Stef Conner is a performer and composer who makes new music based on evidence from deep history. She began her career performing with the Northumbrian folk band The Unthanks, which ignited an enduring commitment to musical storytelling. Highlights included playing at the Barbican, Glastonbury, Womad and the Mercury Music Awards; and supporting Adele. Although she parted ways with the Unthanks in 2010, she has made occasional guest appearances, including Home Gathering Festival (2018); and at the Barbican, Sage, and Cardiff Millennium Centre in 2023.
Her solo work has carved a niche in borderlands between the contemporary classical, Early, and folk music worlds, combining the emotional directness of folksong with jazz-meets- classical technique, and an approach to melodic structure derived ancient music and poetry. In collaboration with the Gold Lyre of Ur Project, she released her debut album The Flood (“probably unlike anything you’ve heard before…” – Newsweek) in 2014: a collection of songs in Babylonian, accompanied by a reconstruction of the 4500-year-old Gold Lyre of Ur. Her latest album, Riddle Songs (Delphian, 2020; “beautifully dissonant… appealingly imaginative…” – Gramophone), features new settings of Old English riddles, and was a Presto Editor’s Choice and Recordings of the Year finalist.
Her historically inspired concert works (for which she was awarded, among other accolades, the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize) have been performed by ensembles including the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Ligeti-Quartet, Nieuw Ensemble , Dr K Sextet, Iyatra Quartet , Juice, Queens’ College Choir, Dark Inventions, Marian Consort, members of Ensemble 10/10, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Two of her compositions premiered at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and her work has been heard in such UK venues as the Royal Festival Hall, York Minster, and King’s College Chapel, as well as internationally, and on television and radio.
Her performance work also focuses on the mixing of ancient and modern. She is a soloist with Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music (dir. Benjamin Bagby), in two programmes: the Roman de Fauvel (dir. Peter Sellars, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris), and Words of Power (Utrecht, Vancouver, and Boston Early Music festivals; Music Before 1800, New York). She reimagines music from antiquity with Lotos Lab – a collective of luthiers, performers and scholars – in projects including a feature on Radio 3’s Early Music Show; performances at venues including the British Museum; and an album: Apollo and Dionysus (Delphian, 2018). Most recently, she has collaborated with Kathryn Tickell and the Darkening, in programmes inspired by ‘the wild… weather-bitten countryside along Hadrian’s Wall’, and the group’s 2023 album Cloud Horizons features Stef’s song ‘Caelestis’, which sets a Roman inscription from the wall itself!
In her work with leisure-time singers, she combines folk and Early singing traditions, to create historically inspired music for aural learning. From 2014–2015 she was the first Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera, a charity that uses opera to help homeless people make-positive changes in their lives, and was named one of the Evening Standard’s 2014 ‘1000 Most Influential Londoners’ through this work. She has collaborated with numerous choirs, festivals, museums, and heritage organisations to produce participatory but artistically innovative singing experiences with heritage themes, including Ad Gefrin, the British Museum, Yale Art Gallery, Southern Early Music Forum, and Medieval Music in the Dales. She also conducts a weekly community choir in Cambridge.
Stef holds a BA in music (starred first, York, 2005), an MA in Jazz Studies (distinction, 2007), and a PhD in Composition (2011); and was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Huddersfield (2017–2020), researching the use of ancient evidence as material for new music. Her teaching and research in York encompass composition, folksong, oral traditions, ancient/medieval music, and song writing.