Tom Smail

Tom Smail is a composer of orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal music. His best known works include the five Fairy Tales for large ensemble and narrator, with words by Emma House. Two of these were toured nationally by English Touring Opera and recorded narrators include Michael Gambon and Harry Enfield.

In March 2012 Music in the Marble, a symphonic work in 7 short movements inspired by 7 sculptures (commissioned by art dealer Daniel Katz), was premièred by City of London Sinfonia. Soliloquy for Strings was given its first performance in April 2013 by The Arch Sinfonia.

In August 2013 his chamber opera Soon, with words by his wife Alba Arikha, was given its première at the Riverside Studios as part of the Tête-à-Tête Festival.

In 2014 Tom was commissioned to write the music for the Royal Court production of a trilogy of Samuel Beckett plays starring acclaimed actress Lisa Dwan. Two weeks at the Royal Court in January 2014 was followed by two weeks in the West End. In August it was at the Southbank Centre. September saw a national tour and October the start of an international tour, beginning at BAM in New York and culminating in June 2015 at the Barbican.

2014 premières also included Charade for violin and piano at the Casa dei Mezzo Festival in Crete, and A Winter’s Tale, with the New London Children’s Choir at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (part of the Dylan Thomas Festival).

In January 2015 Love, Loss and Chianti, a Christopher Reid double bill, devised for the stage and starring Robert Bathurst, with music for viola and cello by Smail, had a two-week run at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Smail has had particular success with his chamber music. In January 2013 he gave a concert featuring four chamber music premières: a duet for viola and cello; a trio for clarinet, violin and double bass; a setting of Samuel Beckett’s last poem, What Is the Word, scored for two sopranos, cello and narrator; and a setting of W.S. Merwin’s Instructions To Four Walls, scored for two sopranos, two contraltos, harp and glass harp. His trio, Somewhere Else, was subsequently taken up by The Gaudier Ensemble and his first String Quartet by the Allegri Quartet.

February 2016 saw the première of his song cycle, Forgotten Voices of the Great War, for soprano, tenor, baritone, cello and piano, with text from the book of the same name by Max Arthur. Its most recent performance was at the Petworth Festival in August 2018.

2016 also saw the completion of a cello sonata, The hazard of the die, and Thro’ midnight streets, a setting of William Blake’s London, premièred by the New London Children’s Choir at the Barbican in March 2017.

Tom has just completed his second opera, Blue Electric, which premièred at the Playground Theatre, Latimer Road in October 2020, selling out on all four nights. Directed by Orpha Phelan, it is based on the critically acclaimed fragmented memoir, Major/Minor, by his wife, Alba Arikha. A 40-minute, work-in-progress version of this, directed by Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) was performed at the 2018 Tête-à-Tête festival.

He began his professional musical career as a jazz drummer, working with many of the greats of the British jazz scene including Mark Lockhart, Iain Ballamy and Mornington Lockett. He began composing ten years later following intensive work with Huw Watkins.

Alongside his music for the concert world, Tom has written extensively for film and television. His most recent film, Last Words, directed by Jonathan Nossiter, was selected for the Cannes Film Festival in 2020. Gauguin – a dangerous life, and Hokusai, a major British Museum/NHK co-commission, both directed by Patricia Wheatley, were released in cinemas in October 2019 and June 2017 respectively. His commercial credits, in addition to many films for the cinema and a host of wildlife programmes for the BBC, include Daniel Libeskind – the making of an architect for the BBC, The Whale that swam to London for Channel 4 and Daphne, for BBC TV drama.

His work for BBC Radio 4 includes And it came to pass… narrated by Timothy West and broadcast on Christmas Day 2005. He has also written scores for five Agatha Christie radio plays including Elephants can remember (2006) and One, two, buckle my shoe (2004), both directed by Enyd Williams and dramatised by Michael Bakewell.

Recent choral works include a long awaited new In the bleak midwinter and settings of Samuel Daniel’s Care-charmer Sleep and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Heart-in-Waiting, the latter commissioned and premièred by the choir of St. George’s, Hanover Square.

Tom, as mentioned, is married to the writer, Alba Arikha, and they live with her two children in London.

He is represented by Gunnar Management.

Selected works are published by Universal Edition.

For voice-over work he is represented by iCan Talk Ltd.


Tom Smail is one of the most fascinating and lyrical composers of his generation.

Christopher Hart (Sunday Times)

… stylish, confident, complete.

Michael White (Telegraph)

Smail’s music is meticulously crafted.

Rupert Christiansen (Telegraph)

… fascinating, challenging, touching, exciting, romantic, modern…

Sophie Daneman (Soprano)

Tom’s music is wonderfully atmospheric and original.

Richard Hosford (Principal Clarinet of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the BBC Symphony Orchestra)

Tom Smail is an extraordinarily gifted composer and one I admire enormously. He combines superb craftsmanship with genuine communicative gifts. I have taken two of his pieces on tour with ETO in the last few years and both were impeccably made, with a fine sense of timbre and colour, and delicate orchestration. The audiences loved his music. He also possesses innate dramatic gifts and the ability to tell a story in sound. His talent and his output place him among the very best composers of his generation.

Tim Yealland (Head of Education, English Touring Opera

… moving, beautifully sung new opera.

Serena Davies, Daily Telegraph (of Blue Electric 2020)

The work is gorgeous. (…) I leave this performance in a state of inspiration. The potential of this piece is boundless and I am nothing but invested in its growth.

A Younger Theatre (of Blue Electric 2020)

(The music) takes dramatic flight above all in grateful vocal writing, whether for solo voices, ensemble, or for chorus.

Seen and Heard International / Boulezian (of Blue Electric 2020)

The first half was splendidly entertaining, and the emotional heft of the second half absolutely floored me. It was beautifully performed and directed with such intelligence.  I was so moved by the music, by the story.

Rebecca Meade, journalist and author of ‘My life in Middlemarch’ (of Blue Electric 2020)

Quite the most dynamic, involving, sympathetic music I have ever had the joy to include in one of my films.

Toby Macdonald (Writer, Producer, Director: The Whale that swam to London)

Tom is a joy for a director to work with.

Christopher Swann (Director)

It’s wonderful; it’s the most beautiful music that my children listen to.

Emma Freud (of the Fairy Tales)

As a creative force he is an amazing asset for any production.

Julian Kean (Director: Ghost Rig)

Tom has the ability to write hugely atmospheric music which works as well to picture as it does on its own. His understanding of how to combine acoustic performances with contemporary sounds makes him a very useful man to have about the place!

Andrew Sunnucks (Managing Director, Audio Network)

Tom’s flair, imagination and attention to detail are extraordinary. He takes a brief incredibly well and produces a wide range of profoundly moving musical landscapes, which always hit the mark. He’s as comfortable with orchestral compositions as he is with electronic creations and I have the highest regard for his imaginative interpretations of the mood of a film. He is also very committed to the collaborative and frequently challenging processes of the editing room for which he deserves the highest praise.

Richard Shaw (Producer/Director, Lion TV)