Born in Pontefract in 1949, Philip Wilby was educated at Leeds Grammar School and Keble College, Oxford. He attributes the awakening of his interest in composition to Herbert Howells, whose extra-curricular composition classes he attended while a violinist in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. A serious commitment to composition developed during the years at Oxford and, having gained his B Mus in composition in 1971, Wilby continued to write music even while working as a professional violinist (first at Covent Garden and later with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra). He returned to Yorkshire in 1972 and is Principal Lecturer in Composition at the University of Leeds.
In recent years, Philip Wilby has established a very significant reputation in the field of brass band and wind band music. His first commission for brass band—The New Jerusalem (1990) for the National Youth Brass Band—was an instant success and led to further commissions: Paganini Variations (a BBC commission in 1991 for the Grimethorpe Band); Flight for solo flugelhorn and band (Grimethorpe, 1991); Revelation (1995, for the British Open Championships), Vienna Nights, and Northern Lights.
He has also given much time to writing for liturgical purposes and works include St Paul's Service (1988), commissioned by St Paul's Cathedral for John Scott and the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral, and The Trinity Service (1992) commissioned by Norwich Cathedral for the 1992 Norwich Festival of Contemporary Church Music.
Other recent projects include a commission (The Cry of Iona) for BBC2's 1992 series of music videos for Advent; and, in 1993, the second symphony Voyaging, commissioned and premiered by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Partita, commissioned by Fine Arts Brass Ensemble and premiered at the Harrogate International Festival; An Imagined Fable, commissioned by the Athelas Ensemble and premiered at the Danish Radio Concert House; and a Percussion Concerto commissioned by the English Northern Philharmonia and Yorkshire Youth and Music, premiered in Leeds, performed by Chris Bradley and the English Northern Philharmonia conducted by John Price-Jones. In January 1995 Philip Wilby was a featured composer in the PLG Young Artists New Year Series, London.
In addition to concert music, Philip Wilby has written educational works and incidental music for television. The academic environment at Leeds has also fostered a number of scholarly interests which have led to a remarkable series of reconstructions of Mozart fragments. In 1985 these were the subject of a Yorkshire television documentary featuring the Amadeus String Quartet, and in 1990 they were recorded by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields for the complete Philips Mozart Edition.