Composers and Commissions 2022
Following its success at the London Olympiad in 2012, in Glasgow as part of the Cultural Commonwealth celebrations, and Hull City of Culture, PRS Foundation and Southbank Centre’s critically acclaimed free festival of new music returns to present a unique snapshot of UK contemporary music, featuring brand new and recently written music by an exciting range of music creators.
This year New Music Biennial will take place in Coventry as part of its UK City of Culture celebrations as well as it’s spiritual home of the Southbank Centre. With pieces from across all genres: from classical and chamber opera to jazz, folk and electronic, each work is no longer than 15 minutes in duration to create a pop-up, interactive way for audiences to discover new music by some of the most exciting composers and music creators in the UK today.
2022 will mark the tenth anniversary of the New Music Biennial since its launch as New Music 20×12 as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Since 2012 the initiative has seen critically acclaimed pieces by composers and music creators.
Brand new pieces such as Yazz Ahmed’s “The Moon Has Become” and a new work for vocal ensemble, electronics & violin by Rakhi Singh, Vessel & NYX Electronic Drone Choir, alongside previous works “She Who” by Jessica Curry and “The Power of Glory” by Gazelle Twin will make up two festival weekends of exceptional music. (See more info below).
Music and the arts have never been more important with so many universal challenges facing individuals, communities and the world. This year’s New Music Biennial invited composers and commissioning organisations to create a response – exploring the fantastical, imaginative and transformational shift music can affect in confronting these threats and challenges whilst bringing joy and excitement.
The festival weekends will take place on:
- Friday 22 – Sunday 24 April, Coventry (Free tickets released soon)
- Friday 1 – Sunday 3 July, Southbank Centre (Free tickets released on 23 April 2022)
“The Moon Has Become” Commissioned by WOMAD written by Yazz Ahmed
A response to the Museum of the Moon by artist Luke Jerram (an installation featuring at this year’s WOMAD festival), Yazz Ahmed’s piece will be presented as a surround-sound sonic artwork and performed live by Yazz Ahmed’s 11-piece ensemble. Inspired by the ethos of WOMAD and celebrating ‘a world that has no boundaries… through music and movement’ Ahmed aims to create a bond between the audience members, inviting them into the world of electronic-Middle-Eastern-rave-jazz. Through her music, British-Bahraini trumpet player Yazz Ahmed seeks to blur the lines between jazz and electronic sound design, bringing together the sounds of her mixed heritage in what has been described as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz, intoxicating and compelling’. Her career has included collaborations with Radiohead and Transglobal Underground, and commissions for Adult Swim and New York’s Festival of New Trumpet Music.
A new piece commissioned by Capsule – Supersonic Festival written by Paul Purgas
This project is a celebration and exploration of Tape. In the footsteps of the trailblazing reel-to-reel experiments of the Radiophonic Workshop and the exploratory spirit of Musique Concrète, Paul Purgas delves into the medium with a contemporary lens, utilising new technologies. For the New Music Biennial 2022 we present the next generation of tape music. Paul Purgas is an artist and musician working with sound, performance and installation. Originally trained as an architect he has presented projects with Tramway, Tate Modern, Camden Art Centre and Spike Island and is currently a resident at Somerset House Studios.
A new piece commissioned by Manchester Camerata and NEWFORM written by AFRODEUTSCHE
AFRODEUTSCHE, ‘Britain’s most adventurous orchestra’ and Robert Ames join forces for the premiere of a bold new work representing the cutting edge of Manchester’s cultural and musical language. AFRODEUTSCHE, otherwise known as Henrietta Smith-Rolla, is a British-born Ghanaian/Russian/German artist, composer, producer and DJ based in Manchester. She recently announced The People’s Party, a major new Friday night show on 6Music. Manchester Camerata celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, having continued to push boundaries and challenge traditions throughout their history. Performing online orchestral raves to over a million people, touring internationally with the world’s greatest classical musicians and running a ground-breaking community focused social impact programme from their home, The Monastery in Gorton, is just a fraction of their output. Following performances in Coventry and London as part of the New Music Biennial, the work will tour nationally as part of Unquiet in late 2022.
“Split The Air”, Commissioned by The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and Lepus Productions, written by Martin Green
Split The Air brings together multi-award winning musician, writer and Ivor Novello-winning composer Martin Green and The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. A composer known for pushing sonic boundaries leads the new generation of brass band players into unknown territories. Brass bands are a hidden treasure in the wider music scene, but for over a century they have been at the heart of local and industrial communities all over the UK. “Split The Air” brings scale and excitement, presenting brass in its purest form and centring young players of this music at the heart of their tradition and the future of the brass band community. This collaboration will present a new innovative work at the New Music Biennial for brass band; inspired by band communities, the future of the tradition, and brass bands’ relationship to industry. The piece will push the band into new sonic territory, and will provide young players with an opportunity to play genre-pushing new music at major venues across the UK, while exploring what brass band music means for a new generation. The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain (NYBBGB) is the UK’s leading brass band charity for children and young people, who exist to give the brightest young brass and percussion musicians the opportunity to develop their musicianship, play together and inspire others.
New work by Rakhi Singh, Vessel & NYX Electronic Drone Choir
NYX is a collaborative drone choir, re-embodying live electronics and extended vocal techniques. With visceral arrangements and original compositions by choir leader Sian O’Gorman, NYX looks to reshape the role of the traditional female choir, testing the limits of organic and synthetic modulation to explore the entire spectrum of collective female voice as an instrument. Rakhi Singh is a violinist, collaborator and composer, releasing her debut EP on Icelandic label Bedroom Community in 2021, alongside leading the group she co-founded, Manchester Collective to their proms debut weeks later. Seb Gainsborough, also known as Vessel is a frequent collaborator of Singh’s, who has over recent years shifted his practice from the strictly electronic across into the instrumental realm – developing expansive new works, treading the uncanny ground of the organic and synthetic for the likes of Somerset House and Aldeburgh Music. This trio of creative forces will combine to present a new work for vocal ensemble, electronics and violin exploring Danish poet Inger Christensen’s masterpiece ‘It’.
“Bog Body (working title)”, Commissioned by Sound UK, written by Keeley Forsyth
“Bog Body (working title)” explores our relationship with the ancient ritualistic role, and environmental importance, of peat bogs. A powerful, innovative, audio-visual performance piece crafted around the drama of Forsyth’s voice in collaboration with composer Ross Downes. Keeley Forsyth is a composer, singer and actor from Oldham in the north-west of England. Built upon sparse arrangements, Forsyth’s music is centred around a singular, emotionally raw and magnetic vocal delivery, by turns devastating and uplifting. Keeley Forsyth’s debut album Debris was released January 2020 via The Leaf Label. Written in collaboration with pianist and composer Matthew Bourne. The critical response was unanimously positive, with The Sunday Times declaring it “one of the most remarkable albums in years”. February 2022 sees the release of her second LP titled “Limbs” which she produced and wrote with Ross Downes and once again features Matthew Bourne. “Keeley Forsyth returns with another uniquely powerful album. Sharing some tonal similarities with the recent explorations of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, it’s a sparse and stark record but also tender, poignant and potent.” 9/10 UNCUT. Ross Downes is a British musician and fine artist who composes darkly ambient, electronic, instrumental music. His recordings are filmic meditations combining atmospheric sound design with influences from ambient, minimal, industrial and contemporary classical music. Downes has recently collaborated with artists on large exhibitions, namely Laure Prouvost’s installation “Cockatoo Island” at the Biennale of Sydney, Res-o-nant at the Jewish Museum, Berlin with Mischa Kabul and “Signal” at the Museum Slaskie, Poland in collaboration with Cologne based artist Sebastian Freytag. His last LP of electronic instrumentals, “Stacked Up At Zero” is available from Trestle Records.
“From The Vestry”, Commissioned by Serious and written by Coby Sey
Coby Sey is a vocalist, musician and DJ from South East London who offers a shifting, disorienting vision of club music. Coby’s prolific, open-hearted creative presence in London has seen him develop a formidable body of work in recent years, through both his own material and via close collaborations and performances with a host of acclaimed artists including Tirzah, Mica Levi (with whom he features in CURL) and Lafawndah. Sey’s music is reflective of his vast spectrum of influences, yet he remains undeniably uniquely himself; experimenting with live instrumentation and electronic-based productions, melding sounds with introspective lyrics into a dubbed-out anaesthesia. Live, these dreamlike compositions are imbued with a heavy, uneasy dancefloor energy, often abetted by live vocals as well as saxophone interjections c/o regular cohorts Ben Vince and CJ Calderwood. For the New Music Biennial 2022, Coby will create a new 15 minute work in collaboration with a group of entirely acoustic instrumentalists and singers – a radical departure for a musician and producer most known for his electronic work. Building on his recent Purcell Room performance with members of the London Contemporary Orchestra, Coby will both impart knowledge and learn from his collaborators to enter into new musical territories, while introducing his and the wider audience to abroad array of musical influences rarely heard together.
“The Crossing”, Commissioned by Opera North and written by Roopa Panesar
“The Crossing”, created by sitarist Roopa Panesar with jazz pianist Al MacSween for Opera North, draws listeners deep into the emotional states and transformations innate to Indian classical raag. The crossing and re-crossing of the improvisatory lines of sitar and piano, within an intensely intimate environment inspired by traditional ‘baithak’ concerts, offers a collective moment of transformation- a movement from loss toward renewal. Roopa Panesar began her training under sitar maestro Ustad Dharambir Singh MBE at the age of seven, and under the guidance of Pandit Arvind Parikh and Ustad Shahid Parvez. With the incredible emotional depth of her sound, she has toured extensively in the UK and Europe to major festivals and venues including WOMAD UK, Royal Festival Hall London, BBC Radio 3, Brighton Festival, Darbar Festival at South Bank Centre, Birmingham Symphony Hall and Colston Hall, Bristol. Roopa has collaborated with artists from many different genres, including Talvin Singh, Laura Wright and Dirk Brosse, Belgian Symphony Orchestra and Limburg Symphony Orchestra.
“Breathlines”, Commissioned by Armonico Consort and written by Toby Young
A fascination with the power of breath has been significant for millennia across many different cultures – looping the globe and drawing on thousands of years of history with examples from indigenous and ancient cultures, Western and Eastern religions, ritual ceremonies and working practices. Breathing isn’t just a bodily function. It allows us to speak, laugh and sing. It connects us to the outside world. It reflects our state of mind and can be consciously controlled. Breath has inspired art and literature. For many it has spiritual and transcendental significance: a personal and cultural form of breathing which goes so far beyond the simple act of keeping us alive. In the wake of Covid-19, being aware of our breath is more important than ever. Following on from two recent collaborations between composer Toby Young and saxophonist Amy Dickson, this new piece, to be performed by singers and players from Armonico Consort alongside Amy, will sit between concerto and meditation, reflecting on the relationships between body, breath and being. Toby and Amy are working on ways in which a contemporary classical performance can harness the haunting tones of the soprano saxophone to create a space of contemplation and invoke positive change, encouraging audiences to reflect on an activity which they undertake, unnoticed, thousands of times a day, and on the importance of good breathing and respiratory health for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
“Towards Renewal”, Commissioned by the BBC Concert Orchestra and written by Philip Herbert
This orchestral piece, commissioned by the BBC Concert Orchestra, is episodic in construction – navigating a tapestry of sound worlds to consider what it would be like to move from our present experience with the global pandemic, to a world without Covid 19? There are dark, reflective, agitated and sometimes introspective moments in the score, as well as much more animated, joyous, hopeful and positive visions in this score. The sound world of the score draws on various eclectic musical influences. Philip Herbert says, “these sound worlds are linked to visions, which are connected to our priorities and how we choose to deal with Covid. This is turn holds the keys to life and death, our happiness, and our futures, as we progress towards a renewal of our life experiences, with or without Covid.”
“HandsFree”, Commissioned by National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and written by Anna Meredith and choreographed by David Ogle
“HandsFree” enables young musicians to share their musicianship and creative inventiveness without their instruments, through clapping, body percussion and beatboxing. This performance will feature NYO Inspire musicians from all over the country and local musicians from Coventry and surrounding areas, who play a range of orchestral and non-orchestral instruments. Set for flashmob style performances in cities nationwide and as a surprise opener/encore to NYO concerts, Anna shaped “HandsFree” in workshops with musicians in NYO for the first performances in 2012, in her words, ‘building a piece they’re excited to perform and want to own, that showcases their virtuosity to audiences old and new’.
“13 Vices”, Commissioned by Moving on Music and written by Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe
A collaboration between two of the UK and Ireland’s most dynamic compositional voices, Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe, this piece explores the weird, humorous, dark and exotic world of contemporary vices. Written for ensemble, improvisers, conductor and voice it melts the boundaries between various disciplines including theatre, opera, poetry and contemporary music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo97ztKppIw
“Bethia”, Commissioned by BFI and written by Daniel Elms
Influenced by the natural landscape surrounding his Yorkshire Hometown, Daniel Elms’ piece for acoustic and electronic instruments celebrates the maritime history of Hull using re-imagined sea shanties and maritime hymns. It will be performed alongside projected film footage that has been edited and adapted to create abstract ambience and light. Written for a small group of chamber musicians the music will interweave cross-rhythms and interlocking harmony to create a texture similar to that of a tremulous sea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4Sm8l61dAk
“Mighty River”, Performed by National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and written by Errollyn Wallen. Originally commissioned by The Rector and PPC of Holy Trinity Clapham Common and the Revd. John Wates
Exploring themes of slavery and freedom, “Mighty River” combines contemporary classical techniques with spirituals which were introduced to Hull in 1871 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers – an African-American a cappella choir of ex-slaves. The piece, written for orchestra, takes its inspiration from William Wilberforce the English politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade who was, very fittingly, a native of Hull. Errollyn Wallen is at ease both as a singer-songwriter of pop-influenced songs and a composer of contemporary new music. NYO and NYO Inspire musicians have a deep connection with this music as they performed it, digitally, during 2020 as part of an exploration of racial equality and social justice through music.
“Illusions”, Commissioned and co-promoted by London Sinfonietta and written by Philip Venables and David Hoyle
Illusions is politically-engaged contemporary music exploring themes of government, LGBT rights and the rituals of music and art performance, featuring footage of avant-garde performance artist David Hoyle. The interplay between music and the cut-up video snippets of Hoyle searing and topical polemic is reflected in the erratic, boisterous and aggressive nature of the composition. The piece is written for an ensemble of nine musicians and is an extended and further developed version of Philip Venables’ existing composition which was part of the London Sinfonietta’s Notes to the New Government in May 2015. Philip Venables’ music is often concerned with violence, politics and speech within concert music and opera. Performance artist David Hoyles’ often focuses on themes in the LGBT community attacking what he sees as dominant trends in ‘bourgeois Britain’.
“365” Commissioned by the Edinburgh Arts Book Festival and written by Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes
This piece is about storytelling: about how to tell stories without saying too much. James Robertson wrote a story every day for a year, each exactly 365 words. What began as an exercise became a valued ritual and a captivating collection of tales, from the supernatural to the philosophical. Aidan O’Rourke applied the same discipline to composition: a tune a day in response to Robertson’s stories. The music is rooted in Scottish folk fiddling with Kit Downes on harmonium adding jazz and French impressionism. The performance intertwines tunes with the words that inspired them. A series of fleeting, vivid vignettes. https://aidanorourkemusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-best-of-365-2020
“Skip, Dash, Flow”, Commissioned by Wonderbrass and written by Jason Yarde
The composition takes audiences and players alike on a cultural voyage, following the Olympics from its 2008 venue in Beijing, through London in 2012 and on to Rio de Janeiro. It also incorporates the sounds of some sporting events as well as Chinese style pentatonic music, London Grime and Rio Samba. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMeraQV32fw
“She Who”, Commissioned by National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and written by Jessica Curry
Jessica Curry takes two texts written by American feminist poet Judy Grahn and fuses them into a compelling and innovative 15-minute choral work sung by the National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain. The piece is written at a time where women are questioning the world they have been told to accept, reconsidering history and community, and celebrating the power of the female. https://open.spotify.com/album/17MAdWAK4RPsfGxY2M2COp
“Urban Birds”, Commissioned by INTER/actions Festival of Interactive Electronic and written by Arlene Sierra
Arlene Sierra’s ‘Urban Birds’ brings together three international soloists Xenia Pestova Bennett, Sarah Nicolls and Eliza McCarthy in a tour de force for three pianos with electronics, sampled birdsong, and percussion. The work combine spectacle with refined classical keyboard artistry, juxtaposing harmony, rhythmic drive, and sounds from nature in a powerful and engaging way. https://open.spotify.com/album/0slwp9wEzWEQzN8todyV0k
“The Power and the Glory”, Commissioned by BBC Concert Orchestra and written by Gazelle Twin
Composer, producer and musician Gazelle Twin’s* collaboration with composer Max de Wardener brings the blend of traditional musical concepts and futuristic pop from her latest album Pastoral (an album of 2018 for BBC6Music, The Quietus and many more) to a full symphony orchestra. Gazelle Twin is the moniker for performance artist, composer and producer Elizabeth Bernholz whose conceptual albums present dystopian themes through unconventional electronic production and extraordinary live performances which feature changing personas. https://open.spotify.com/album/16W2u4L7p06SZr8hLAkLvn