ROBERT HUGILL writes about
the British Composer awards
The British Composer awards, organised by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, seem such a good, sensible idea that it rather comes as a surprise that the awards ceremony on Friday 17 December 2004 was only the second one. The first British Composer awards in 2004 came about because of a certain dissatisfaction with existing awards for contemporary classical music. The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters sponsors the Novellos so having a parallel set of awards for contemporary classical composers seemed a good idea and has met with a very positive response from composers, publishers and the public.
There are twelve categories of awards (Solo and Duo; Vocal; Wind and Brass Ensemble; Chamber; Liturgical; Community or Educational Project; Stage Works; Making Music Award; Choral; Orchestral; BBC Radio 3 Listeners Award; Multi-media) and all categories but the BBC Radio 3 Listeners Award are judged by the composers' peers, fellow composers and music professionals.
The awards are strongly supported by the BBC; the controller of Radio 3, Roger Wright, who spoke at Friday's ceremony, sees them as part of Radio 3's commitment to new music. Radio 3 gave substantial air-time to broadcasting all of the works on the short-list for the BBC Radio 3 Listeners Award and this award was judged solely by Radio 3 listeners. Last year's award in this category showed just how discerning these listeners could be when the award went to Anthony Payne.
Support is also given by the Performing Rights Society and their PRS Foundation provided 5,000 pounds towards a follow-up project for the winner of the Community or Education Project award. The Worshipful Company of Musicians provided 1,000 pounds towards a new commission for the winner of the Wind and Brass Ensemble award. Making Music supported the awards by enabling over 1,800 amateur performing groups to nominate works that they have commissioned.
All nominations are provided by performing groups and by publishers, not by the composers themselves. The success of the awards is indicated by the commitment shown by the major publishers and performing groups. This year's short list included a fine list of names, Simon Holt, Judith Weir, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Judith Bingham, Jonathan Harvey, John McCabe, Thomas Adès, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Julian Anderson.
But the short lists included known as well as unknown composers and the most obvious candidate did not always win. Simon Holt's Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm? was preferred to Thomas Adès' The Tempest -- a dilemma for the judging panel which indicates both the strength of the short list and the problems of choosing a single work. The orchestral panel had to choose between Harrison Birtwistle's Theseus Game, Julian Anderson's Symphony and Joseph Phibb's Lumina.
Judith Bingham won two awards, in the Choral and in the Liturgical categories. This latter category was included by the Academy to try and encourage new Liturgical music and an indication of its success must be the short list of works by Judith Bingham, Jonathan Harvey and John McCabe.
The awards took place at the Ironmongers Hall and were presented by Julian Lloyd Webber. They were followed by a BBC Symphony Orchestra concert which included Anthony Payne's piece which won the BBC Radio 3 Listeners Award in 2004.
The awards show the remarkable diversity of new music in Britain and indicate the strong commitment that so many groups have towards commissioning and performing new music. The awards can be heard on BBC Radio 3 at 7.30pm on Tuesday 21 December 2004.