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A new generation of composers for Wales

Laura Sinnerton

If you have visited the Orchestra’s website recently, you will have read the information relating to this year’s Composition: Wales event. The eight composers we will work with have now been announced and I am assuming they will currently be painstakingly combing their scores and parts, expunging any instrumentation errors, fine tuning their works, and writing their programme notes.

Since I joined the Orchestra, this is an event that has grown considerably in scale and is now spread over three days. The first of these days takes place on 11 February, and if you attend you will be able to watch the Orchestra workshop the composers’ scores.

In last year's project, seven composers worked with the Orchestra over three days (taken by Betina Skovbro, 2014)

So what does that actually entail? What is the point of ‘workshopping’? During these workshops, we briefly rehearse and perform each of the composers’ works, and then there will follow a period of interaction between the composer, conductor and orchestra on various technical and musical aspects of the work.

For some composers, it will be the first time they have had the opportunity to work with real live musicians (as opposed to hearing their work on a computer, or in a piano reduction, or in their head). This can mean that sometimes they need a little guidance with regards to how to express an idea practically on a particular instrument.

For example, rapid semiquavers in the bass area of a piano with one note in every four a note from the high treble range will sound fabulous on a piano, but the same effect is unlikely to be achieved if you ask a whole viola section to play this. This of course does not mean that the musical idea is invalid, simply that some consideration must be given as to how to achieve its expression. One of the primary purposes of this workshop is education, and so we aim to help the composer to better their ability to convey their ideas through writing intelligently for the instruments used.

In addition to this, the opportunity to work with an orchestra can massively broaden the soundscape of a developing composer. The sounds, colours, and textures an orchestra can create are infinite, and given the chance to control the orchestral forces there can then be a temptation to use everything at once, simply because it’s there (I know if it were me, I’d have church bells, organ, two sets of timps, double brass and 18 violas in everything…and an alto flute, I love the alto flute).

A composer from last year's project works with BBC NOW's leader, Lesley Hatfield

However, having had the opportunity to include everything (plus the kitchen sink) hopefully the composer can leave the workshop bowled over by all the tools at his disposal but with a more measured approach to using them - a more refined palate, if you will.

After a further day of workshops on 31 March, a selection of the eight works will then be chosen for presentation in a concert on 1 April. In the rehearsal on the day, the composers will be treated as though they were any other composer who has come in to work with the Orchestra.

They are expected to be able to answer any questions arising from the score that are unclear, to be able to answer on the spot any harmonic queries and to solve any other problems that arise, as well as give concise useful information about the expression of the piece. A pretty daunting task, but an amazing opportunity.

It must be an incredible sensation to hear the work you have put so much into come alive. I hope the eight participants are excited, and feeling rightly proud of themselves for being chosen, as we had an incredible response to the call for scores. 

Find out more about BBC NOW’s Composition: Wales project by visiting the Orchestra’s website. Free tickets for all of the workshops are available by calling 0800 052 1812.

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