To give you an insight into our Opus 1 composition scheme, we asked two of this year’s cohort to write a short blog following each workshop.
After Workshop 2
In the weeks between the two workshops, I formed a piece from the various sketches, discarding some ideas and expanding others, until I had a nearly completed piece. It was quite a wrench to discard — the workshop process had thrown up so many possibilities, but we couldn’t use them all in our 3-4 minutes pieces, so some of these will wait for future compositions.
I was quite nervous as I felt my piece wasn’t quite there yet, but luckily, we still had some time after the second workshop to make small changes before the recording. Also, it was so nice to see the other composers again, who are such a lovely group of people, and I quickly felt at ease. We met at the beautiful Craxton Studios in north London. The musicians, some the same as last time, some new, were as brilliant as before, and Dani was such a helpful and inspiring mentor. We quizzed her about her career for quite a while after the sessions. For our workshop slots the musicians tended to play the piece through, then address particular points, ending with general questions.
I loved hearing everyone’s pieces, and how they’d developed since the first workshop. Each composition is very different and seems to reflect its composer.
So now it’s a couple of weeks to finalise the piece, before it’s sent to the musicians ahead of the final recording in Stapleford Granary…
After Workshop 1
It was such a brilliant, inspiring day in Cambridge. The horn, violin and percussion trio played in the morning, and the harp, viola and flute in the afternoon. The musicians went through each of our pieces in turn, with Raymond Yiu leading. We had sent our sketches a week earlier and now was our chance to hear them being played —we could see what worked, what didn’t, and what else might be possible. I loved hearing everyone’s pieces — they were very different from each other and all very interesting. The musicians were of course amazing, and they were helpful and encouraging, as was Raymond, who also sent us away with a long list of pieces to check out!
I brought along 3 short sketches and came away with lots of ideas about how to develop them further. But I learned as much from listening to other people’s music as I did from my own. One of the great things about being able to try out ideas with the musicians ahead of final drafts, was hearing various techniques and how, for example, different violin mutes sound, or various drum beaters, or flute flutter-tonging.
It was also lovely to meet the other composers and the Britten Sinfonia team, and I’m really looking forward to Workshop 2.
Before Workshop 1
It’s a few days until the first workshop with the Britten Sinfonia players and I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s sketches.
A couple of weeks ago we all met by Zoom and it was lovely to see all the composers, the Britten learning team and Raymond and Dani, who gave some brilliant advice. I tried hard, not always succeeding, to keep in mind Raymond’s words about not procrastinating and getting on with the work, reminding us that there isn’t very long before each workshop.
The composers got a WhatsApp group together where we have shared some listening suggestions as well as travelling tips.
The trios are unusual combinations — I’ve certainly never written for a group of French horn, percussion and violin before — and I began by listening to lots of music for those individual instruments.
I decided to go with only the marimba and cymbal (I might end up with just the marimba) for the percussion part. Next, I started trying to imagine what my piece might be and playing with motifs and chords. I was attracted to a conceptual idea that may or may not hold, but I have expressed elements of it in my sketches. It’s such a treat to try out ideas as opposed to fully formed pieces with the musicians, and my sketches range from a bar of a texture I want to hear, to longer, more complete passages. I’m excited and slightly nervous to explore these on Saturday!
After Workshop 2
It had been nearly a whole month before our second workshop, but with all the revisions we had to make after having learnt so much from the previous session, the time in between passed by before we had a chance to notice! The workshop this time was held at Craxton Studios, London, a charming rehearsal venue couched within a quaint and apparently rather artsy neighbourhood (Sir Edward Elgar and other artistic luminaries had lived around the area back in the day).
The interior of the studio was warm and cozy, and therein, we were happily reunited with our cohort mates, as well as the lovely performers from the Britten Sinfonia. It was there that we also met the fabulous Dani Howard, our second programme director (alongside Ray), and Lauren from the Sinfonia’s creative team, who handled the logistics and timekeeping of the day with soloist-like virtuosity.
It was marvelous to experience each other’s work once again, in a newer, revised form this time round. Like beholding a collection of beautiful insects or animals at different stages of their life cycles, one could tell that these were all the same pieces from before, just at a later stage of their developmental journeys. The musicians were, as ever, full of life-giving energy both in their playing and personalities, and gave spirited, well-inhabited readings of our music. Topped off with super solid advice from Dani – both practical and musical – the workshop left us, yet again, with a treasury of insights into the practice of music making.
With the second workshop done, we now have about a week to finalize the score and parts of our pieces before the final recording day in the first of October. Looking back, time seems to have flown by so quickly, and part of me feels sad that the programme is finally coming to an end. Nonetheless, it all goes to show that initiatives like these leave its participants with invaluable memories, learning experiences, a new piece to add to the personal portfolio, and of course, connections with new friends and mentors who share an interest in creating and making music.
After Workshop 1
After much anticipation, the day of our first workshop came! It was an absolute thrill to finally meet the members of the Britten Sinfonia creative learning team, our workshop leader – Ray, the rest of the composers, and of course, the brilliant musicians who would soon make magic with their instruments.
The session soon got underway, and from the get-go, it was everything a composer could want in a workshop (no exaggerations there!). A spirit of creative energy was in the air, and the players from the Britten Sinfonia were just as eager to have a go at the wacky ideas we cooked up, as well as to suggest new ways of playing we had never thought was possible before. As time drew on, it seemed as if our pieces were being shaped by the very interactions we had with the players and their instruments. Ray was also an endearing, supportive, and all-round wonderful presence to have around, providing lots of invaluable feedback and insights on effective scoring and instrumental techniques – and offering no shortage of listening recommendations!
Another huge takeaway was getting to meet everyone else in our cohort in person for the first time, and to be surrounded by their music. From arresting avant-garde soundscapes to the more lush and cinematic, the music of our cohort members boasted a wealth of different styles. For me, hearing each work was a deep dive into the diversity of ways in approaching the same group of instruments, and I’m sure much of what I heard has seeped into the revisions I’ve since made on my own piece!
I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all walked away from that session with our inspirations ignited and our buckets full. I’m very much looking forward to hearing everyone’s updated pieces and seeing everyone again at our next workshop. After such a thoroughly enjoyable session we had the first time round, what’s not to look forward to?
Before Workshop 1
One of the reasons I was drawn to the path of music was for the invaluable spirit of collaboration and connection that came with the practice. It might be musicians’ bias at work here, but I don’t think any other profession opens as many highways to working and engaging with people as that of a music maker!
It was for the same reason that I was thrilled to have received the news, several weeks ago, of having been selected for the Britten Sinfonia’s 2022 cohort of Opus 1 composers. For me, it was a huge chance to meet and be inspired by other fellow composers, as well as learn from and receive advice from experienced players, all the while working on a brand-new piece.
We did a zoom call shortly after that, where we were introduced to the other composers in our cohort, the creative learning team, and the course directors Dani and Ray. I remember going in slightly shy, but everyone was extremely friendly, warm, and supportive, and we spent the next hour having an amazing time. We got to know each other, and received lots of inspiration and great advice from Dani and Ray.
Our cohort is such a diverse group, with composers from an array of backgrounds, and at different stages in their composition journeys. I can tell we each have something unique and individual to say, and so I’m looking ever so forward to be immersed in everyone’s music soon. The first workshop is this weekend, and it can’t come soon enough for me!