Wednesday 4 December 2013

2013 British Composer Awards

Harrison Birtwistle accepting the Instrumental Solo or Duo award at the 2013 British Composer Awards, photo Mark Allan
Harrison Birtwistle
Accepting Instrumental Solo or Duo award
2013 British Composer Awards
Photo Mark Allan

The 2013 British Composer Awards were presented last night at an awards ceremony at the Goldsmiths Hall hosted by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). The event was introduced by Sarah Rodgers, the chairman of the British Composer Awards Ceremony, who in her opening remarks recalled the three major talents who had died in the past year, Jonathan Harvey, Richard Rodney Bennett and John Tavener. This year's was eleventh such awards, as ever they are sponsored by the PRS for Music which is celebrating its centenary in 2014.

A special award, in the shape of a bottle of 12 year old single malt whisky, was presented to Andrew Kurowski who has recently retired as editor of new music at Radio 3.

The awards were presented by Marcus Davey, the chief executive of the Round House. In his speech, Davey talked about how participation in the arts encourages young people to be entrepreneurial. That state funding is a foundation on which arts organisations can take risks and be entrepreneurial again and again. We need young people to be entrepreneurial and their participation in the arts stimulates the imagination and encourages them to communicate, providing skills which can be transferred.

The winner of the student composition category was Rodrigo Barbosa Camacho for American Candy - What the hell is Yellow no.6?!? which was performed live by viola player Sarah-Jane Bradley. An intriguing piece in which Bradley had to speak a text taken from product packaging whilst playing the viola, the music responding to the speech rhythms.

The Wind Band or Brass Band category was won by Nigel Clarke's Mysteries of the Horizon a cornet concerto which was premiered at the RNCM's Festival of Brass by Harmen Vanhoorne and Tredegar Town Band conducted by Ian Porthouse. The judges described the work as 'technically assured' and 'brilliantly colourful'.

The Liturgical category was awarded to Matthew Martin's I Saw the Lord which was premiered at St David's Festival by St. David's Cathedral Choir. The judges referred to the work's 'harmonic development' and 'sympathetic writing for voices' and the 'use of the organ'.

The Contemporary Jazz Composition category was awarded to John Surman's Lifelines which was commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and BBC Radio 3, a work which mixed contemporary jazz with a male voice choir. The judges talked of the work's 'great emotional impact' and use of folk and jazz idioms.

The Community or Educational Project category went to James Redwood's Pass the Torch, An Olympic Symphony which was premiered at the Albert Hall by a choir of 3500 children and 350 instrumentalists, with Brent, Enfield and Harringey Music Services and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon. The judges referred to the work's 'breathtaking scale' and Redwood's assembling of 'diverse and multi-ethnic elements into an impressive whole'.

The Choral category was won by James MacMillan's Since it was the day of Preparation commissioned by the Hebrides Ensemble and Edinburgh International Festival and premiered by the Hebrides Ensemble and Synergy Vocals. the judges described the work's  'bold musical narrative' and 'surprises and delights'

The Sonic Art category was won by Ed Baxter and Chris Weaver's No Such Object (Speed of Light) an ambitious project involving 880 portable FM synthesizers was installed on the cliff of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. The work received a total of 72 performances during August 2012. The judges said it was 'ambitious and uplifting', 'shimmering and simply beautiful'.

Colin Matthews collection the Chamber award at British Composer Awards 2013 - photo Mark Allan
Colin Matthews collection the Chamber award - photo Mark Allan
The Chamber category was won by Colin Matthews' String Quartet No. 4 which was dedicated to the composer's brother David, and was premiered at the Wigmore Hall by the Elias Quartet. The judges referred to the work's 'considerable substance' and 'innovative structure', saying it was 'profoundly moving'.

The  International Award went to Toshio Hosokawa's Woven Dreams, a Lucerne Festival commission which received its UK premiere at the Barbican by the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of Radio 3's Total Immersion: Sounds of Japan. The judges said it was 'subtly compelling', 'spellbinding magical soundworld'.

The Stageworks category was won by George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin with a libretto by Martin Crimp. Premiered in Aix en Provence it received its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House last year and has so far been seen by 50,000 people in 10 different opera houses with 10 more scheduled to perform it, a success which has astonished George Benjamin himself. The judges talked of how it had 'revitalised contemporary opera', referring to the work's balance and proportion' and 'translucence of scoring'. Surprisingly this was Benjamin's first British Composer Award.

The Instrumental Solo or Duo category went to Harrison Birtwistle's Gige Machine premiered by pianist Nick Hodges. The judges talked of the work's 'clear purpose, aims and direction' referring to it as a 'masterful piece of writing'. This was Birtwistle's fifth British Composer Award.

The Making Music Award went to Dry Stone Walls of Yorkshire by Peter McGarr which was premiered by Coma London, combining live performance with pre-recorded sound. The judges talked of the work's 'alchemy' and 'magical sound world'.

The Vocal award went to Brian Elias's Electra Mourns a setting of the Ancient Greek text for mezzo-soprano, cor anglais and orchestra, premiered by Susan Bickley, Nicholas Daniel and the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Clarke Rundell. The judges said the work was 'truly marvellous', 'sustains a terrific level on intensity' and 'gets to the guts of the work'.

The Orchestral category was won by Joseph Phibbs for Rivers to the Sea which was commissioned by the Philharmonia and Anvil Arts (for the Anvil's 18th birthday celebrations) and premiered by the Philharmonia conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. When I talked to Phibbs afterwards he referred to the great support he received from Salonen, who scheduled five performances of the work before even seeing a note. The judges talked of the work's 'convincing and inspiring journey', referring to the way it 'sparkles', and to the 'exhilarating finale' saying that they 'didn't want to stop listening'.

The awards will be featured in BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now at 10.45pm on Saturday 7 December, and the programme will include performances of complete works as well as interviews with the composers.

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