Owain Park, Director of The Gesualdo Six, writes: We were all thrilled with the standard of the entries, 307 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.
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 were premiered by The Gesualdo Six at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7 March 2019.
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 their 2019-20 season.
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
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
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 More
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 winning pieces
The Wind’s Warning – Alison Willis
The composer writes: “The Wind’s Warning is a setting of what is believed to be the last poem – ‘The Wind’ – written by Ivor Gurney. According to the editor of the collection in which the poem appears, it was written on the back of an Oxford University Press letterhead dated 6 March 1929 and signed ‘Valentine Fane’ by Gurney. (He frequently used different names on his later manuscripts.) The poem is a bleak reflection on the passing of time and lost opportunities. Musically the piece uses vocalisations to create the sound of the wind against which are set gently dissonant clusters. Melodic motifs drift in and out until the middle section, ‘At dawn a thin rain wept’ which becomes more lyrical and tonal. The piece finishes with a return to the opening soundscape.”
Abendgebet – Jacob Beranek
The composer writes: “While setting ‘Evening Prayer’ by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I realised that these words were not only a prayer for the evening, but also the prayer of one in the evening of his earthly life. Bonhoeffer, who had been imprisoned for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote this prayer in jail, only months before his execution. Therefore, as I wrote the end of the composition, I wanted to conclude it in a manner fitting Bonhoeffer’s own perspective on death and life. It occurred to me that a powerful yet peaceful ‘Amen’ was necessary to complete this image, and the idea suddenly struck me to set the ‘Amen’ to the tune of the Lutheran chorale ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (A mighty fortress is our God). For me, this allusion would perfectly represent Bonhoeffer’s hope amidst death and strength amidst evil. It was not until later that day that I happened to learn the circumstances before Bonhoeffer’s death: the day before his execution, Bonhoeffer conducted his final Sunday service inside the Flossenbürg concentration camp. As the Gestapo entered to escort Bonhoeffer to his ‘trial’, Bonhoeffer concluded the service and led the congregation with one last hymn: ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.’”
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.
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.
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.