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New Music Britain

Colin Matthews

'Here are some statistics that are something to boast about: over the past decade and more the LSO has worked with nearly 200 young and emerging composers, over 40 of whom have had pieces played by the full orchestra in the main season, with 28 new works recorded on LSO Live. There surely cannot be another orchestra with such an impressive record. It’s not only a major indication of faith in the future, but a remarkably generous gesture. In their early careers composers are likely to have few opportunities to work with an orchestra of any kind: to be able to collaborate with one of the world’s great orchestras is an exceptional opportunity.'

The LSO has made this undertaking because it believes that new music is part of the lifeblood of the repertoire. At the annual workshops for the Panufnik Composers Scheme (now in its 12th year) there’s never any sense that the orchestra is playing new music because it feels obliged to. There’s a warm atmosphere of both enthusiasm and encouragement: a wish for the composer to get it right, and a recognition that – as is the case with conductors – unless they have the chance to work directly with an orchestra they are never going to be fully masters of their craft. To date 69 composers have been part of this scheme, with a huge part of its success due to the close and committed involvement of François-Xavier Roth.

It seems to me that the sense of excitement that is part of these workshops is gradually transferring itself to the audience. Rather than being wary of the new and unfamiliar, they are beginning to welcome it, and Simon Rattle’s association with the LSO can only reinforce that feeling. Already he has plans to commission a major work by a British composer each season, and I’m delighted that the first of these will be by Helen Grime, in spring 2018. Her work Virga was one of the first LSO UBS Sound Adventures commissions back in 2007, and went on to have many performances, notably by Pierre Boulez and the Orchestre de Paris.

Each year two composers out of the six who have taken part in the Panufnik Scheme are chosen to expand or rewrite their original pieces as a commission for the next season. Last year the composers were Jack Sheen and Michael Taplin; this coming season there will be new pieces from Patrick Giguère and Ewan Campbell. This year’s six composers are already well on the way towards their workshop sessions in the spring of 2017.

LSO Discovery works on plenty of other levels as well, with work commissioned for community performance, and with more experimental work catered for in the innovative LSO Soundhub scheme – unbelievably you can add another 112 composers who’ve been part of that. And during the season there’s more British music: Simon Rattle’s opening concert features music by four generations of composers – Helen Grime, Oliver Knussen, Harrison Birtwistle, and Elgar – where there is another connection, as a little over 100 years ago he was the LSO’s Principal Conductor for a time. There will be events around this concert, including concerts in Milton Court curated by the composers and an interactive exhibition linked to the Enigma Variations. Other concerts in the season will include music by Thomas Adès and Michael Tippett (his final work, The Rose Lake).

My own involvement as director of the Panufnik Scheme since its inception makes me feel as if I’m pushing at an open door. The LSO has been so welcoming and positive about all the things we’ve suggested, and the Scheme itself goes from strength to strength. Yet it’s still a bit of a hidden gem: put the dates of 20 April 2017 and 18 March 2018 into your diary and come to LSO St Luke’s to hear the LSO playing music as new as it can be!

Colin Matthews, Panufnik Scheme Composition Director,
January 2017

What's On

Season opening concert
14 September

Thomas Adès Three Studies from Couperin
15 & 19 October

Helen Grime Virga
18 February

Ewan Campbell Panufnik Scheme commission (world premiere)
25 March

Patrick Giguère Panufnik Scheme commission (world premiere)
15 April

Panufnik Composers Workshop
18 March

Helen Grime new commission (world premiere)
19 & 26 April

Tippett The Rose Lake
22 April