In partnership with Britten Sinfonia, young composers from Norfolk and from Britten Sinfonia Academy Composer Hub took part in a creative workshop and received expert mentoring and guidance from professional musicians, as part of Britten Sinfonia’s Young OPUS2018 programme.
The workshop, which took place at Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich on Saturday 12 January 2019, was led by Sir James MacMillan, one of today’s most successful composers and international conductor. To prepare, each young composer was asked to write a string quartet of up to 5 minutes in length. The brief asked for pieces to take inspiration from any folk music tradition that interested the composer and suggested using a starting point of a melody, a harmonic idea, a sonic texture, a particular rhythmic trait, or anything else from the chosen folk music style that captured their imagination.
The finished pieces were played by string players from Britten Sinfonia during the workshop and the young composers each received constructive feedback and advice on their work in an encouraging environment. There was a variety of styles displayed, from traditional English, Scottish and Irish folk sounds to a Japanese folk song, to film music and more contemporary styles. The string quartet was able to offer guidance on performance and instrument techniques, such as bowing and articulation, harmonics, comfortable tempos and key signatures for strings; an extremely valuable insight for young composers, several of whom had never written for strings before. Sir James also spoke about ways to develop compositions and explore new directions and inspirations for new pieces, such as setting limitations within musical parameters to exercise focus in the composition process.
Sir James MacMillan’s own music is influenced by his Scottish heritage and has a close connection with Celtic folk music. He said of the young composers’ work: “There’s been a wide spectrum of music heard today. The young composers have worked very hard and they’ve all worked to the brief very well. They’ve all done it in very different ways but they’re all composers at different stages in development. I think in many ways it’s been very helpful for them, to hear their music, to have it discussed, to share their ideas with people. They’ll remember this, and if they go on into a life of music it will be regarded I think as something that was very useful for them.”
Emily Crook, one of the composers who took part, said: “It was nice to hear my piece with actual feeling. The character was brought out a lot more and I really enjoyed listening to that because it was a bit plain on the computer. It was really enjoyable and it’s really cool to listen to everyone else’s to see how they did it. All of the pieces are very different and I think I’d like to write for string quartet again.”
Edmund Finnis, Britten Sinfonia Academy Composer Hub Mentor, said: “It’s good for these teenagers to know that they’re not isolated, and they can gain a lot from hearing other compositions.”
The composers from Norfolk, who are also taught composition with David Stowell at Norfolk Centre for Young Musicians, were: