, Handley and Haitink …"
BBC Music Magazine
Once in a while, a performance comes along that focus an understanding of a familiar work in a new way – or recaptures an insight that might have been lost. Martyn Brabbins's Enigma Variations is revelatory. Brabbins’ performance as a whole is a reminder of what a masterpiece of construction Enigma truly is….shows that ardour and subtlety can be two sides of the same complicated coin.
The orchestra played magnificently for him - what a fine and underrated band it is, every bit as good as the one along the road at Covent Garden and one of ENO’s priceless assets"