Opus Composition Schemes - Britten Sinfonia - Creative Learning


After 6 successful years of developing new compositional voices in our OPUS composition competitions, exciting changes are happening in 2021 – we’re moving from a single annual competition to a broader offering of two tiered programmes which will run throughout the year.

Our two new Opus schemes, Opus 1 and Magnum Opus, are development opportunities to help UK-based composers take the next step on their composing journey. The selected composers for both schemes will work closely with programme directors Joe Cutler and Dobrinka Tabakova, Britten Sinfonia musicians, and the wider Britten Sinfonia team to create new works for chamber ensemble for recording and performance, and develop their skills as composers and creatives in a holistic way.

You’ll find more information below about the schemes. We will accept one application per composer (for either Opus 1 or Magnum Opus), so you should consider which scheme will suit your current stage of compositional development and check that you are eligible in the ‘How to get involved’ section. Registration is for both schemes – you will be able to be specific in your application form.

Opus 1

This talent development opportunity is intended as a potential ‘first step on the ladder’ for aspiring composers who have not recently been selected for other composition schemes, and from which they will gain workshop experience and a high quality recording of their work. Opus 1 is aimed at composers of any age, background and composing experience. Those composers selected will have a keen interest in composition, may be currently studying or have studied music in the past at some level, and will be looking for a chance to further develop their skills in a supportive environment.

Our eight chosen composers will take part in two workshops with a mixed-instrument quartet, guided by either Dobrinka or Joe and the players. We recognise that every composer has had access to different experiences, and may work at a different pace. Workshop 1 will be an opportunity for you to bring ideas and sketches (or something more fully formed, if you prefer), and by Workshop 2, we would like to see and hear how your ideas are developing into a complete piece.

There will be the opportunity for a 1:1 guidance session with Joe or Dobrinka before you submit your finished score. They will help you identify edits and revisions before the submission date.

You will be invited to write for one of the following instrumentations

Quartet 1 – Violin, Viola, Clarinet, Bassoon
Quartet 2 – Violin, Cello, Flute, Oboe

and the players will spend a day rehearsing and recording the eight new pieces at the end of the scheme.

We do not want funding to be a barrier to participation, and we recognise that the selected composers will commit time to this development opportunity. Composers who are selected for Opus 1 will be offered a bursary of £300 as a contribution towards core travel costs and associated expenses (Exceptional circumstances will be taken into account and additional financial assistance may be offered at the organisation’s discretion).

Magnum Opus

We’re pleased to offer a new professional development opportunity for three outstanding early career composers, who will be embedded in our activity across a season of Britten Sinfonia’s work.

We anticipate that those selected for Magnum Opus may recently have taken part in similar schemes with other ensembles, may have studied composition (or music more generally) in a higher education setting, and will have a pre-existing portfolio of compositions. We are looking to work with those who are keen to develop as not only composers, but as well-rounded creatives who will become part of the Britten Sinfonia team for the duration of their residency with us. You should be a talented creative with flair and a good sense of what it takes to make a career in your chosen field.

After an initial meeting with the Programme Directors and Britten Sinfonia staff members in September 2021, you will begin work on a series of three compositions, for completion throughout the year. Your first and second pieces (January and March 2022) will be written for and recorded by two differing small chamber ensembles, and your third piece (June 2022), for larger ensemble, will be premiered in concert at the culmination of your time with Britten Sinfonia.

As well as writing for these ensembles, you will have the chance to work with and learn from the players and wider team at Britten Sinfonia – including discussions around programming, marketing, finance, and concert management with key staff members. There will also be mentoring sessions with the Programme Directors, and access to other learning opportunities with external specialists who will help you to consider other areas of your work, including self-publishing, score editing and outreach development. When possible, you will be invited to the orchestra’s concerts and rehearsals throughout your residency.

Magnum Opus composers will receive a bursary of £2500 (in instalments throughout the season) in exchange for their commitment to the programme and the creation of their new works.

Opus Timeline

19 April – Registration deadline
26 April – Application deadline
May/June – Magnum Opus interviews (via Zoom)
7 June – Opus 1 selection announcement
10 or 11 July – Opus 1 first workshop
7 August – Opus 1 second workshop
18 September – Opus 1 recording day and Magnum Opus initial meeting
January 2022 – Magnum Opus first workshop
March 2022 – Magnum Opus second workshop
June/July 2022 – Magnum Opus third workshop and performance

How to get involved

Registration for Opus 1 and Magnum Opus has now closed.

The deadline for completing an application form is midday on Monday 26 April.

The web-based forms will close at the times listed above. When you have submitted your registration, you will receive an acknowledgement email. Late or incomplete applications cannot be accepted.

Before you apply, make sure that you fit the selection criteria for your chosen scheme.

Selection criteria:

To be eligible to apply for Opus 1 you should:
– Be over 18 years old
– Plan to remain resident in the UK for the duration of the programme
– Provide one score and recording/realisation of your work
– Not have been selected for a similar opportunity (see suggested list*) since 1 January 2019, or have been selected for a previous OPUS competition

To be eligible for Magnum Opus you should:
– Be over 18 years old
– Plan to remain resident in the UK for the duration of the programme
– Provide two scores and recordings/realisations of your work
– Consider yourself to be actively pursuing composition as part of your career, and may have taken part in opportunities and received awards or commissions (or have other equivalent composition experience) as part of your professional development

*If you have been selected for, taken part in, or had access to any of these opportunities, or something similar since 1 January 2019, you are not currently eligible to apply for Opus 1. This is not an exhaustive list, but we would ask that you consider your recent opportunities in relation to our decision to include this as one of the selection criteria (see our FAQs for more information).

Got more questions? Check out our FAQ

Information and dates specified on this page are correct at time of publication and are subject to change, where necessary. Activity that cannot take place in person due to COVID-19 guidelines will take place online wherever possible.



We reviewed how our old model was working and thought we might be able to offer opportunities that are better suited to the needs of individual composers, and we hope that the composers whom we reach will recognise that, along with lots of other organisations, we’re trying to develop better and fairer systems. We might not get it absolutely right at first, but we’re committed to continuing our development and to making more steps in the right direction.

OPUS: a brief history

Britten Sinfonia has a history of innovation and excellence. Renowned for adventurous programming and a dynamic approach to performing, over our history we have aimed to expand the horizons of what an orchestra ‘could’ or ‘should’ be and of how people engage with us and our music-making. Britten Sinfonia is a major supporter of new composition and has commissioned over 200 pieces of new music. In 2013, we launched OPUS to further this vision with the goal of discovering an exciting new compositional voice. Throughout the competition’s history, we have sought applications from any unpublished composer, regardless of their age, experience or level of study.

Winners of the OPUS competition have been among the best up-and-coming compositional talents in the UK. The competition has always tried to widen the parameters, and we’ve challenged ourselves and our audience to discover new musical terrain and all the creative potential therein.

Those shortlisted have had the opportunity to write for a small ensemble of Britten Sinfonia players and receive guidance on their work from a guest composer; in 2018, we were delighted to be joined by Sir James MacMillan, who selected the chosen composers and mentored them through the OPUS process. This included a day of workshops with our players – an opportunity to hear their music live, perhaps for the first time – and, for the winner of the competition, a commission to be premiered in Britten Sinfonia’s award-winning At Lunch series in London and performed across the East of England.

In later competitions, the workshop day has also been open to the public: an opportunity to observe rehearsals and workshops, and follow online scores during the day. This allowed us to introduce an Audience Prize, voted for at the end of the workshops, which awarded an additional prize to the audience’s favourite piece, alongside the competition’s main reward.

We developed our Young OPUS event, offering secondary school pupils the opportunity to write a folk-inspired string quartet and receive a day of mentoring from Sir James MacMillan.

From the archive