Simon Wills began his musical life as a lute player but his ambitions were ended by a serious hand injury, following which he took up the trombone - the only instrument that can be played with numb fingers. He originally intended an academic career, but chance meeting while working in Italy one summer led to his becoming principal trombonist of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. From there he moved to the London Symphony Orchestra. He left the LSO in 1991 to be principal trombonist of The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, a position he held until 1997. He now divides his time between composing and playing: he is a regular guest player in the London orchestras and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He recently broadcast the Michael Haydn concerto for Sudwestrundfunk and the Berio SequenzaV on BBC Radio3. In June 2004 he gave the first performance of Judas Mercator, a solo written for him by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
His work as composer is eclectic and international. Several of his works have achieved widespread popularity: A Breach of the Peace is frequently played in the USA, as are his Street Song Variations and the concert duo BUJOLE. String Quartet no2 has been regularly performed in Europe since its premiere in 2003 and Goat!, a Silly Story in Sonata Form is regularly broadcast in the UK. His greatest successes have been in music theatre. Charivari for the Bedlam Lunaticks was a succes de scandale at its premiere in London in 1996 and his orchestration of Prokofiev's March op99, commissioned by Claudio Abbado and recorded by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, was the basis of an Emmy-winning film by Spitting Image and Theâtre de Complicité. In 2003, the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus produced A Day Close to Summer, a companion piece to Dido and Aeneas produced by Tatjana Gurbaca and starring Lynne Dawson, Kresimir Spicer and Derek Lee Ragin. It provoked widespread debate in the German press. The music was highly praised but the political overtones did not meet with universal approval; the action took place on September 3rd 1939 and the second performance was briefly disrupted by a noisy demonstration. The piece has nevertheless led to an opera commission. Between Stations, a comic opera about serial killing, domestic violence and railway timetables will be produced at the end of 2005. He is also working on a substantial piece for narrator and orchestra and a melodrama based on Hoffmann's Der Struwwelpeter, scored for the same forces as L'Histoire du Soldat.
Premieres in 2004 included a large scale "opera without orchestra", a setting for double chorus of Theodor Fontane's Die Brück am Tay, commissioned by the Feldkirch Festival and the Balthasar-Neuman-Ensemble. This used seven soloists distributed among the audience, in galleries and in one case in the street outside! It was a considerable popular and critical success, receiving subsequent performances in Bremen and Bad Kissingen and has been broadcast by ORF and by SWR in Germany. His setting of Robert Browning's Meeting at Night, premiered in September, has several performances scheduled for 2005 and in July the Cheltenham International Festival saw the first performance of Moro Lasso for countertenor and chamber ensemble.
Despite an ambivalent attitude to film music, Simon Wills has written numerous scores for the medium. The most recent of these was a 90-minute score for One Big Adventure on the BBC. In the 1990s he spent some time working as a screenwriter in Ireland, and in recent years he has produced films for independent film companies, including the popular The Rescuers, and a series on aural tradition in poetry, By Heart.
Like many before him, he was propelled into conducting by his activities as composer. This side of his work began in 1992 with the Stockholms Landskonserter where he conducted the first performance of Concerto, written for Christian Lindberg. The same year he conducted Chamber Orchestra of Europe at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in Fourscore, a piece he composed for the 80th birthday of Alexander Schneider. Since then the range of his work has been wide and he has conducted all over the UK and abroad. He recently accompanied Gidon Kremer during a music festival devised by the American artist Laurie Anderson and last year flew to Texas to conduct A Breach of the Peace in Dallas and San Antonio.
He has been a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama since 1986. He was elected a Fellow of the college in 2000, and has been a visiting teacher in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA. He contributed two chapters to the recent Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments and used his history training to baffling effect at a conference at the Paris Cite de la Musique, when he tried to establish the precise economic and social status of the Victorian orchestral musician in relation to the fictitious "nobody" Alfred Pooter!
A devoted populariser, he enjoys experimental or simply absurd music: for him one of the highlights of 2003 was the Australian premiere of Ligeti's Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes during the London Sinfonietta's visit to the Sydney Festival. This was given in Sydney Opera House and Simon Wills was a proud winder of the clockwork!