Image ⓒ Rory O'Bryen
Stef Conner began her musical career as pianist and backing singer in the Northumbrian folk band The Unthanks (then Rachel Unthank and the Winterset), performing all over the world and appearing on television and radio, including performances at the Barbican, Covent Garden Opera House, Glastonbury, Womad, the BBC Folk Awards and the Mercury Music Awards. Stef’s first gig with the band received a 5-star review from Observer critic Paul Morley and her performances with the group were consistently highly praised. Touring with the Unthanks meant that she was also fortunate enough to support, and sometimes collaborate with other inspiring artists, including Billy Bragg, the Thompsons, Lau, Devon Sproule, Adele and Ben Folds. Although Stef parted ways with the Unthanks in 2009, the English folk tradition, and the band’s raw and affecting approach to storytelling through song, made a huge impact on her style.
Since leaving The Unthanks, Stef has carved a niche for herself in the misty borderlands between the classical and traditional music worlds, combining the intense emotional sincerity of traditional song with jazz-infused contemporary harmony and a palette of techniques drawn from the study of ancient music and poetry. In 2014, she released her debut album The Flood, with her group The Lyre Ensemble. Showcasing beautiful new music in ancient Mesopotamian languages, accompanied by a reconstruction of the 4500-year-old Gold Lyre of Ur, the album became something of an online phenomenon, with well over a million listens on one website alone.
As well as singing her own music, Stef has composed new works for leading jazz, folk and classical performers, including Streetwise Opera, The Ligeti Quartet, The Kreutzer Quartet, The Nieuw Ensemble, Juice, Ruth Keggin, The Unthanks, Susannah Austin, Julian Argüelles, The Esoterics, Queens’ College Choir, The Renaissance Singers, Cadenza, Dark Inventions, John Potter, members of Ensemble 10/10 and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Two of her compositions premiered at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and she has also enjoyed performances in York Minster, Lichfield and Peterborough Cathedrals, Waltham Abbey, the Royal Festival Hall, Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre and The China Conservatory (Beijing) as well as numerous other venues in the UK and broadcasts on BBC Radio 2 and 3. Awards for her work include the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, the Esoterics POLYPHONOUS Competition and Waverley Care’s ‘Sing a New Song’ Competition, and she has taken part in Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival’s European Composers’ Professional Development Programme and the PRSF/Making Music/Sound and Music Adopt-a-Composer Scheme, as well as having been awarded grants towards creative projects by the Bliss Trust, PRSF, Ralph Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust and John Ireland Trust.
She very proud to be the current Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera, a charity that uses opera to help homeless people make positive changes in their lives.