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Inside the BBC NOW Composers' Workshops

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 12:11 UK Time, Thursday, 2 February 2012

Photo of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales's Composer Workshops

Conductor Jac van Steen discusses a point with Gareth Olubunmi Hughes (standing)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales viola player Laura Sinnerton is back with fresh insights from the orchestra's 2012 Composers' Workshops

I have never felt any real inclination to compose. I enjoy being a part of bringing other peoples’ creations to life, but alas, Bright Cecilia did not gift me with compositional ability (unless the highly original version of the set study I performed in my Grade 6 Piano examination counts ...)

But I admire those who have the ability to take disparate ideas in their minds and craft them into a complex whole; and so it was interesting for me to have a chat with three composers taking part in the Orchestra’s Composers’ Workshops this week (Sarah Lianne Lewis, Joseph Davies and Gareth Olubunmi Hughes). 

As an instrumentalist, starting out in the profession is tough enough. However, we have the opportunity to hone our skills through numerous youth orchestras, young artist schemes and placements. But what of our composers?

The general consensus amongst the trio I spoke to was that while there are similar opportunities available for composers, there are certainly fewer, and the chance to workshop with a full symphony orchestra in the manner this project allows is a rare one. Scores are submitted several months in advance, with half a dozen subsequently chosen for rehearsal with the orchestra.

 

The six selected composers receive a recording of their work, and a panel (including our composer-in-association, Simon Holt; resident composer, Mark Bowden; and our principal guest conductor, Jac van Steen) select some of the scores for public performance at the end of the project. This year, there are two additional workshops - composing for wind quintet and composing for harp.

 

Whatever your thoughts on ‘new music’, it is brave for someone to place their creation, something they have poured a part of themselves into, in front of an orchestra. Musicians are not always kind people. Each of the composers I shared a coffee with were genuinely eager to have their work examined under the microscope, to learn what worked and what didn’t. I guess it’s like a lot of things - you can know the theory, but until you get to try it out, how can you ever know if it works?

 

It was interesting to hear the different influences each had (all really quite discernible in their works), and to discuss the impetus driving each of their voices. For Joseph and Sarah, the emphasis is upon creating a sounds and colours, often related to very specific instrumental voices, whereas for Gareth, the emphasis is more upon harmonic progression. Sadly, lunch wasn’t long enough for us to properly address the ‘where have all the big, tunes gone?’ question.

 

I know that at times I can be impatient with new music - sometimes I just don’t get it, sometimes the thought of playing thirteen notes in the space of seven makes my brain hurt - but music should always be an adventure. Music is a living, breathing, ever changing thing, and we must embrace that. Our young (and not so young) composers deserve our support in continuing to develop their craft as wholeheartedly as we instrumentalists are supported.

 

The Welsh Composers Showcase concludes this evening (Thursday 2nd February) with a public concert at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. Free tickets are available by calling 0800 052 1812.

 

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