Richard Vella's diverse output includes compositions for orchestra, large ensemble, choir, film, chamber music, burlesque cabaret, music theatre, site-specific performances, and popular music genres. Having received up to 30 commissions, much of his music has been performed and recorded nationally and internationally with many key ensembles having recorded his works for the national broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His Tango for Clarinet and Piano is considered a required piece for emerging clarinet players and his guitar preludes and piano music have been recorded on various albums. Richard Vella's feature film music score 'Travelling Light' (2003) received the nomination 'Best Music for a feature Film' by the Australian Film Institute. Other film credits include 'Light Years', 'Parklands', 'Renzo Piano: piece by piece' (for which he won the 1999 Australian Screen Composer's Award for best music for a documentary. Vella's music is both lyrical and rhythmically engaging evoking a strange sense of déjà vu with its postmodern allusions to genre and style.
Vella's interest with music and its relationship to image, text and performance can be seen in his investigations into new opera, cabaret and music theatre. He was founding artistic director of Calculated Risks Opera Productions. Calculated Risks has premiered three of his major works, 'Tales of Love' (1991/2002), 'The Last Supper' (1993) and 'Bodysongs: the Fatman Tour' (1998). These works have toured nationally and internationally in various formats.
Richard Vella has held many professorial consultative positions with various universities in Australia. From 2007 to 2019, he was Chair and Professor of Music at the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music. From 2008 to 2013 he was also Head of School of Creative Arts at the University of Newcastle. From 2008 to 2013 he was Chair of the National Council of Tertiary Music Schools (NACTMUS, now defunct) and sat on many national advisory boards and groups concerned with tertiary education in the creative and performing arts. Richard Vella currently holds Professorial adjunct positions with the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music; and the School of Music at the University of Western Australia. In 2022 he became chair of the academic board for the SAE Creative Media Institute.
His book 'Musical Environments: A Manual for Listening, Improvising and Composing', originally published by Currency Press (2000), was a recognised text for secondary and tertiary music courses throughout Australia. In 2003, an international edition of this book entitled 'Sounds in Space Sounds in Time' was published by Boosey and Hawkes, UK. In 2020, he coauthored 'The Music Export Business: Born Global' published by Routeledge, UK. From 1997 to 2001, Vella was general editor for music with Currency Press, Australia. In that capacity he instigated publications on Australian music with titles in the areas of music research, biography, composition, pedagogy and performance. Publications discussing his performance work are 'Arias: Recent Australian Music Theatre' Redhouse Editions, 1997; 'The Oxford Dictionary of Australian Music', Oxford University Press, 1998; and 'The Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia',Currency House, 2003.
Between 2013 and 2019 Richard Vella directed the interdisciplinary research group Collaborative Environments for Creative Arts Research (CECAR). The research activities in CECAR embrace music and phenomenology, performance, composition, music production, interactive technologies, art-science intersections and the music industry. Through CeCAR he was the artistic director of the International Space Time Concerto Competition (2012), a cutting edge concerto competition that embraced historical practices with new innovations in performance. In 2015 in collaboration with Monash University, his research team was awarded an Australia Research Council Linkage grant in partnership with the Australasian Performing Rights Association and the Australia Council for the Arts. The project investigates the cultural and export value of the Australian music export. The industry report for this project was completed in July 2019. View here. His interest in art and science relationships began in 1992 when he devised and implemented a pioneering interdisciplinary postgraduate and undergraduate music program within the School of Mathematics, Physics, Computing and Electronics at Macquarie University. The music program helped lay the foundations for the later established Department of Music within Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies within the Faculty of Arts.
He has supervised and currently supervises a wide range of PhD students in music, performance, composition, artscience, music and phenomenology, music technology, and interdisciplinary arts practice. Vella has received awards for excellence in postgraduate supervision from Queensland University of Technology and the University of Newcastle.