Thursday, August 22, 2013

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Composition competitions

Heather Roche and Lauren Redhead have written posts in the last couple of days about composition competitions, with some interesting insights from the point of view of an ensemble and a composer as well as posing a number of thought provoking questions. And it definitely got us thinking.

As an organisation, we’re trying to get new music out to broader audiences and give opportunities to emerging composers and musicians and we organise a small number of events to do that. We find composers to work with by running two calls/competitions a year which are structured around creating concert programmes. Really the calls define the model for what we do so we definitely want to make it attractive to composers (and musicians who we work with too of course).

For each call we’re looking for 6 emerging composers to either write a new piece or support the performance of an existing piece for a set instrumentation and duration to create a concert programme. So far, we’ve asked composers to submit 2 existing pieces, ideally for similar instrumentation that we’re programming, so that a selection panel can chose the “best” 6 composers. Only the successful composers have then been asked to write a new piece by a particular date about 4 months in the future. We don’t charge an entry fee and we currently don’t give a commissioning fee (we hope to be able to do this in the future once we are in a more stable financial position). We don’t ask composers to write about why they want this opportunity or to describe their music or anything like that - the selection is based on the music only so the selection panel only have the scores and recordings/midi files (we ask for recordings because we include an audience member on the panel and they generally can’t read scores). CVs are requested for the admin in the background to check against our eligibility criteria (not published, not an undergraduate student etc). We change the members of the selection panel for each call so that we minimise any biases (towards individuals or a particular aesthetic) as much as we can.

In return, composers receive a performance opportunity in a public concert, a recording, photos and promotion for the months running up to the concert. But what we really want is for it not to be a one off thing. We hold a collaboration work shop where each composer gets time with the ensemble to work on their piece and the other composers are welcome to attend too. We also encourage the composers to attend additional rehearsals, when they can, to start developing a relationship with the ensemble. Aside from a great concert, success is also when a composer and an ensemble click and the ensemble incorporates a piece into their repertoire or chose to work with a composer again in the future. This is a bit tricky for us - we can’t force that to happen, at the moment it feels a bit like we play match-maker and sometimes the chemistry works, often it doesn’t or practicalities get in the way.

Michael Cutting (composer) and Richard Uttley (pianist) in our January collaboration work shop 

So that’s what we do at the moment.

From reading Heather and Lauren’s posts and some responses, I hope our call doesn't make anyone run away screaming but it makes me think about the need for us to do more to make it not just a one-off thing and to be more transparent in the call and when booking musicians about what our ideal outcome is. And we’re always open to suggestions - how could we do this better? what would musicians and composers find most beneficial?