Getting to know Will Todd

23 June 2022

Welsh National Opera’s Summer 2022 Season sees the first performance of our brand-new opera, Migrations. Through music, British composer Will Todd has brought together all six of the stories explored in the opera, which opens at Wales Millennium Centre on Wednesday 29 June. We take the opportunity to get to know him and how he found his musical calling. 

As well as being obsessed with the piano in our house, from my earliest memories I loved listening to all types of music. In our home we listened to opera, classical, pop, rock, jazz, folk and choral music. I feel very fortunate that my mum and dad had such eclectic music tastes.

Born in County Durham in 1970, Will Todd attended Durham School on a full music scholarship. He was a member of the choir of St Oswald's Church, Durham under choirmaster, David Higgins and he went on to study music at the University of Bristol. 

Will’s catalogue of works includes everything from cantatas and oratorios to orchestral pieces. Alongside his classical work, he is an accomplished jazz pianist and plays regularly with his jazz Ensemble. He has become synonymous for his fusion of styles and influences. His continually popular Mass in Blue (2003) combines choral music with jazz. Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Migrations, also showcase this approach. 

‘Migrations is the most complicated piece I've ever worked on. I've tried to give the story lines a sense of distinct musical character while at the same time finding themes that can energise the whole show and give it a sense of connectedness across the whole performance.

Will’s approach to writing starts with him on the piano, the words in front of him if it’s a piece with words, improvising as he reads – or sings; chords and melodic ideas emerging as he plays. 

I think all the improvising and experimentation on the piano made me start thinking about composing music from the outset. I've always been fascinated by “how do you do that?” when I hear songs or music. I suppose it's curiosity. I still love performing though, as it's a different feeling to composing.

As a composer, Will Todd has worked with, among others, Opera North, Opera Holland Park, as well as with WNO, The Sixteen, Tenebrae, BBC Concert Orchestra, The Halle Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra, and composed the anthem, The Call of Wisdom, which was commissioned for HRH The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service.

If he could be any instrument in the Orchestra, what would he be? ‘A trumpet. Lots of amazing moments but also plenty of rests!’ 

Migrations opens at Wales Millennium Centre on Wednesday 29 June with subsequent performances on Friday 1 and Saturday 1 July. The opera also forms part of our Autumn 2022 Season which will see it visit Llandudno, Plymouth, Birmingham and Southampton following another performance in Cardiff.