BBC Music Magazine

The Full Score

The winners of the British Composer Awards


A colourful and gloriously varied clutch of works has been recognised at the latest British Composer Awards. These included music for a purpose-made large bell, singing funeral urns, dances for disabled amateur musicians to play on ipads and laptops, and a piece for jazz band with poetry slam-style recitation.

The shortlists of 36 works featured several well-establishe­d composers, including Harrison Birtwistle, winner of this year’s Orchestral category – his eighth British Composer Award in all – with Deep Time; and the late Oliver Knussen, whose

O Hototogisu! was pipped in the Chamber Ensemble category by James Weeks’s beautiful, if technicall­y challengin­g, Libro di fiammello e ombre for six solo voices.

Among the less familiar composers to come away from the ceremony at the British Museum clutching a coveted trophy was Dominic Murcott, whose Solo or Duo Award-winning The Harmonic Canon is scored for metallic percussion and a large double-ended bell. This unique instrument, which was made by sculptor and musician Marcus Vergette, has each end of the bell tuned a semitone apart with rich implicatio­ns for the harmonic overtones, further complicate­d by ridges which each produce a slightly di erent set of overtones.

Also striking, though in a di erent way, was Emily Peasgood’s Halfway to Heaven, winner of the Sonic Art award. Peasgood rigged several funeral urns in the Folkestone Baptist Church burial ground that – on having a sensor triggered by a passing visitor – play a unique part-song about those interred there; each urn’s song sounds well on its own, yet harmonises perfectly with all the other songs. ‘It’s rather like creating a mixing console,’ Peasgood tells BBC Music; ‘visitors may choose to collaborat­e with other visitors and stand at some or all the other urns.’

Born in London and until recently based in Scotland, Sally Beamish made her name for the music she wrote for the Chamber Group of Scotland, and is now one of the UK’S most respected composers. Last month, Beamish was presented with the British Composer Award for Inspiratio­n for her work as a composer, violist and pianist.

It means a lot to get this award.

I didn’t have much confidence early on because I didn’t study composing. But I was inspired by the composers I worked with when I was starting out. I was an orchestral viola player in my 20s and worked with people like Oliver Knussen, Berio and Xenakis who were o en conducting their own work. I was not only influenced by being inside the music as a player, but so many of these composers listened to my scores and gave me advice. My only real compositio­n lessons were with Oliver Knussen. I was on a London Sinfoniett­a tour playing a programme of Maxwell Davies and Schoenberg, with Knussen conducting. We were travelling by train between the concerts and every journey he would look at one of my scores. I still go back to the advice he gave me – he was good at grasping what I trying to do and why I wasn’t achieving it. I’ve always been fascinated by the concerto form. Around the age of nine, I was learning

the violin with my mum who was a profession­al violinist, and was beginning to lose interest.

She gave me a Vivaldi concerto to learn and explained what a concerto was. She made it sounds so exciting. There was this protagaoni­st standing at the front communicat­ing with the audience and with the orchestra. Like a kind of narrator. I was taken with that more than an orchestral piece where the audience doesn’t have a particular personalit­y to relate to.

I normally write concertos for people whose playing I know really intimately. My comissions still tend to come through people I met when I was a player – Douglas Boyd, who was a fantastic oboist, for instance, and violinist Anthony Marwood. The collaborat­ion and the discussion with them was so important.

Now that I’m playing again, I’ve realised that my viola parts are really tricky! So now that there’s a danger I might have to play them myself, they are, of course, getting much simpler!

 ??  ?? Well-urned reward: Emily Peasgood used funeral jars for her music
Well-urned reward: Emily Peasgood used funeral jars for her music
 ??  ?? Plenty of Knussen: ‘I still go back to the advice he gave me’
Plenty of Knussen: ‘I still go back to the advice he gave me’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom