Robin Stevens was born in Wales in 1958, and grew up in the south of England. His early musical experiences included, as a very young child, singing himself to sleep with melodies absorbed from overhearing his mother practising the piano. Being a member of the local church choir, and playing cello in the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra, were important formative influences. At the age of sixteen he undertook a two-year preparatory music course at Dartington College, Devon – overall, a very positive experience indeed – and at Dartington he performed the Elgar Cello Concerto with the College orchestra.
Robin’s interest in composing, and indeed his decision to be a professional musician, was precipitated by watching a televised masterclass given by the French cellist, Paul Tortelier, on the first of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, and throughout his teens, Robin produced passable pastiches of mainstream Classical composers such as Mozart and Mendelssohn. At eighteen he undertook the Joint Course at Manchester, studying cello at the Royal Northern College of Music with Raphael Sommer and Moray Welsh, and completing a Music Degree at the Music Department of Manchester University.
In his twenties, Robin worked for five years on the staff of St. Paul’s Church, York, as Music Director and Pastoral Worker, composing a considerable quantity of both congregational worship material and solo songs, music which became an integral part of the worshipping life of St. Paul’s. Towards the end of his time in York, Robin wrote three substantial chamber works; two violin sonatas, and a sonata for unaccompanied cello, his first significant instrumental compositions. Then followed a year of teacher training, and three years heading up the Music Department of a Yorkshire Comprehensive School.
Robin’s career as a schoolteacher ended when he contracted post-viral fatigue, an illness which kept him from full-time employment for the next seventeen years. During that period, he was only able to write small-scale pieces, mainly for cello and piano. Soon after recovering his health in 2007, Robin began a part-time PhD in Composition at Manchester University, where his supervisors were Philip Grange and Kevin Malone. Throughout these six years of postgraduate study, Robin supported himself through giving personal tuition in Mathematics, English, and Non-Verbal Reasoning, to nine- and ten-year-old children, a practice which he finds fulfilling, and which he continues to the present day.
At the start of his PhD studies, Robin had not written a major composition for twenty years, though over that period his style had progressed considerably, so he set himself the task of creating a portfolio of large-scale compositions, producing a substantial piece (as well as a succession of exploratory miniatures) in each of his six years as a postgraduate: two string quartets (2008 and 2011); a Fantasy Trio, for flute, guitar and cello (2009); a Romantic Fantasy for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet (2010); an orchestral work entitled Mourning Into Dancing (2012); and finally, an epic Brass Odyssey, for brass band and six percussionists (2013). All but the first of these pieces have received public performances and are recorded, with the internationally-renowned Quatuor Danel premiering the String Quartet No.2 in Manchester in 2012.
Since completing his PhD in 2013, Robin has written prolifically. He is particularly interested in relatively neglected, ‘Cinderella’ instruments, as witnessed, for example, by his Five Portraits for Three Bassoons, written for the Amici Bassoon Trio, his Fantasia Dramatica for two euphoniums, or his Variations on Auld Lang Syne, for four oboes and two cors anglais. He has also written a duo for cello and pipa (a Chinese guitar), and a trio, ‘Pandora’s Box’, for six recorders (1 player!), cello and bassoon.
The recording world has also started to open up for him. His Balmoral Suite, featuring John Turner on recorder and the Manchester Chamber Orchestra under Richard Howarth, has just been released on the Prima Facie label (spring 2019), and ‘Prevailing Winds’, a CD of his music for (unsurprisingly!) wind instruments was recorded in February 2019, and is due for release later this year on the Divine Art label: this CD features luminaries of the British orchestral scene such as Richard Simpson (principal oboe, BBC Symphony) and John Bradbury (principal clarinet, BBC Philharmonic). In John Bradbury’s words, ”It’s remarkable that such a range of music could flow from the same pen!” In a busy recording year, Robin’s two string quartets and his string quintet are being recorded by the prizewinning, London-based Behn Quartet, to be released early in 2020.