Wednesday 4 November 2015

Edward Nesbit - our OPUS2015 winner's story

I have had the pleasure of working with Britten Sinfonia for almost twelve months.  Back in December, the twelve composers who had been shortlisted for Britten Sinfonia’s OPUS2015 scheme enjoyed a workshop with the horn player Richard Watkins, where we discussed every aspect of the horn, from extended techniques to, if I remember correctly, the treatment of the horn in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  

Most of us were at that stage in the middle of composing extracts of music for horn trio, all of which were workshopped by Jackie Shave, Huw Watkins and Carys Evans in January this year.  Over the course of an intense weekend, we heard what everyone had produced – which amounted to the best part of an hour of music.  It was a very interesting – and very diverse – selection of pieces, and made for a lively and fascinating couple of days.

I was delighted to be chosen as the winner, and as a result have extended my original three-minute miniature into a full-length piece.  The resulting work, Lifesize Gods, was workshopped again more recently, and following that workshop I have given it a final few tweaks in advance of the premiere.  From here on in it will be the most exciting part of the process, and, for me at least, the easiest: I can now more or less simply sit and listen to the results.

One of the interesting challenges of writing a horn trio is the small number of previously written horn trios which have entered the repertoire.  While I have come across a number of very fine horn trios while writing my own, there are only two works which have firmly entered the repertoire: those by Brahms and Ligeti.  As a composer this situation brings both advantages and disadvantages.  There are fewer models to which I might turn for inspiration – but, on the other hand, there is not the weight of history that one has to deal with when writing, say, a string quartet.

It is interesting, then, that I will be sharing a programme with another new horn trio, by Huw Watkins.  I was, as it happens, at the premiere of Huw’s Horn Trio in 2009, and vividly remember the impression it made on me then; it will be a great pleasure to have the chance to hear it again live – three times, no less!  It really is a fantastic piece, and is an important addition to the repertoire which will doubtless continue to be performed for many years to come.   Huw and I are very different composers, however, which is probably no bad thing, given that we will be appearing in the same programme.  While Huw’s piece is lyrical, contrapuntal and full of contrast, my new work is, for the most part, transparent, almost obsessively single-minded, and extremely quick.

Britten Sinfonia have generously invited me to continue my involvement in the scheme, and next week I will be working with Julian Philips to choose the ten composers who will be shortlisted for OPUS2016.  This is something very new to me, but something that I am looking forward to immensely.  A total of 287 composers have submitted applications.  It’s a daunting number, but is testament to the fantastic nature of the opportunity that Britten Sinfonia are offering – and I’m sure it will be much harder to leave people out than to find people to shortlist.

Another aspect of my involvement with  Britten Sinfonia has been being a part of Musically GiftedMusically Gifted is a scheme which facilitates philanthropic donations to help fund commissions.  People can donate anything from £10 to £1,000, and all donors receive rewards, from thank you cards all the way up to invitations to rehearsals and social events with performers and composer.  The issue of how to fund contemporary music is a complex one, and many composers are unable to earn anything like a living from their composition work.  Musically Gifted is an imaginative and valuable contribution towards improving this difficult situation.

Lifesize Gods is being performed at Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch Series in St. Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on 27 November; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on 1 December; and Wigmore Hall, London, on 2 December.  It promises to be a fantastic concert! 

Edward Nesbit - OPUS2015 winner

Click here for more details and booking for At Lunch One, which features Edward's new work, Lifesize Gods.

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