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NYC at 5: Young Composers 2 (2019-20)

NYC at 5 blog series
1. NYC at 5: Introduction
2. International Women’s Day 2024 (Young Composers 1, 2018–19)
3. NYC at 5: Young Composers 2 (2019-20)
4. NYC at 5: Young Composers 3 (2020-21)

Nathan James Dearden, Lisa Robertson, Joe Bates

Although I, or anyone else for that matter, would not have anticipated such a year, it has been a sobering reminder of how much music is a balm. Coming together through a series of amazingly curated online workshops, discussions, presentations, residencies and digital performances, to create music, has been a real eye-opener at the ingenuity, creativity and compassionate nature this organisation has. – Nathan James Dearden


This was the first group of NYC Young Composers whose year was to be impacted by the restrictions on musical activities – and life in general – caused by the Covid pandemic. Each of the composers in both the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 cohorts had to contend with unprecedented lockdown constraints and yet, thanks not only to the extraordinary strength of character and determination of the young participants, but also to the remarkable efforts and support of the NYC team, they navigated their way through this fractured experience with extraordinary resilience and grace.

Clicking a Zoom link at 10am to be greeted by smiling members of the NYCGB family has become such a wonderful habit to have been able to adopt during lockdown, for which I feel incredibly fortunate. – Lisa Robertson


By the end of their year, and with the relaxing of some restrictions on public life, the composers were able to escape their confinement, but – even then – with strict limitations. As Joe Bates recorded,

I arrived in Aldeburgh by bike, wheeling down the gravel path to a house where I’d spend the week alone. I was apprehensive: if the isolation wasn’t conducive, it might be a miserable week. Yet the effect of leaving London for the first time in six months, of being by the sea, of wandering Britten’s garden, of playing a real grand piano, was remarkable.

From our perspective at Stainer & Bell, the thrill was receiving such imaginative scores from these talented composers and thereby witnessing that at least one aspect of creating music could still flourish in these times when live performance was impossible. Owing to the brilliant work of fellow NYC supporters NMC Recordings, you can listen to the wonderful pieces described below using the Spotify web player or purchase the CD here.


Complete preview scores can be viewed by following the links to the titles below.

Lisa Robertson has created a powerful text for to tell it like it is. that features hard-hitting statistical data relating to the climate emergency, imploring us all to listen to science and respond urgently in the face of impending global catastrophe. It is a sobering thought that, even in the short time since this piece was written, the planet’s predicament has worsened still further. Lisa’s score is a keenly heard vocal tour de force, inspired by the composer’s passionate commitment to the environment.

Joe Bates has written a heart-warming personal meditation, Some parts of us, on the shared things that are the essence of friendship, that also reaches out to all who have felt the highs and lows of relationships. In his own description, “it is about how the basic things we have in common – homes, pasts, sunscreen – belong not to either person but are built together.“ With a gentle irony and cool nostalgia reminiscent of Sondheim’s work, Joe’s lyrics suggest intimate feeling through richly expressive harmonies and strong melodic lines, woven into a memorable pattern of shifting moods.

The writing is beautifully placed for voices, and the contemporary idiom, with its direct language and almost speech-like setting, will
resonate strongly with youth choirs as well as audiences.
Some parts of us, Joy Hill, Choir & Organ, May 2022

The five movements of Morals + Interludes by Nathan James Dearden are musical postcards created from fragments of texts supplied by NYC Fellowship singers with whom Nathan collaborated during the Covid lockdown. The result is a highly engaging and often humorous collection, ranging from the humdrum to the profound, using music as a form of commentary. The composer describes how “a mirror was held up to ourselves, in order to discover the moral behind each of our stories and explore the interludes that permeate our everyday lives.”

I miss being in a room with people whose simple goal is to come together and create music. – Nathan James Dearden


2024 update

Lisa Robertson

In the last 18 months, Lisa’s work has been performed in Saffron Walden (Saffron Hall), Aberdeen, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Glasgow and Helsinki, with performances given by Kantos Chamber Choir, Jamie MacDougall (tenor) and Scott Mitchell (piano), Glisk Quartet, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the direction of Thomas Søndergård. As a violinist, Lisa is one half of the Lark Duo, performing in partnership with soprano Ines Mayhew-Begg.

Joe Bates

Following his NYC residency, Joe has written a new ensemble piece and a solo work for Riot Ensemble, premiered at Kings Place in London and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Muted the Night, written while Joe was a participant in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Scheme for young composers, was performed in a workshop in Spring 2021, and he was commissioned by the orchestra to write a 20-minute work for mixed quartet (Straight Line Through A Landscape for flute, clarinet, cello and percussion) the following year. As Artistic Director of Filthy Lucre, Joe continues to present avant-garde music from a wide range of genres in adventurous but informal settings. His teaching work includes imaginative seminars on tuning and microtonality, most recently at the Purcell School.

Nathan James Dearden

In the last year, Nathan has been appointed Chair of The Ivors Academy Wales Council and was selected to represent his home country at the ISCM World Music Days Festival in South Africa where his work i breathe was performed. In September 2023 Nathan was appointed Lecturer in Music Composition at Royal Holloway University of London, receiving his PhD from the university just a month later. Recent works include my joy for SATB choir, No other haven for oboe and bassoon, and That now are distant, a sequence of short songs for tenor and piano.

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