Wednesday 15 November 2023

From sound art in Middlesbrough & 2000 children in the Royal Albert Hall to Brett Dean's Cello Concerto & Brian Irvine's operas: The Ivors Classical Awards celebrating today's classical music

The Ivors Classical Awards - Abel Selaocoe, Dobrinka Tabakova (winner of Best Community & Participation Composition) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The Ivors Classical Awards - Abel Selaocoe,
Dobrinka Tabakova (winner of Best Community & Participation)
(Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The Ivors Classical Awards
BFI Southbank
14 November 2023

Video clips of West Sussex Youth Orchestra, Youth Choir and Young Voices performing Ned Bigham's Together and apart at Chichester Cathedral, the choir and orchestra of Mount St. Mary's College, Sheffield performing Harry Castle's Heroes, the Royal Albert Hall filled with children with the Armonico Consort all performing Toby Young's It takes a city and the reaction of passers by as Olivia Louvel's sound art piece, LOL, was broadcast across the public address system of Middlesbrough's CCTV surveillance network!  

Just a few of the works on celebrate at this year's Ivors Classical Awards ceremony, which took place at the BFI Southbank on 14 November 2023.

The arts, and classical music in particular, might be under threat from budget cuts and the cost of living crisis, but as many of the award winners commented, there was a remarkable amount of creativity in the room. The awards celebrate classical music. Contemporary classical music, that is; everyone at the awards ceremony was involved in some way in either creating or supporting creators. Just as it takes village to raise a child, it takes many people to create music and the ceremony celebrated the creators and their support networks. 

There is plenty to be gloomy about, Tom Gray, the chair of The Ivors Academy, went as far as describing the last 13 years as a shit show. We need positive change, and the energy last night made it seem that change might be possible. The awards have been around, under various names, for 20 years whilst the academy goes back to 1944 when Vaughan Williams helped found the Composers Guild. Next year, The Ivors Academy celebrates its 80th birthday and we are promised more lobbying and campaigning.

The Ivors Classical Awards - Anna Lapwood, Ben Nobuto (winner of Best Choral) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The Ivors Classical Awards - Anna Lapwood
Ben Nobuto (winner of Best Choral)
(Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The awards ceremony is supported by the BBC, and the evening will feature on BBC Radio 3's New Music Show on Saturday 18 November, and the event was presented by BBC Radio 3's Tom Service and Hannah Peel. The other supporter is the PRS of Music and Julian Nott, chair of the PRS Members Council commented that they exists to try to ensure that composers can write music and not spend their evenings driving Ubers!

Awards were presented for eight categories, Community and Participation Composition, Small Chamber Composition, Chamber Ensemble Composition, Stage Work, Sound Art, Large Ensemble Composition, Choral Composition, and Orchestral Composition. In addition, John Rutter received an Academy Fellowship, Tansy Davies was honoured for Outstanding Works Collection whilst Matthew Herbert received the Innovation Award.

Six composers received awards for the first time including Matthew Herbert (Innovation Award.) and  Olivia Louvel (Best Sound Art). Dobrinka Tabakova won her first time award for Swarm Fanfares for youth orchestra in the Community and Participation Composition category. The work was commissioned by the Hallé Concerts Society and premiered by the Hallé Youth Orchestra. Josephine Stephenson was a first time winner for Comme l’espoir/you might all disappear for soprano and guitar in the Small Chamber Composition category. The work was commissioned and performed by soprano Héloïse Werner whom Stephenson in her acceptance speech described as a force of nature. Another first time winner was Hannah Kendall for shouting forever into the receiver for 17 musicians in the Large Ensemble Composition category. The work was commissioned by Donaueschinger Musiktage and performed by Ensemble Modern. Ben Nobuto received the Choral Composition award for Sol, written for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain’s Fellowship ensemble.

In total, the awards short list featured over 30 composers with some in more than one category and Brett Dean having two different works nominated in the Orchestral Composition category, and Brian Irvine having two nominations in the Stage Work category. There were some oddities, the categories this year rather favoured instrumental ensemble works, and I am not sure what the difference between small chamber, chamber and large ensemble is. But what was noticeable was the remarkable range of textures and timbres that were on offer in these ensemble categories. 

The Ivors Classical Awards - Brett Dean (winner of Best Orchestral) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The Ivors Classical Awards - Brett Dean (winner of Best Orchestral) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
What was noticeable too was that there were only three works nominated in the choral category, and all three were small scale, written for chamber choir or vocal ensemble; to find the larger scale choral pieces we had to look in the Community and Participation, and Orchestral categories. The choral category is important, as one of the participants commented that so many young people come to music via a choir.

Brett Dean, in his acceptance speech for the Best Orchestral Composition award, commented on the refreshing lack of dogma to the styles of music on offer. The two very different figures of Matthew Herbert and Tansy Davies were both celebrated, and at the end of the evening the truly remarkable contribution to contemporary music making by John Rutter was celebrated, and here the awards did rightly mark the importance of community choral singing in the national psyche.

The Ivors Classical Awards - Brian Irvine (winner of Best Stage Work) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)
The Ivors Classical Awards - Brian Irvine (winner of Best Stage Work) (Photo: Hogan Media - Shutterstock)

The Ivors Classical Awards Winners 2023 

NÖVÉNYEK composed by Thomas Adès for mezzo-soprano and piano sextet

SOL composed by Ben Nobuto for SATB vocal ensemble

SWARM FANFARES composed by Dobrinka Tabakova for youth orchestra 

SHOUTING FOREVER INTO THE RECEIVER composed by Hannah Kendall for 17 players

CELLO CONCERTO composed by Brett Dean for symphony orchestra and solo cello

COMME L’ESPOIR/YOU MIGHT ALL DISAPPEAR composed by Josephine Stephenson for soprano and guitar

LOL by Olivia Louvel

LEAST LIKE THE OTHER: SEARCHING FOR ROSEMARY KENNEDY composed by Brian Irvine, opera in one act, for soprano, two actors and two opposing ensembles

INNOVATION AWARD in association with the Musicians’ Union
Matthew Herbert

Tansy Davies

John Rutter CBE

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