Simon Holt was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1958. After completing a foundation course at Bolton Art College, he went on to study composition for four years with Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He first came to prominence as the featured composer of the 1985 Bath International Festival; as a young composer, he was also taken up by the late Michael Vyner, then artistic director of the London Sinfonietta, and in response to commissions Holt produced Kites (1983) and Ballad of the Black Sorrow (1988).
Simon Holt's output of works for chamber ensemble is large, including five pieces written for the Nash Ensemble. The first four of these - Shadow Realm, Sparrow Night, …era madrugada and Canciones - were recorded by the Ensemble for NMC (on NMC D008); a sixth has been commissioned for the 2004 Cheltenham Festival. Recently Holt has developed a hugely successful relationship with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, which has given many performances of his work. He has twice been commissioned to write major orchestral pieces for the BBC Proms: in 1987 he completed Syrensong for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, later followed by the viola concerto Walking with the River's Roar, premiered by Nobuko Imai and the BBC Philharmonic in 1992.
Simon Holt finds his inspiration from, amongst other subjects, the world of Greek myth; his Icarus Trilogy culminated in 1995 with the premiere of his cello concerto, Daedalus Remembers, commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival for Rohan de Saram and Sinfonia 21 conducted by Daniel Harding. In addition, he feels a great affinity for the writing of Federico García Lorca, whose dark, passionate and enigmatic texts have much in common with Holt's own sound world. He has set Lorca's texts in his song cycle Canciones and in his first opera The Nightingale's to Blame - the premiere of which formed the focal point of a major retrospective of his work at the 1998 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The Festival also included the world premiere of eco-pavan.
Simon Holt's work for soprano and orchestra, Sunrise' yellow noise, for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Lisa Milne under Sir Simon Rattle, was one of the CBSO's 'Towards the Millennium' commissions in partnership with the South Bank Centre; in 2001 he received Le Prix de la Fondation Prince Pierre, Monaco for this composition. Sunrise' yellow noise is the first part of the cycle a ribbon of time, which encompasses five works based on poems by Emily Dickinson: it is followed by Two Movements for String Quartet (2001), which received the Royal Philharmonic Society Chamber Music Award in 2002; Boots of Lead (2002), which received the Ivor Novello Classical Music Award in 2003; Clandestiny (2001) for soprano and organ; and Startled Grass (2001), for female voices and small ensemble. Holt's most recent major work is Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?, an extraordinary hybrid music-theatre piece commissioned by Almeida Aldeburgh Opera, which was performed around the UK in 2003 to huge acclaim.
Holt's recent large-scale pieces include the violin concerto, witness to a snow miracle, performed in London and Bonn by Vivianne Hager and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and judged Best Orchestral Work at the 2006 British Composer Awards; and a percussion concerto for Colin Currie entitled a table of noises, which was premiered by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in May 2008 and also won the Orchestral Award at the British Composer Awards (2009). Troubled Light was premiered at the BBC Proms also in 2008, with Thierry Fischer conducting the BBC NOW.
Simon currently holds the position of Composer in Association at BBC National Orchestra of Wales.