Born in 1952, French composer Philippe Fénelon began his music studies at the age of eight and went on to continue his training at the conservatory of Orléans. Two of his piano professors were to have a profound influence on his budding musical identity. Janine Coste, a student of Cortot, Nat and Messiaen, passed on her knowledge of classical technique and historical perspective to the young Fénelon. Claude Ardent in turn taught him an awareness of the bonds between music and literature. Fénelon took an early interest in the voice and by the age of seventeen was already an accomplished accompanist working with numerous singers. It was then that he took his first trip to the Bayreuth Festival and, while listening to Noces by Stravinsky directed by Pierre Boulez, decided to become a composer.
Shortly afterwards in 1971, Philippe Fénelon began to learn Bulgarian in Paris and studied comparative literature and linguistics at the École des langues orientales. Admitted to the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique de Paris, he obtained the Composition Prize in Olivier Messiaen’s class in 1977. He then went on to compose an enormous body of work, comprised of more than one hundred pieces.
Many of his scores were conceived for renowned soloists: Maryvonne Le Dizès (Omaggio, for violin), Florent Boffard (Concerto for piano), le Quatuor Arditti (Quatuor à cordes n°3), Florent Jodelet (Zabak), the Belcea Quartet (Quatuor à cordes n°4 avec voix)... The Ensemble Intercontemporain premiered seven of his works, including Diagonal and Midtown.
Philippe Fénelon’s compositional style is free and open, both inventive and grounded in history. He gives priority to the relationship between literature, art and music and doesn’t hesitate to rethink traditional musical genres (concerto, string quartet, madrigal). His thoughts on the function of dramatic art have brought him to a unique approach when it comes to lyric opera.
His first opera, Le Chevalier Imaginaire, based on Don Quixote by Cervantès and a short story by Kafka, opened at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1992. Philippe Fénelon has also written for the ballet. His composition, Yamm was commissioned by the Paris National Opera and was performed at the Palais Garnier in 2000 with choreography by Lionel Hoche. He has also collaborated several times with the choreographer Michel Kelemenis, with the ballet Pasodoble in Marseille (Théâtre de la Criée) and Nanterre (Maison de la Musique).
Philippe Fénelon has also directed several films, including 87, Galle road, Bentota, devoted to a house of the Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. In 2005, La vie est plus courte qu'un jour d'hiver, about the life of composer Leni Alexander, was presented at the Festival de Montpellier, the Festival de Besançon, the FIPATEL in Biarritz and in Santiago de Chile.
In his book, Arrière-pensées (Musica Falsa, 1998), Fénelon discusses his approach to composing and the prospects today for contemporary music. He recently published Histoires d'opéras (Opera stories – Actes sud 2007) and is currently writing a new book about his music.
Resident at the Casa Vélasquez in Spain (1981-1983), invited to Berlin in 1988 by the Deutscher Akademischer Austauchdienst, Philippe Fénelon and his work have been awarded numerous times. Épilogue pour piano received the 1980 Stockhausen Prize in Bergame (Italy). Fénelon has also been awarded the Georges Wildenstein Prize (1983) , the Hervé Dugardin Prize, SACEM (1984), a grant from the Beaumarchais Foundation (1990), the Villa Médicis hors les murs Prize (1991), and the New Talent in Dramatic Music Award, SACD (1992). In 2004, he received the Music Award from the SACD and in 2007, the Grand Prix for Symphonique Music from the SACEM.
Philippe Fénelon is knight of the Légion d’honneur and knight of the national Order of Merit.