The 16th Composition and Performance Course at Snape has just finished, after 10 days of intense work. This was the first time since 1992 – when Olly Knussen and I founded it – that we were without Olly as presiding genius. Difficult as it was to cope without his presence, the course tutors, all of whom were his close friends and colleagues, felt that it took place very much in his spirit. It was lucky for me that I was able to work with Mark-Anthony Turnage, who Olly had invited to join the course shortly before his death, and the presence of Zoe Martlew, Melinda Maxwell and Michael Thompson, all veterans of previous years, meant that we were on familiar ground. As well as the 18 members of the ensemble we had 3 singers, supervised by Claire Booth – the first time we have had a vocal element since she was an outstanding member of the course in 2000. We also had the luxury of a few days with Sam Walton as percussion tutor, and Ben Powell as piano tutor.
For logistical reasons we had two conductors for the ensemble, Duncan Ward for the first 4 days, and Jessica Cottis for the remainder, including, of course, the final concert. Pictured above in the Britten Studio, immediately after the concert, are the 6 composers who took part – Euchar Gravina, Alex Paxton, Laura Shipsey, Blair Boyd, Jessica Cottis, Alex Woolf, Theo Chandler, CM, Mark-Anthony Turnage. I don’t think we’ve had a group of composers before who all so successfully fulfilled the brief of writing a 5 minute piece in little more than a week, each one of them bringing a distinctive voice to their instrumental writing, and 3 of them working with singers as well.
The remarkable ensemble, hand-picked for this course, had the huge responsibility of rehearsing with the composers every day, seeing new versions of their pieces each session. In addition they worked on Olly’s Coursing and Birtwistle’s Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and Three Songs from the Holy Forest for the concert, as well as spending time looking at Takemitsu’s Rain Coming and Kaija Saariaho’s Lichtbogen. Below are all of the course participants, looking very happy with their achievement.
Many thanks to the staff of the Snape Maltings Young Artists Programme, who looked after us so well. A concert featuring the 6 composers as well as other repertoire will be part of next year’s Aldeburgh Festival, with a provisional date of June 19. And the next Composition and Performance Course will take place in August 2021!