Chris Thornborrow


Chris is a composer & arts educator. Chris writes chamber and orchestral works, film-score, and opera. He is also an arts educator, bringing the voices of young people into focus through collaborative creation of new operas and instrumental works.

His music has been described as “urgent, masterful” (NOW Magazine), and “powerfully virtuosic” (Barcza Blog). His instrumental works fuse elegiac moments with bursts of colour and subtle, rhythmic playfulness, while his operas and film scores tell real, raw, and socially engaging stories of our time. Recognition for his work include the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music, two SOCAN Awards for Young Audio Visual Composers, two DORA Award nominations, and the Louis Applebaum Composers Award Nomination. His music has been performed, recorded, and commissioned by Array Ensemble, the Bicycle Opera Project, Ensemble Paramirabo, Esprit Orchestra, junctQìn keyboard collective, Tapestry Opera, and the Thin Edge New Music Collective.

Along with Monica Pearce, Chris founded the Toy Piano Composers. Beginning in 2008, the collective has presented over 100 works by emerging Canadian and international composers, in addition to releasing a self-titled album in 2017.

Chris has firmly established himself as a leading voice in contemporary opera for young people. His first full length opera, Hook Up—which straddles the world of musical theatre and opera—premiered to critical acclaim in 2019. It was commissioned and produced by Tapestry opera in collaboration with Theatre Passé Muraille, with a libretto by Julie Tepperman (Convergence Theatre) and directed by Richard Greenblatt (2 Pianos, 4 Hands). Lauded as “beautiful, gut-wrenching, and absolutely riveting” (Mooney Theatre), it explores issues surrounding drinking, rape culture, consent, and oversight on university campuses. For younger audiences, his opera Hannah & Paige & the Zombie Pirates received many laughs as it was toured across Ontario by the Bicycle Opera Project.

Highly sought-after as an arts educator, Chris has developed and implemented a number of innovative composition programs. This includes his “Continuum Composer in the Classroom”—which he began with Doug Friesen and Continuum Contemporary Music in 2014. This program gave young music students from the Toronto District School Board the opportunity to explore soundscapes and technology while using the creative process to compose new music for Continuum Ensemble and high school band students to perform. The project culminated in a celebratory concert with up to ten participating schools from across the GTA. It impacted 1500 students and yielded over forty premieres over a five year period. At the Canadian Opera Company, he has worked with hundreds of young opera makers to co-compose twenty-four new operas from scratch as part of the After School Opera Program and summer camps. As facilitator, Chris guides the young creatives to write, compose, design, and choreograph every show, empowering them to tell their own stories through opera. This program has reached over 1000 children across the GTA, and has been featured in the Toronto Star and on CBC Radio. Upcoming projects includes Listen Up!, a composition collaboration with the Toronto District School Board and The Gryphon Trio, as well as a new work in collaboration with Cantabile Choirs of Kingston.

The films Chris has scored have premiered in major film festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival, The Milano Film Festival, Claremont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, and Cannes Semaine de la Critique. Along with the band Bruce Peninsula, Chris composed the music for Sleeping Giant, which was nominated for the Critics Week Grand Prize and Golden Camera Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and won the Best Canadian First Feature Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Films Chris has scored have been broadcast internationally, as well as featured on CBC and HBO.

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