Richard Thompson is a performer and composer whose work encompasses jazz and Third Stream composition. Originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, Mr. Thompson made his debut at the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. He has appeared in live broadcasts for BBC Jazz and Classical Radio, Italian National Television and Radio and also given concerts at La Piccola Scala in Milan, among many others. Mr. Thompson’s orchestral appearances include concerts with the Harlem Festival Orchestra; the Boston Orchestra and Chorale; the Glasgow Chamber Orchestra; and the Aberdeen Chamber Orchestra.
In 1999 Mr. Thompson was awarded the first Individual Artist Award for classical music composition from the Brooklyn Arts Council. His winning piece, Legend of the Moors—a musical depiction of the presence and influence of the Moors in Spain during the Middle Ages—was premiered at the Brooklyn Conservatory. The following year Mr. Thompson’s orchestral piece Voices was premiered by the Long Island Sound Symphony Orchestra (under the direction of Dorothy Savitch). A discussion of some of Mr. Thompson’s compositions appears in the textbook African-American Music, An Introduction by Dr. Earl L. Stewart, published by Simon and Schuster Macmillan/Prentice Hall International.
In 1997 Mr. Thompson received a grant from Meet the Composer to perform his works at a local Arts Festival in Brooklyn. In addition to his performances as pianist of the Frank Lacy Quartet in Manhattan, Mr. Thompson also substituted for Geri Allen in an Off-Broadway production entitled In Walks Bud, performing on stage in the styles of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Mr. Thompson’s composition and recording credits include recording some of Graeme Revell’s music for Wayne Wang’s film Chinese Box; co-writing the score for Eve Annenberg’s independent feature Dogs: The Rise and Fall of an All-Girl Bookie Joint; and composing and recording music for the Columbia Tristar film Love Walked In.
Mr. Thompson’s song cycle The Shadow of Dawn had its world premiere by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra in 2000 at Merkin Hall, New York City. The performance—under the direction of Richard Auldon Clark—featured Christine Moore, soprano. The inspiration for this song cycle is the work of African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Richard Thompson’s recordings include the March 2006 release Poetry Prelude, a CD of original compositions on the Visionary Records label, distributed by Albany Records. Poetry Prelude includes his two song cycles: settings of the poetry of Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar; Six Preludes for Piano Solo; and a jazz quartet arrangement of the spiritual “Wade in the Water.” Also released in 2006 is Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Mr. Thompson’s arrangements of spirituals recorded with his New York based jazz group Mirage.
In 2011 Orchestra Nova, San Diego commissioned Mr. Thompson to write a concerto grosso for jazz quartet and string orchestra. The final movement of the piece was premiered (along with orchestral arrangements of two spirituals, "Wade in the Water" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child") in San Diego in 2011.
Mr. Thompson’s chamber opera, The Mask in the Mirror—a dramatization of the courtship and marriage of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore—was premiered in 2012 by Trilogy Opera, based in Newark New Jersey, under the artistic directorship of Kevin Maynor.
Mr. Thompson was commissioned by the city of San Diego and Caltrans in 2012 to compose a musical tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. to accompany the installation of a mural by artist Philip Matzigkeit which depicts the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. The piece, I Have Dream, is scored for jazz quintet; male jazz singer; and choir, and was first performed in October 2012.
Songs of Solitude, commissioned by soprano Marquita Lister, is a song cycle featuring the poems of Rudi Cleare.
Mr. Thompson’s work, Five Aspects of Othello—five settings soliloquies from Shakespeare’s play—for the operatic bass Kevin Maynor and chamber orchestra, was premiered in July 2020.
In July 2020 as part of an English National Opera recital of art songs by Black composers, British tenor Ronald Samm performed Thompson’s setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask.” (Enjoy that performance HERE.)
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Anna-Maria Helsing, premiered Mr. Thompson's Mask Suite as part of their online concert series in January 2021.
Also in 2021 Black Pierrot and The Negro Speaks of Rivers, two songs from Mr. Thompson's song cycle, Dream Variations, were performed by Lawrence Brownlee, accompanied by Joseph Joubert, as part of an online concert celebrating Black art song and the poetry of Langston Hughes, curated by Thomas Hampson. The concert was broadcast from the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg. In anticipation of the concert, Mr. Thompson took part in an online conversation with Thomas Hampson on the Idagio streaming service.
Mr. Thompson earned his undergraduate degree in music from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; his Master’s Degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey; and a jazz diploma from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While at Rutgers University, Mr. Thompson studied jazz piano with Kenny Barron and classical piano with Theodore Lettvin.
Mr. Thompson is currently Professor Emeritus of Music at San Diego State University, where he teaches theory, jazz performance, and history. He performs frequently in both jazz and classical concerts as a soloist and in many chamber groups, including his own jazz quintet.