Composition Competition 2019

Owain Park, Director of The Gesualdo Six, writes: We were all thrilled with the standard of the entries, 306 in total, which arrived from six continents in a variety of interesting styles. Singing through the pieces has been an immensely enjoyable experience, and it is heartening to see composers writing so well for the ensemble’s specific requirements. Alongside the winners, the judges decided to award two further prizes in each category.
We are delighted to reveal the results of our 2019 Composition Competition.

Results

22 years and above winner: Alison Willis (UK)
22 years and above highly commended: Ryan Malone (USA) and Karen Lemon (Australia)

21 years and under winner: Jacob Beranek (USA)
21 years and under highly commended: Aleksander Jan Szopa (Poland) and David Nunn (UK)

‘The Wind’s Warning’ by Alison Willis and ‘Abendgebet’ by Jacob Beranek will be premiered by The Gesualdo Six at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7 March 2019. Tickets are available here.

In addition, ‘Evening Prayer’ by Ryan Malone, ’Abendgebet’ by Karen Lemon, ’Ave Regina Caelorum’ by Aleksander Jan Szopa, and ‘Da pacem Domine’ by David Nunn, will be performed by The Gesualdo Six in 2019. 

Young Composers’s Workshop

We look forward to running two composition workshops for entrants in the 21 years and under category with composers Cheryl Frances-Hoad and David Bednall later in 2019.


Feedback from the judges

Cheryl Frances-Hoad
It is incredibly heartening to see such interesting choral writing from all over the world in 2019! The winning and highly commended entries stood out for us because of their idiomatic word setting, excellent command of vocal line, harmonic colour, and suitability for the Gesualdo Six’s voices and programming style. As judges, we were delighted with the huge number of entries this year, many of which we think could easily garner many performances by choral groups all over the country and beyond. Read More The composers of the winning and highly commended pieces have obviously taken great care to think carefully about the text before setting words to music, and we would urge all the composers who entered the competition to do the same: we felt that occasionally the rhythmic stresses of the text were ignored, leading to an awkwardness in the music that no amount of melodic invention or dynamic interest could hide. Whilst very grateful to see a wide range of harmonic language in the submissions, we would also urge composers to combine innovative choral writing with a real command of melodic and harmonic line: too often interesting chords were arrived at in a way that seemed unprepared or unthought about, which lessened the intended impact of the material.

Nigel Short
I was very impressed with the overall standard and quality of the writing. I would ask composers to try and make their scores as easy as possible to read: whenever possible, include key signatures rather than relying on the notation software to add in all the accidentals. If you include a piano reduction, make sure that the notes are the same as in the score – otherwise it’s impossible to tell which is correct! It saves musicians a huge amount of time if they can assimilate information quickly when they pick up a new score. Read MoreI’d also encourage composers to think about the journey before they begin composing. There were numerous good ideas but in too few cases were those ideas really explored and developed, which led to many pieces lacking some sense of structure. Rather than simply stopping a piece altogether to start up with a new idea, whether it be harmonic or rhythmic, try to create something that carries the listener and performer throughout.

Kate Johnson
It was greatly encouraging for the future of choral music to know that there were over three hundred entries for this year’s Gesualdo Six Composition Competition, supported by Music Sales. A generous number of the submissions were of a high enough standard to be seriously considered: they encompassed a real effort on the part of the writers in one or more of the areas of composing to the brief, faithful text setting, thoughtful development of compositional ideas, clear and accurate presentation on the page and a promising grasp of harmony and counterpoint. In particular I felt that the entries in the ‘21 years and under’ category showed aptitude in originality of style. I hope that the winners can learn a great deal from the live performances given by the group. 

John Rutter CBE
I thought the standard of presentation of the entries I saw was higher than I ever remember in any comparable competition, and there was plenty of imagination in evidence as well as great stylistic diversity. Most of the composers got to the heart of their texts and showed a real understanding of writing for The Gesualdo Six. The winning entries ‘worked’ especially well, being memorable for the performers and audience alike.


About the winners

Alison Willis – winner, 22 years and above

Alison Willis (b.1971) is an award-winning composer whose works have been performed and broadcast internationally. She studied composition with Alan Bullard (Colchester) and George Benjamin (RCM). 

Her music has been described as, ‘Intensely moving’, ‘Beautiful yet pragmatic’ and ‘Saying what you have to say and then stopping’. She finds particular inspiration in historical sources and events, social issues and enjoys working collaboratively with both young people and adults. Alison is also an experienced pianist, organist, folk musician and Musical Director, enjoys composing music for theatre and is a Trustee of the Martin Read Foundation, supporting young composers. 

Recent works include ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep’, released on Blossom Street’s album ‘This Day’ (January 2019), ‘The Ballad of the Harp Weaver’, released on Juice Vocal Ensemble’s ‘Snow Queens’ CD (December 2018) and ‘Non Omnis Moriar’ premiered by the BBC Singers (September 2018). Her work for Hampshire County Youth Choir, ‘Pax Vobis’ was performed as part of the Remembrance service at Winchester Cathedral (June 2018) and ‘A Light Not Yet Ready To Go Out’ for the London Concert Choir, raising awareness of and money for Breast Cancer Now, premiered at Holy Trinity Sloane Square in March 2018. 

Jacob Beranek – winner, 21 years and under

Jacob Beranek (b.1998) is an American composer and pianist. He currently serves as the first-ever Composer-in-Residence of the Midsummer’s Music Festival, which has commissioned two new pieces to date, Death’s Door (2017) and Partita melodica (2018). Other recent performances of Jacob’s music have occurred in Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, as well as the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

His work has garnered national recognition in several competitions, including the Edwin Fissinger Choral Composition Prize, Steven Stucky Young Composers Competition, NFMC Jr. Composers Competition, and Project 21 Prize; honorable mention in the ACF NextNotes Competition and American Prize in Composition; and Finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. Besides self-publishing, Jacob has eight works published by Alliance Publications, Inc. (distributed by Hal Leonard).

In addition to composition, Jacob is a serious pianist and devotee of Czech music due to his heritage. He has had the privilege of studying music in Prague during visits in 2015 and 2017, and returned in November 2018 for the European premiere of his Památník at Prague Castle by the Band of the Castle Guards & Czech Police.

Jacob has served as a Composition Fellow at the Talis Festival & Academy in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and has also studied at the Curtis Institute of Music Young Artist Summer Program. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. You can learn more about Jacob and his musical endeavors at www.beranekmusic.com.


Ryan Malone – highly commended, 22 years and above

Ryan Malone (b. 1976) is music director for Herbert W. Armstrong College (a four-year liberal arts college) and Imperial Academy (a private K-12 institution), both sponsored by the Philadelphia Church of God in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Read MoreThere he has written and produced four full-length musicals, two oratorios, plus he has produced eight inspirational vocal/choral albums that included dozens of original works, arrangements of traditional hymns and show tunes. Throughout his composing career, Malone has also composed a variety of works, including instrumental works (three commissioned for weddings), art songs for his wife, soprano Paula Malone, as well as compositions for his many students and ensembles that he teaches. In 2010 he served as composer in residence for the Norman High School string quartet. His transcription of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs for soprano and piano trio was premiered by the Eroica Trio along with his wife in 2011 and recorded in 2018 on the Xolo label by Tess Remy-Schumacher, Hong Zhu and his wife Paula.

Karen Lemon – highly commended, 22 years and above

Karen Lemon is an Australian composer and musicologist whose qualifications include a PhD in Musicology from the University of Sydney (on Schoenberg’s post-tonal music c.1910) and a License in Dalcroze Eurhythmics from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.
Read MoreThough a pianist by training, in performance she has been most active as a chorister and vocalist. Despite studies in composition in her undergraduate days,
it has only been in recent years that Karen has focussed more intently on composition; her works have received small international performances and have been prizewinners in composition competitions. Karen has worked as a lecturer in Musicology at the Universities of Sydney and Tasmania. She currently divides her time between Australia and France.

Aleksander Jan Szopa – highly commended, 21 years and under

Aleksander Jan Szopa is a Polish-American organist, pianist and composer. He started composing at the age of 15 and has amassed a portfolio of over sixty compositions, focusing on writing for organ, piano, a cappella choir, and orchestra.

David Nunn – highly commended, 21 years and under

David Nunn is a London-based composer studying with Helen Grime at the Royal Academy of Music, having previously studied with Julian Anderson and Christian Mason.
Read MoreHe has recently completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge. His music is often characterised by textures which seem to revolve and rotate as if in a kaleidoscope, and a rich, vivid harmonic palette. Recently, his projects have included a work for a mixed quintet drawn from the BCMG, a concert of new music for chamber orchestra by a collective of Cambridge undergraduate composers, and a work for the choir of St. John’s College with live electronics. Upcoming projects include an installation at The Hepworth Wakefield and collaborations with The Hermes Experiment, Psappha, and ensemble recherche.

Members of The Gesualdo Six playing through the entries

Interview with John Rutter

As part of our second Composition Competition, John Rutter CBE has been kind enough to answer questions submitted by composers on a range of topics: from notating scores to having them performed.

This week, we will be releasing one video every day at 5pm, each on a different subject. The full version will be available on YouTube on Saturday 1 December. We will release a transcript on our website for those with hearing loss.

Watch the individual releases on our Facebook page here.


Read more about our Composition Competition here.

WWI Filming Project

To mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended World War I, we present ‘Sequence: In Parenthesis’.


About the project

‘Sequence: In Parenthesis’ is a composition by Owain Park, inspired by David Jones’s epic poem, ‘In Parenthesis’, which narrates the experiences of Private John Ball during World War I.

Based on Jones’s own experience as an infantryman, events include the assault on Mametz Wood during the Battle of the Somme.

Earlier this year, we travelled to Mametz Wood with a soldier’s uniform borrowed from the National Theatre to video on-location.


Composer’s Note

‘Sequence: In Parenthesis’ uses many of the melodies found in David Jones’s work, ‘In Parenthesis’, in conjunction with a narrator who quotes short passages – sometimes related, but often distanced from the choral parts. The original vision for the piece was a dream-like fantasia, that uses melodies quoted in David Jones’s work: English and Welsh hymn tunes and village hall songs are intermingled with trench songs – from both sides of the conflict.

The piece was premiered by Opus Anglicanum, with Zeb Soanes narrating.


Director’s Note

Exploring the events of ‘In Parenthesis’ at Mametz Wood and across the Somme with Owain and Sam was fascinating and deeply moving. I feel that a project such as this can only make a light impression on a work as complex as ‘In Parenthesis’, and indeed in our music, the journey of the protagonist, Private Ball, is only a transparency through which we can see darkly, individual experiences of the Great War.

Songs frequently crop up in David Jones’ writing. In Owain’s composition, these melodies are brought in and out of focus, conveying a spectrum of meanings that are unique to each listener. We have found that the resulting effect has been similarly profound wherever we have performed in concerts around the UK and abroad.

My experience, of both listening to and performing the piece, is that it transcends many of the dichotomies of the Great War and our project intends to reflect this: The historical perspective that is clearest to us as young British singers in 2018, especially given the events currently unfolding around us, is one of reconciliation, cooperation and a sense that the bonds that hold us together are far stronger than the forces that seek to pull us apart.

As we commemorate the centenary of the November Armistice, we remember the lives and sacrifices of a whole generation from all corners of the world, and we rededicate ourselves to working towards a time where we will be able to say with confidence: Never Again.

Samuel Mitchell on location in Mametz Wood.


Our thanks

Revd Jim Craig – Chaplain of Guy’s Chapel, King’s College London
The National Theatre – Costume Hire Department
Jamie Wright – Loan of camera equipment
Mair Park – Design of titles
Hafren Park – Production Assistant
The Friends and Patrons of The Gesualdo Six, especially: Margaret Clark, Jean Hackett, Helen Hudson, Lynn James, Jean & Philip King, George Lewis, Chris Lovell, Jan Montague, John Pastor, John Rowlands-Pritchard, Susan Vinther & Karen Constable.


Music featured in the work

Listed by order of appearance:

– Goodbye, Dolly Gray
– Bring me my harp/David of the white rock (Dafydd y Garreg Wen)
– Oh dear! What can the matter be?
– Sosban Fach
– Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
– Casey Jones
– Old soldiers never die
– The Spaniard that blighted my life (If I catch Alphonso Spagoni, the Toreador)
– Oh I do like a s’nice s’mince ‘spie!
– Onward, Christian Soldiers
– I want to go home
– Jesu, lover of my soul
– We’re here because we’re here


Please contact us if you would like to know more about the project.

NEW Composition Competition

Over the last few months, we have been planning a second Composition Competition to coincide with our fifth anniversary and debut appearance at the Cadogan Hall. After the success of our inaugural competition in 2016, we are delighted to be able to reveal the details of our next competition, running from 2018 into 2019.

We have engaged prominent musicians Cheryl Frances-Hoad (composer, Chester Music) and Nigel Short (conductor, Tenebrae) as judges, and the winning pieces will be considered for publication by Novello & Co, part of the Music Sales group of companies.

The Gesualdo Six will premiere the winning works as part of our debut concert at the Cadogan Hall in London on 7 March 2019. Our concert forms part of the Choral at Cadogan series, which also features the Tallis Scholars and VOCES8 as guest artists.

One of the most rewarding experiences of our 2016 competition was running a composition workshop for entrants in the younger category, with sixteen young composers attending to hear their works sung as part of a masterclass and concert. This time, we hope to deliver two workshops for young composers in London and Manchester, and we are currently applying for funding to realise this ambition.

In addition, John Rutter CBE will hold a Q&A session on score presentation before the submission deadline, providing composers with an opportunity to learn from his vast experience of publishing scores and notating music for their own submissions.

Find out more about the competition here.

A look back at our 2017 Spring Season

Guy James reflects on our first concerts in the North of England, CD recording and performance at the SJSS Holy Week Festival 2017.

An early start heralded the beginning of our Spring projects, with me meeting Owain, Joseph, and the familiar rented 7-seater just outside Cambridge on Sunday morning. Engineering works on the Great Western Railway, a hasty U-turn and three hours of driving later saw more of us than we were expecting arriving together in the car in Monmouth for a concert as part of Wye Valley Music’s 2016/17 season. Our programme spanned the whole range of our repertoire, featuring several pieces that would be recorded later in the week! The church and Monmouthshire were stunning and we really enjoyed performing there and seeing some familiar faces in the audience, many of whom had travelled down from Herefordshire. Being one of the members of the group who suffers from standing at a normal height, I then found myself in the familiar position of being pressed up against Josh and our luggage in the back of the car for the drive back to Cambridge to begin our much-anticipated recording in the beautifully sunny Trinity College.

We were very happy to be recording some of our very favourite repertoire, that of the English Renaissance Masters. The whole group have grown up singing and loving the works of such composers as William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Sheppard and Orlando Gibbons and it was a real privilege to be able to work intensely on their music with Adrian Peacock and David Hinitt in Trinity College Chapel where we gave our first concert over three years ago. This work completed we headed off to further our first ever Spring Tour with a concert in Kingston Parish Church on one of the most beautiful days of the year, preceded by tea and croquet kindly provided by our very generous hosts.

The following days saw our tour continue, for the first time headed northwards! One of several highlights for me included working with the brilliant Blackburn Cathedral choristers on Allegri’s Miserere as part of a concert featuring highlights from our tour repertoire. The cathedral is a wonderful modern building, perfect for some of our more ethereal pieces and I particularly enjoyed performing Lukaszewski’s Recessit Pastor Noster alongside two of Bach’s Passiontide Chorales in the warm acoustic. The next day brought a further personal highlight, a day in Bolton alongside the energetic and inspiring Bolton Music Service, enjoying performances by many local amateur choirs and ensembles before a workshop with the gathered company and a short performance by ourselves. It was marvellous to see local live music making in such rude health and to see so many people brought together by music and performance supporting each other. Long may this ethos and such friendships flourish.

The next week we concluded our spring projects with a return to St John’s Smith Square for their inaugural Holy Week Festival alongside Tenebrae and several of our other favourite artists. Our concert featured several modern pieces including the London Premiere of Owain Park’s Sequence: ‘In Parenthesis’. Requiring the unusual forces of 5 voices and a narrator I have had the opportunity to listen to this piece several times in churches across England and it has quickly become one of my favourite pieces in our repertoire. It was a perfect conclusion to our spring projects to hear it performed in London for the first time alongside Thomas Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah in a very moving exploration of loss and lament for Holy Week.


Josh Cooter writes about Arvo Pärt’s Passio

We were incredibly honoured to be asked to continue our connection with St John’s Smith Square to perform Arvo Part’s ‘Passio’ in the opening concert of London’s International A Cappella Choral Competition on the 25th June. We were thrilled that the composer himself was able to attend to see us perform the parts of Jesus, Pilate and the Evangelist quartet, with Owain conducting the soloists and instrumentalists alongside Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers in this remarkable setting of the Passion story. It truly was a very special evening for all involved!


Alexander Chance on our performance at Raynham Hall

Early in June we made a trip past Cambridge on to King’s Lynn, and thence into the depths of the gorgeous sun-soaked Norfolk countryside, to Raynham Hall. This is the home of Lord and Lady Townshend, who host an annual summer concert series in its stunning marble Great Hall. We had been invited to perform by the series’ musical advisor, Michael Chance.

After a delicious lunch, we had a chance to test and delight in the concert hall’s marvellous acoustic for several hours, before our important pre-concert ritual of garden cricket, featuring, in a testament to the depths of the Townshends’ cupboards, the rare luxury of actual stumps and bails.

The concert programme itself seemed a fitting one for a sultry May evening – Italian madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, as well as lesser-known but equally joyous works by their contemporaries Gastoldi, Anerio and Giovanelli. We sang to a greatly appreciative audience, who had travelled from all corners of this glorious and often under-visited county (where I lived with my family for ten years); the packed room did nothing to dampen the acoustic. We are immensely grateful to the Townshends for hosting us so warmly and generously, and we hope to return in the future.

#LiveHolyWeek – Videos from Ely Lady Chapel

We teamed up with Ely Cathedral to release five videos for Holy Week as part of their #LiveHolyWeek initiative. We really enjoyed getting to sing in the incredible acoustic of the Ely Lady Chapel, and we’re very pleased to be able to share the results with you.

We recorded pieces by Lassus, Tomkins, Byrd, Gesualdo and Łukaszewski, and they can all now be found on our new videos page.

Here is one of those videos. #LiveHolyWeek gave us the perfect opportunity to record for the first time all seven members of the group singing together, performing Vide, Homo by Lassus.

Composition Competition 2016

The Gesualdo Six - Composition Competition Judging Panel 2016The ensemble and the judges were amazed by the number of entries and the extremely high standard of work. It was particularly pleasing to receive submissions from all over the world from composers of all ages, and in a variety of interesting styles. We thoroughly enjoyed looking through all the entries, and it was wonderful to see composers writing so well for the group’s specific requirements. We are delighted to reveal the winners of our Composition Competition 2016.

The Winners

In the 18-and-under category, the winner is Joanna Ward, with For a number of coins.

In the 19-and-over category, the winner is Phillip Cooke, with Judas Mercator Pessimus.

The two winning works were given their world premieres on Sunday 19 June 2016 at St John’s Smith Square, and the winners formally presented with their awards. We also ran a composition workshop for entrants in the under-19 category with composer David Bednall; sixteen young composers attended to hear their works sung as part of a masterclass and concert.

The Gesualdo Six - Composition Competition Entries

The Gesualdo Six - Composition Panel 2


About the winners

Joanna Ward – 18-and-under category winner

The Gesualdo Six Composition Competition Winner - Joanna WardJoanna Ward is an 18 year old composer, pianist and singer from Newcastle upon Tyne. After enjoying composing at school, she was encouraged to broaden her horizons and take specialised composition lessons, and has done so at the Sage Gateshead’s Weekend School for the past two years. Her compositional successes thus far include being selected as a composer for the NYO; having pieces performed at the Sage (including a piece she wrote for their Youth Orchestra, Young Sinfonia); and having a piece workshopped and performed by Voces8. She also enjoys playing the piano and singing, and is a member of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. She is currently studying for A levels in Music, Maths and Physics, and hopes to read Music at university next year. https://soundcloud.com/joannamward

Phillip Cooke – 19-and-over category winner

PhiThe Gesualdo Six Composition Competition Winner - Phillip Cookellip Cooke was born in the Lake District in 1980 studying at Durham and Manchester Universities before taking a PhD at Cardiff University with Anthony Powers. He was a Junior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford University and Composition Tutor at Eton College before being appointed Lecturer in Music at Aberdeen University in 2013. His music has been performed across the country by many of the leading choirs and ensembles. He is active as a musicologist having co-written The Music of Herbert Howells in 2013 and is currently writing the first scholarly book on James MacMillan. He is married with two children, lives in rural Aberdeenshire and supports Everton. www.phillipcooke.com


About the 2016 Competition [archive]

Composers are invited to submit a new work for The Gesualdo Six’s inaugural Composition Competition. The winning works will be premiered by the group at St John’s Smith Square on Sunday 19 June 2016. A prize fund of £1000 is available.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the 450th anniversary of Gesualdo’s birth. Works by Shakespeare and words set by Gesualdo make up some of the chosen texts for composers to set, alongside poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë.

This competition is open to all composers, divided into two age categories: 18 years and under, and 19 years and above. The deadline for submissions is Friday 15 April 2016 at 5pm.

The competition is supported by St John’s Smith Square and Novello & Co Ltd, part of the Music Sales Group of Companies.

The Gesualdo Six Composition Competition 2016

Shakespeare 400

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. We have included two texts by William Shakespeare in our competition: passages from Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.

Gesualdo 450

2016 marks the 450th anniversary of Gesualdo’s birth. We have included two texts that he set to music during his lifetime: Sparge la morte and Judas mercator pessimus.

Rossetti and Brontë

Composers are also invited to set poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë, A Birthday (My heart is like a singing bird) and Fall, leaves, fall.