As part of its commitment to supporting the professional development of emerging musicians, Wigmore Hall is delighted to lead the Apprentice Composer scheme in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS). In 2018 the RPS Apprentice Composer Scheme was renamed as the Rosie Johnson RPS Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer Scheme. This is in honour of Rosie Johnson, former Executive Director of the RPS who led the charity for 20 years before stepping down in summer 2018
The scheme provides a composer in the early stages of their professional career a range of opportunities to support their development, including:
Previous composers include Freya Ireland, Edmund Hunt, Daniel Fardon and Claire Roberts. In 2020 we appointed two Apprentice Composers, Lucy Hale and Sylvia Lim. On Monday 11 January 2021, we were deeply saddened to learn the tragic news that Lucy had died. You can read a tribute and listen to her music here
Daniel Fardon, Apprentice Composer 2018/19
Daniel Fardon – Three Garden Sketches – for Wigmore Hall’s Sense of Home Festival
As part of the Wigmore Hall’s 2019 learning festival, Sense of Home, I had the opportunity to collaborate with various people at the Wigmore on some new sketches to be featured in artist Gawain Hewitt’s ‘Home from Home’ multi-sensory sound and art installation. On the 18th February, the Wigmore’s Bechstein room will be transformed into a house and garden where in the audience canimmerse themselves in an interactive experience. My sketches – as the title suggests – will becontained within the garden, where sounds will be triggered through the placement of variousobjects. This collaboration marks my first engagement as the Rosie Johnson Royal Philharmonic Society Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer, where I am getting involved in all things Wigmore throughout the year. This will culminate in the world première of a new work of mine for the Bloomsbury Quartet (who are the current Royal Academy of Music/Wigmore Hall Fellowship Ensemble) in July 2019. My Three Garden Sketches take the form of three movements, and werewritten for three members of the Bloomsbury Quartet (two violins and cello). The movements are entitled:
I. Flessibile; warm
II. Comodo; lilting
III. Vigoroso; spirited
The first movement is slow and tender, and my aim here was to evoke a ‘homely’ atmosphere toreflect on the festival’s theme. The second movement is very short and waltz-like, featuring a trippingrhythmic character that I hope is fun and upbeat. The final movement is rather fierce in contrast,having intense bursting gestures in the violins juxtaposed with impassioned expressions of solo cello.On the 6th February, myself, Gawain, the Bloomsbury, and other members of the Wigmore’s Pathways Programme got together for a wonderful morning recording the sketches in theoutstanding acoustics of the hall; a serious pleasure for a composer! The results can be heard in Gawain’s installation on the 18th February (from 5.30PM), where it will be sharing the evening with the exciting evening gala concert: ‘Home Sweet Home’.
Edmund Hunt, Apprentice Composer 2017/18
Read Edmund's blog about his experience of being the RPS / Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer:
1. Singing With Friends
‘References to dementia are often associated with loss and limitation … Yet Singing with Friends is far from sad; it is one of the most uplifting singing experiences that I have ever witnessed.’
As part of my role as Apprentice Composer at Wigmore Hall, I have had the opportunity to become involved in its diverse programme of learning, outreach and community activities. One of these activities is ‘Singing with Friends’, which I have attended over several weeks. ‘Singing with Friends’ is a weekly, informal singing session, which includes repertoire of many different styles from across the ages. Under the enthusiastic direction of choir leader Isabelle Adams, repertoire is learned and developed from week to week. Yet although the choir has already given some performances (in venues including the Wigmore Hall and Buckingham Palace), rehearsals are not solely focused on preparing for the next concert. As such, each session begins and ends with tea and coffee, giving participants the opportunity to chat and to catch up on the week’s events. As part of my role as Apprentice Composer at Wigmore Hall, I have had the opportunity to become involved in its diverse programme of learning, outreach and community activities. One of these activities is ‘Singing with Friends’, which I have attended over several weeks. ‘Singing with Friends’ is a weekly, informal singing session, which includes repertoire of many different styles from across the ages. Under the enthusiastic direction of choir leader Isabelle Adams, repertoire is learned and developed from week to week. Yet although the choir has already given some performances (in venues including the Wigmore Hall and Buckingham Palace), rehearsals are not solely focused on preparing for the next concert. As such, each session begins and ends with tea and coffee, giving participants the opportunity to chat and to catch up on the week’s events.
At this point, I should perhaps mention that Singing with Friends differs in one crucial respect from other choirs in which I have sung. Singing with Friends was established specifically for people living with dementia, their carers and their families. References to dementia are often associated with loss and limitation; the illness is undoubtedly a cause of great sadness for all who are affected by it. Yet Singing with Friends is far from sad; it is one of the most uplifting singing experiences that I have ever witnessed. During the course of a rehearsal, there is a palpable feeling of energy and happiness as the singers engage with the music that they are rehearsing. There is also a sense that music facilitates communication, expression and group cohesion in ways that might otherwise be less accessible for people with dementia. As someone who has sung in choirs for many years, I understand how the act of singing with others causes you to focus your attention on your own voice and on the voices of those around you. Over time, you develop an unconscious affinity with the breathing, phrasing and timbre of those who stand next to you. This is a profound form of communication, which clearly enriches all who take part.
Singing with Friends is just one of the many activities that I have seen in and around Wigmore Hall. As the Apprentice Composer, it has been invaluable for me to meet workshop leaders, accompanists, performers, members of the administrative team and people from partner organisations that work with Wigmore Hall to deliver different projects. Being a composer can sometimes seem like an isolated and at times precarious position; it is invaluable to see the ways in which other musicians have built from a diverse portfolio of creative practice. Over the coming weeks, I look forward learning more about the work of Wigmore Hall.
2. Diphonon Duo
As the Apprentice Composer at Wigmore Hall, I have the exciting opportunity to write a new piece for Diphonon Duo. The duo is formed of Michael Iskas (viola) and Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade (accordion). As there is relatively little music written specifically for this combination, it has felt as though I have begun the composition process with an unusually blank canvas. Nonetheless, the combination of accordion plus a stringed instrument does carry many associations; images of folk musicians, cafes and buskers perhaps spring to mind. Although my composition does not draw deliberately on these musical traditions, my piece is fundamentally determined by the particular sound of the accordion and viola. In order to understand the sound world of these instruments, the composition process began with meeting Michael and Iñigo, asking them to play through a few rough sketches, and hearing them perform.As the Apprentice Composer at Wigmore Hall, I have the exciting opportunity to write a new piece for Diphonon Duo. The duo is formed of Michael Iskas (viola) and Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade (accordion). As there is relatively little music written specifically for this combination, it has felt as though I have begun the composition process with an unusually blank canvas. Nonetheless, the combination of accordion plus a stringed instrument does carry many associations; images of folk musicians, cafes and buskers perhaps spring to mind. Although my composition does not draw deliberately on these musical traditions, my piece is fundamentally determined by the particular sound of the accordion and viola. In order to understand the sound world of these instruments, the composition process began with meeting Michael and Iñigo, asking them to play through a few rough sketches, and hearing them perform.
The first time I heard Diphonon Duo perform in concert was at the William Morris Society in Hammersmith. The concert was titled ‘Music for Thought’. Like Singing with Friends, in which I have participated for several weeks, the concert was part of Wigmore Hall’s Music for Life programme, which brings together professional musicians, care staff and people living with dementia. Although the concert at the William Morris Society was the first time that I had observed this particular event, Michael and Iñigo had met the participants in previous sessions and had developed an evident rapport with them. The concert programme included arrangements of pieces by Bach, Purcell and Britten, and a recently composed work inspired by Flamenco. Afterwards, audience members were keen to ask questions and to share their memories and observations in relation to the music that they had heard; this was testimony to the profound way in which participants had engaged with Diphonon Duo’s performance.
Not long after hearing Diphonon Duo perform at the William Morris Society, I heard Michael give a solo performance at the Cardinal Hume Centre Singing Group, as part of Wigmore Hall’s community programme. The Cardinal Hume Centre helps families and young people to overcome poverty and homelessness. The Singing Group is a weekly lunchtime event for clients, volunteers and colleagues from the Centre, enabling them to sing together and to build friendships and self confidence. On my visit to the Singing Group, the session began with a chance for each of the participants to introduce themselves, followed by a full vocal warm up. Later in the session, the group rehearsed a song that had been composed by the participants over several weeks. It was great to experience the enjoyment and happiness of music-making that was so firmly grounded in the moment; there was a real sense that the act of singing together transcended other worries and uncertainties. When the time came for Michael’s performance, he played a set of traditional Greek tunes. I was particularly interested in Michael’s use of microtonal intervals; notes that exist in between the conventional set of twelve notes used in most Western classical music. Although my piece does not include any traditional Greek melodies, Michael’s solo performance gave me many ideas which have found their way into my music.
Each time I have heard Michael and Iñigo perform, my attention has been drawn to particular sonorities and textures, all of which have shaped my approach to writing for Diphonon Duo. As I complete the piece, I have inevitably modified some of my ideas in response to feedback from my mentor, Helen Grime, and from the performers. Such feedback is vital in ensuring that my ideas are realised in an effective and practical manner. The final stages of the composition process are often rather stressful; the mind becomes full of accumulated musical material which must somehow be held in balance. Each compositional decision opens up new pathways while also closing off alternative directions that the piece might otherwise take. I am very fortunate to have the support of Diphonon Duo and my mentor, Helen Grime, as I come to the end of the composition process. All that remains is to finish the piece!
3. Reflections on the 2017/18 scheme
Over the past year, I have had the great privilege to be the Rosie Johnson RPS Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer. Now that the name of the 2019 Apprentice Composer has been announced, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the fascinating and insightful year that I have spent at Wigmore Hall. I am delighted to learn that the person who succeeds me in this role is the composer Daniel Fardon, who is also a fellow alumnus of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. I look forward to hearing the music that he will write for the Bloomsbury Quartet.
Although my time with Wigmore Hall has ended, the year has given me a wealth of opportunities and experiences that will outlive my involvement in the scheme. A major part of my role was to compose a piece for the Wigmore Hall/Royal Academy of Music Fellowship Ensemble, Diphonon Duo, formed of Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade (accordion) and Michael Iskas (viola). The challenge of writing for a relatively unusual combination of instruments was made easier by getting to know Diphonon Duo and learning about their existing repertoire. Hearing Iñigo and Michael perform made me aware of the rich possibilities of this instrumental combination. Now, six months after the premiere of the piece that I composed for Diphonon Duo, I have had the chance to hear my piece performed by Iñigo and Michael for the second time, at a concert in Northern Ireland. In the months leading up to the second performance, I spent some time revising my piece and making a few changes. Although I usually spend a lot of time deliberating over whether or not a piece is truly ‘finished’, I feel that I can now draw a line under my piece for Diphonon Duo. I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Iñigo and Michael, and I already have a few tentative ideas for a new, contrasting composition for them.
In addition to writing a new piece for Diphonon Duo, I had the fascinating opportunity to observe the wider work that they undertook in their role as Wigmore Hall/Royal Academy of Music Fellowship Ensemble. Activities included ‘Chamber Tots’ workshops for very young children, Music for Life for people with dementia, Music in Hospitals, and music for people at a homeless centre. I also attended several meetings of Singing With Friends (for people with dementia), and primary school composition ensembles. As a participant and helper in all of these sessions, I was able to learn how musicians developed strategies for working with people with a diverse range of experiences and needs. It was inspiring to see how music-making had such a positive effect on all of the participants. For me, this was a striking reminder of the visceral, physical effect of music, something which composers (especially myself) can overlook all too easily.
Through my regular involvement in Wigmore Hall’s community and outreach projects, I felt truly welcomed into the musical life of this great concert hall. Almost all of my visits to Wigmore Hall included a concert, allowing me to hear a wonderful variety of music. On a number of occasions, I had the chance to sit in on rehearsals, gaining a fascinating insight into the rehearsal and preparation of new commissions. Particular highlights included a concert by the Arditti Quartet, the JACK Quartet’s premiere of a new work by Julian Anderson, and the premiere of Helen Grime’s song cycle ‘Bright Travellers’, beautifully performed by Ruby Hughes and Joseph Middleton. For me, the opportunity to be mentored by Helen Grime was a key advantage of the Apprentice Composer scheme. Ever since I first heard her music, I have been particularly drawn to her harmonic language. Discussions with Helen about my composition helped me to work through some of my questions in relation to harmonic development and structure. In general, my musical ideas begin with a chord or with a melodic fragment. It is always invaluable to meet a mentor who has comparable ideas about the composition process; it feels as though less explanation is needed, as you articulate your musical language in a similar way. I am very much looking forward to hearing the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform Helen Grime’s Percussion Concerto in January.
As I look back over 2018, I am grateful to all of the people connected with Wigmore Hall and the Royal Philharmonic Society who have enabled me to have such an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. It has been a truly rounded and fulfilling musical journey which I will take with me into 2019 and beyond.