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BBC Young Composer 2020

The BBC have launched this year’s BBC Young Composer competition. Previously known as the BBC Proms Inspire Competition and the BBC Young Composer of the Year, the annual competition is open to composers aged between 12 and 18 from across the UK. Winners take part in a development programme and work with a mentor composer on a composition for the BBC Concert Orchestra, to be performed at the BBC Proms in 2021 in a special young composers concert. The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

Former winners

The competition boasts an illustrious list of former winners including Shiva Feshareki, Kate Whitley, Tom Harrold, Alissa Firsova, Mark Simpson, Toby Young, Lloyd Coleman and Duncan Ward. 

Shiva Feshareki won the BBC Young Composer Award in 2004 and has since been honoured with the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for Innovation (formerly known as British Composer Award) and The Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2009). She achieved her doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and her research has contributed to the rediscovery of some of the early innovators of electronic music such as Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram and Éliane Radigue. In the 2018 BBC Proms, Feshareki performed Oram’s Still Point for turntables, double orchestra and five microphones with the sound artist and curator James Bulley and the LCO. This performance took place in the Royal Albert Hall; the venue for which the work was written.

Kate Whitley runs The Multi-Story Orchestra with conductor Christopher Stark. Her composition Speak Out, which uses the words of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, was commissioned by the BBC for International Women’s Day 2017, in support of the campaign for better education for girls. Whitley won a Critics Circle Award in 2018.

Tom Harrold’s recent projects include Nightfires, a commission from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra , a Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra for Emma McPhilemy and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, A Brief Nostalgia for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Queensland Ballet companies, and Unchained, a mini-concerto for percussionist Colin Currie.

Alissa Firsova won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001. She has since received two world premieres at the BBC Proms: Bach Allegro in 2010 and Bergen Bonfire in 2015. Alongside her work as a composer, Firova is also a pianist and conductor and her triple-debut with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall in 2013 as director, composer and conductor.

Mark Simpson won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. In the same year he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year – he was the first (and to date the only) musician to win both. Some of Simpson’s composing highlights include the premiere of his first opera, Pleasure, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, commissioned by Opera North, the Royal Opera House and Aldeburgh Music with performances in Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. He also gave the online premiere of Darkness Moves for solo clarinet, commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Toby Young won the Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composer of the Year in 2006 and 2008, going on to win the International ABRSM Composition Competition in 2009. Young’s works have been performed by orchestras such as London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music, and choirs such as Westminster Abbey, the Joyful Company of Singers, and the BBC Singers. He is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Armonico Consort, following past residencies with the London Oriana Choir and Reverie and being the featured composer at the Kings Lynn and Stratford Festivals.

Lloyd Coleman works closely with conductor Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra, the first professional ensemble in the world comprised of disabled musicians. In 2017 Coleman was appointed as their first Associate Music Director and he wrote Towards Harmony for the ensemble. Alongside his composing and performing work, Coleman is also a presenter on TV and Radio including for the BBC Proms.

Duncan Ward won the BBC Young Composer of the Year in 2005 and now spends time both as a composer and conductor. Ward’s recent commissions include an encore for the Bamberger Symphoniker, premiered under Rafael Payare in March 2019 and Rainbow Beats, a work for orchestra for the South African organisation MIAGI (Music Is A Great Investment) was premiered on a major tour of Europe in Summer 2018 in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary including performances at the Elbphilharmonie, Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerthaus and Verbier Festival.

The competition is a springboard for up and coming composers. Winners and highly commended composers are invited to join the BBC Young Composer Ambassadors, giving an opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with the BBC Proms. Past winners have received additional commissions from the BBC such as:

  • Tom Harold’s Raze for BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 2016
  • Grace Mason’s River for Proms At…Stage@TheDock in 2017 which was commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ programme and the BBC Proms to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music.
  • In 2018, Alex Woolf’s The NHS Symphony which is a half-hour portrait in music and sound of the National Health Service as it celebrated its 70th anniversary. The work was nominated for an ARIAS Award (the BAFTAs of UK Radio) in the Factual Storytelling category in October 2018.
  • Sarah Jenkins, the 2017 winner was commissioned to write And the Sun Stood Still for the BBC Concert Orchestra
  • Alexia Sloane’s Brink was written for BBC Concert Orchestra and will be premiered on Thursday 19thMarch at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, London. Details at https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ezhn5v
  • The BBC Singers’ commission for International Women’s Day 2020 entitled Seven Ages of Woman features 7 composers including Helena Paish and Electra Perivolaris
  • Mark Simpson is currently Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic, works include The Immortal and his Clarinet Concerto

The competition

Each year the compositions are judged by a panel of leading composers and music industry professionals who have a keen interested in finding and developing young talent. This year the judges include Errollyn Wallen, Shiva Feshareki (former winner), Matthew Kaner and the Director of the Proms, David Pickard. More judges will be announced soon.

The judges will assess the submissions based on compositional idea, originality and creativity and entries are judged in three categories:

Junior Category aged 12-14

Junior Category aged 15-16.

Senior Category aged 17-18

(Note: age category is determined by age on the closing date)

To enter, compositions should be uploaded to www.bbc.co.uk/youngcomposer where the applicants have a form to complete alongside submitting the audio composition file. Compositions can include any instrumentation such as voices, acoustic instruments, electronic instruments and computer-generated sounds.

Past participants have highlighted benefits of taking part in the competition such as meeting people with similar interests, having the opportunity to collaborate, working with established composers and hearing their works performed by professional musicians.

So why not enter the competition this year? The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

For more inspiration, listen to works by former winners at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030pblf

Featured images source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_W.Bubbles%27_Music_Writing_Pen(32869862850).jpg

2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Dungeons, Detail and Design

Composer Steven Coltart on writing music for gaming…

The way young people experience music is changing. October 2018 saw the publication of the findings of a YouGov survey in association with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which showed the increasing influence of video game music and its value as an access point for classical music.

This access point is valuable both experientially and creatively, as opportunities open up for composers to work in sound design.

In this month’s guest blog, The Music Workshop Company talks to composer Steven Coltart about his work writing and producing the score for Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.

Steven has worked extensively across film, games and television, but Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier provided a hitherto unique opportunity for him…


Can you tell us a bit about the game?

Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a narrative adventure game of conquest, betrayal and survival. When the fates of a tribe of apes and a band of human survivors intertwine, two worlds collide as their precarious existence hangs in the balance. It’s out now on PS4XBOX ONE and PC.

So how did you approach writing the music for this game?

Unlike with other games I had worked on, I treated this project as close to possible as a linear film score. From the off I was opposed to using any loops, menu theme aside, and instead all music was bespoke composed for the different pathway options. That became quite complex on the longer scenes, however the end result is far more filmic due to this approach.  

Crucially for this game I was involved across full production; not only composing the soundtrack, designing sound effects and ambiences, but also employed as audio lead. This included personally implementing all my music into Unreal too. 

Having this level of control and understanding allowed me to have attention to detail across both creative and technical areas. I believe the composer also implementing is quite unique on a project of this size, but in my opinion, is one of the strengths in the soundtrack’s success.  

I can see this process becoming more commonplace going forward. 

Steven in his studio

How do you retain your artistic creativity and freshness when you’re working within an existing franchise?

I have a signature “Coltart sound” that is consistent across all my video game, film and television work – an emotionally charged, cinematic sound –  something that offers a standout, gives my music uniqueness, an identity in a crowded market.    

There are a couple of themes that I’m particularly happy with which recur in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier: Toms Burial and We Go Home.

Regarding the Toms Burial theme, a listener posted to my Twitter account: 

“There’s so much pain in it.” 

It’s a melancholy that’s ambient (so as not to distract from the storytelling) but has enough detail to give listeners enjoyment when playing the original soundtrack in isolation. That’s something I kept in the back of my mind across the full soundtrack: Does the music sound as good away from the game as it does supporting the game play in it?  If so, I’ve done my job.

When you’re recording your own sounds, can you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes?

The game was developed at Ealing Studios, but lots of the sound designs in game were actually recorded on location in Norfolk. This included getting access to record at Norwich Castle* capturing sound designs such as skull handling and hall/ dungeon ambiences.

The game features several snowy scenes, and I headed out into rural south Norfolk countryside for the perfect snow recordings, both during daytime, and at night to ensure attention to detail, and immersion. Going above and beyond with these original audio recordings aided the cinematic storytelling.    

*Special thanks to John Holdaway, Anne Brown and Dr. David Waterhouse!


Steven works across games, film and television. See/ hear what he is up to at his website, https://www.stevencoltart.com/ and on Twitter @ColtartMusic

He has also personally developed highly current, specialist game audio content, which he currently delivers within the music department at The University of Hertfordshire.  The course has ongoing graduate success due to the implementation of audio middleware and UE4/ Unity.

If you or one of your students would like to know more about a career in game audio, check out the course specifications to find out more. 


If you would like to know more about The Music Workshop Company or book one of our bespoke workshops for your school or workplace, contact us today.

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