Hitting All the Right Notes for the Future; CULTURE Two Award-Winning Birmingham Composers Tell Chris Morley of Their Delight

The Birmingham Post (England), December 18, 2008 | Go to article overview

Hitting All the Right Notes for the Future; CULTURE Two Award-Winning Birmingham Composers Tell Chris Morley of Their Delight


Byline: Chris Morley

Two of our region's most respected composers have won accolades at the British Composers' Awards ceremony, sponsored by the Performing Rights Society in association with BBC Radio 3and hosted by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.

Joe Cutler's Folk Music was judged best in the chamber category and Howard Skempton's The Moon is Flashing gained the prize as best vocal composition.

Cutler, head of composition at Birmingham Conservatoire, is grateful for the support of his fellow-composers.

"It's hard to say how important winning an award is," he tells me. "But in terms of support from one's peers, it's a great compliment."

This isn't the first award he has won. "In 1997 I received a special mention in the Gaudeamus Music Week, and that led to lots of invitations to write pieces for ensembles in the Netherlands," he says.

"Then, in 2000, I got second prize in the Takemitsu Award in Tokyo, which was very exciting and seemed to lead to things, too - it resulted in the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing the piece at their Maida Vale studios.

"A few years ago, I won a competition organised by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

That was great, as it took the form of a commission for both orchestras."

In addition to winning awards, Joe has also undertaken residencies abroad. "I spent four months in northern Italy in 2002 at the Fondazione Pistoletto, collaborating in projects with industry. I also spent three years studying at the Chopin Academy, Warsaw, in the 1990s as the recipient of a Polish government scholarship. That was a wonderful experience and incredibly fomative to my development as a composer."

It was the winning of another award, Birmingham Conservatoire's first Millennium Commission prize, which led eventually to Joe becoming a visiting teacher at the Music Faculty of Birmingham City University in 2000. He has been head of composition at the Conservatoire since 2005, following the retirement of Andrew Downes.

How has the department developed since Joe's appointment?

"We have a fantastic team of composition teachers, including such distinguished names as Edwin Roxburgh, Howard Skempton, Richard Causton, Ed Bennett and Michael Wolters, with regular visiting composers such as Errollyn Wallen, John Woolrich and Tansy Davies," he says.

"The music technology department is second to none (led by Lamberto Coccioli and Simon Hall) and the overall environment of the Conservatoire is extremely supportive to contemporary music.

"Other heads of school are very actively involved and bring links - David Purser with the London Sinfonietta, Julian Pike with experience of working with Stockhausen and Malcolm Wilson with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, to name just a few.

"We have great links with BCMG and the Conservatoire's own contemporary music series, Frontiers, means students get to meet a vast range of composers, performers and ensembles and we organise a very wide-ranging programme of student workshops and performances. …

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