A Composer Portrait - Britten Sinfonia

A Composer Portrait

A heart-warming story of artistic exchange

At Britten Sinfonia we run a really useful scheme for composers called Magnum Opus. It’s aimed at people who are in the early stages of their careers but are already writing high-quality music and just need a big boost to give them the confidence to go on to even greater things.  

This year we selected composers Jonathan Brigg, Nathan James Dearden and Aileen Sweeney for the scheme, and over the last year they have been embedded in all aspects of Britten Sinfonia’s work.  

A group of musicians laughing

They’ve written short pieces which opened concert programmes which we presented in London, Saffron Walden and Norwich. They have also got some valuable insights into how an orchestra works, spending time with the programming, participation, marketing and development teams to find out how to raise money, how to run an event, and how to attract an audience.  

All this has led to the year’s big project – each composer writing a substantial new chamber concerto – their “magnum opus” or great work – for their soloist and the players of Britten Sinfonia, to be premiered at St Giles Cripplegate in central London on Saturday 15 October.  

The composers have worked with their soloists, pianist Huw Watkins, saxophonist Rob Burton and percussionist Owen Gunnell, as well as getting crucial support and advice from the mentors on this year’s Magnum Opus scheme, Joe Cutler and Dobrinka Tabakova. The pieces have been workshopped and are ready to be released into the wild! 

An unexpected twist

Writing a concerto for a soloist always involves a collaboration between composer and performer. But in one of this year’s collaborations there’s been a rather special and unexpected additional element…  

Saxophonist Rob Burton is ALSO a fantastic portrait painter who has appeared on the Sky Arts’ “Portrait Painter of the Year” series. As we approach the culmination of the collaboration, the premiere of the piece, Rob has painted a brilliant portrait of Nathan.  

Of course, there’s a long tradition of musician who were also visual artists, including Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Gershwin and David Bowie.  

“I’ve never done this before with a composer, but I think a portrait can really help you to understand the other person, and I think we are both doing a portrait of each other”, says Rob.  

It’s a moving example of artistic exchange.

Nathan says: “As a composer, I’ve never worked on a collaboration where my work for a performer has been reciprocated in that creative and artistic way. It gives me amazing joy.” 


A portrait in black and white of a man with short hair

As well as coming to the concert on Saturday, you can also apply to be in the next Magnum Opus composer cohort. But you’ll have to be quick: applications close on 19 October. Find out more.