Five new concertos from five new composers premiered by the LPO

Debut Sounds is the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual celebration of new composers. This year’s concert is on Thursday 14 July at 7.30pm at London’s Southbank Centre

The more composers I interview the more I think they need to be celebrated. Composing is a god-forsaken task.

A lot is expected of them. Write something which is new, distinctive and authentic. Be true to yourself but satisfy the audience, the commissioner and the critics. Be inspired and be inspiring.

Create in isolation. Know that we’ve only got money for one rehearsal before the performance, so you won’t have the luxury of knowing for sure what’s in your head and what’s on the paper is what you’ll hear played.

Oh, and just as a reminder, you’ll need to show yourself to the audience at the end of the first performance. You’ll need to do some PR before the premiere. You’ll need to talk confidently about the thing you’ve created you’ve not heard yet. Also, we can’t guarantee your creation will ever be played again after the premiere.

It seems to me that the odds are stacked against the composer it seems to me long before the composer sits down to start drafting ideas.

Composers are no different from the rest of us – beset negative self-talk, some of it motivating, the rest of it fuelling procrastination. That composers create anything at all is a testament to how they have compartmentalised it, ignored it, utilised it.

And if you’re one of those rare species who are comfortable saying out loud that you write for yourself first, then there must surely be a moment in time when self-doubt threatens to creep as you ponder whether the audience (or the players) enjoyed or tolerated the results of your hard creative graft.

Like farming, I’m not entirely sure why anyone would turn to composing as a vocation. At the same time I’m fascinated by those who do.

Us members of the audience need to flex our listening muscles a bit more, get ourselves into the habit of listening to music which is new (ie contemporary) in order to familiarise ourselves with a range of different musical languages.

Doing this helps us get a sense of how others ‘hear’ the world around them, and how they want us to hear it too. The more people do this the bigger and more welcoming the audience will be for new (art) music.

The bigger the audience, the easier the time a fledgling composer will have. In the long term, we owe it to the composer to listen more, so that there’s a greater chance of reward for them.

For all the bleating about how the classical music world is in trouble, how classical music marketers aren’t much cop (and how they need to Be Better), there are still numerous new composers willing to take the plunge, hungry to learn from those who have gone before them, full of hope and willing to take a risk.

And five such people who have worked with composer Brett Dean will have their brand new concertos premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra next week. Five new composers who are asking for a handful of minutes of your attention.

Each work will be performed by a chamber orchestra of 30 musicians comprising LPO players and Foyle Future Firsts, the Orchestra’s development scheme for aspiring orchestral players.

At the start of the year, Dean set the Young Composers the brief to write an eight-minute concerto. He chose this musical form because of the challenges and learning opportunities it provides: the chance to fully interrogate the solo instrument and discover what its player is capable of as well as having to tackle questions of balance, architecture, musical direction, dramaturgy and purpose.

Each composer has received four one-to-one seminars with Dean; an exploratory workshop with their soloist; a three-hour orchestral workshop in the Spring to allow participants to experiment with new ideas, talk to players and receive feedback; professional development sessions and opportunities to engage with artists working with the LPO; and further workshop/rehearsals with the ensemble in the lead up to the concert.

Alex Ho

Splinter performed by Co-Principal Double Bass Sebastian Pennar

Conrad Asman

Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra performed by Principal Piccolo Stewart McIlwham

Rafael Marino Arcaro 

Violin Concerto performed by First Violinist Kate Oswin

Yunho Jeong 

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra ‘Der vogel kämpft sich aus dem ei…’ performed by Principal Clarinet Benjamin Mellefont

Angela Elizabeth Slater

Through the Fading Hour performed by Co-Principal Viola Richard Waters

Debut Sounds is the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual celebration of new composers. This year’s concert is on Thursday 14 July at 7.30pm at London’s Southbank Centre