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NYC at 5: Young Composers 3 (2020-21)

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)

Derri Joseph Lewis, Kristina Arakelyan, Anna Disley-Simpson, Alex Ho

The third group of young composers to enjoy the NYC’s mentorship experience was initially still constrained by national Covid pandemic lockdown and distancing restrictions. Yet, with a few tentative steps that were no doubt facilitated by an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes organisational work to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements, it was possible to bring all the composers and fellows together under one roof, as described by Derri Joseph Lewis in March 2021.

 “Stepping off the train at Paddington for the first time in 12 months was an emotional moment: the blur of colours, rhythmic tannoy chimes, the sharp smell of cleaning fluid. It all came rushing back to me. How do you greet someone in person for the first time, when you already know them? Do you say ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘good to see you again?’ I had to stop myself using the phrase ‘pleased to e-meet you’ which has become a regular salutation over Zoom.

Once the dust had settled and we had all safely cocooned in our clear plastic ‘workstations’, it was strange how quickly I forgot all about the last 12 months of isolation. The joy of never hearing the words ‘you’re on mute!’ and not seeing your own video-reflection staring back at you. Although I must admit, there were times I did miss making throwaway jokes in the chat-box.”

Thereafter, activity picked up at an impressively rapid pace, as recorded by Kristina Arakelyan:

“The last two months (May and June, 2021) were packed with exciting activities: the opportunity to meet Bob Chilcott and hear about his path as a composer… a meeting with Tori Longdon facilitated by Katie Lodge (NYC, Learning and Engagement Manager) about Tori’s excellent initiative, the ‘Stay at Home Choir’… a meeting with composer Alexandra Harwood… visiting VOCES8 and observing the world-class musicians – led by Barnaby Smith and Ben Parry – in rehearsal… a visit to the Stainer & Bell headquarters…”

At the end of July, Anna Disley-Simpson was able to reflect on the first NYC summer residency to take place after lockdown and how it impacted on her music. “I know I speak for all four composers when I emphasise just how beneficial these few days were for us. For me, the second workshop instalment is where everything clicked. As suggested by the Choir themselves, my piece now opens with a soundscape of woodland sounds which lead into the groove-influenced textures I’d devised, which are then followed by a sumptuous chordal passage that brought a breath of vivacious energy to the room when brought to life by the singers for the first time. Having recorded the piece in its final form just a week ago at Cecil Sharp House, I can honestly say that the evolution of this piece is as much down to the Choir and to Ben as it is to my composing.”

Looking back, Alex Ho reflected on key points he had learnt from his experience and wrote an eloquent and appreciative assessment: “I am perhaps most grateful for the ways that learning and sharing has been so deeply embedded in the NYC programme. Too often, I find that emerging artist platforms are rigid in approach. They lack sensitivity not only towards understanding the needs of the artists, but also in considering how the platform benefits from each individual artist. In this way, whilst I have been greatly inspired by the discussions over the last year with the choir members, my fellow composers, the NYC Fellows, and the organisation itself (shout out to Ruth Evans, Ben Parry, and Elizabeth Curwen), I feel that I have been genuinely listened to and valued. The community that NYC holds is truly special.”

…nine striking pieces by four rising-star composers

The Observer

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Dedicated to the National Youth Choirs, Something Exciting by Derri Joseph Lewis is a vivid autobiographical testimony to the complex experience of coming out to parents. Derri’s own words from an actual WhatsApp text to his father are set to uplifting music conveying the unique sense of affirmation and anxiety of that moment. Thrilling to sing, challenging in its fusion of contemporary art and life, Something Exciting will resonate deeply with singers and audiences, with a lasting impact beyond the irrepressible energy and precision of the notes themselves. In 2022, Something Exciting was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award.

We are delighted to have published all the choral pieces that Kristina Arakelyan composed during her fellowship with NYC. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud was written in response to one of the key topics of the year 2021–22, ‘environment’. The iconic Wordsworth poem takes the listener through various natural landscapes and imagery, which the composer sought to portray through music, allowing each vocal group in the choir to sing the main melody in turn. Two Love Songs offers different perspectives on the same subject: You are loved, set to Kristina’s own words, is a tender life-affirming statement, while Christina Rossetti’s poem My love is come to me is joyously high-spirited and features a melody that is almost guaranteed to become an instant ‘earworm’!

Arakelyan: I wandered lonely as a cloud

Anna Disley-Simpson’s setting of Kipling’s poem The Way Through the Woods is a fascinating encounter of poetry, music, enchantment and reality, and a showcase for vibrant choral singing with an ever more urgent theme of conservation and biodiversity. Through swinging rhythmic phrases and contrasting hushed melodic cells we hear how nature forcefully takes back the encroached woodland once riven by a highway and the tumult of traffic, thereby giving voice to the animals and ecosystems resilient to human destruction.

Alex Ho’s joyful fanfare Tah Dah! lasts an intense two minutes, and its riot of pitched and unpitched voices, plangent hockets and zesty trills rises to a fortissimo conclusion – think of champagne corks popping, or a grand firework display! With a logical harmonic and rhythmic structure underpinning the piece, this is a perfect vehicle for choirs in search of a stunning concert-opener or encore.

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2024 UPDATE

Derri Joseph Lewis

Following the end of Derri’s NYC residency, we were delighted to issue a further piece – Locus iste – that was inspired by his time under the scheme, and which Derri encapsulates as “a celebration of the unique ‘place’ that is created when a choir comes together to make music” (https://stainer.co.uk/shop/cn67/). This year, Stanford University Chamber Chorale takes Something Exciting on tour across the US and Hawai’i, and other works by Derri will be performed in Worcester (Three Choirs Festival), Edinburgh and Shropshire (Ludlow English Song Weekend). www.derrijosephlewis.com

Kristina Arakelyan

Further works by Kristina have also been published by Stainer & Bell: Star Fantasy on Alleluia: Vidimus stellam, commissioned for Anna Lapwood’s solo organ collection Gregoriana (https://stainer.co.uk/shop/h506/), and Modal Reeds for trumpet and organ, premiered by Alison Balsom and Anna Lapwood in October 2022 and now also available in a version for trumpet and piano (https://stainer.co.uk/shop/y367/). Kristina’s music was presented in two separate events at the 2023 BBC Proms, and her opera Penelope: Seven Ways to Wait, with a libretto by Helen Eastman, was premiered at Grimeborn Opera. www.kristinaarakelyan.com

Anna Disley-Simpson

In the last 18 months, Anna’s new choral work In the Blue was performed by London Oriana Choir (director Dominic Ellis-Peckham) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of their ‘five15’ composer project presented at London’s Southbank Centre, and her chamber opera Lost Property, with librettist Olivia Bell, was premiered at Milton Court. In June 2024, her new song cycle with poet Katie Byford will be premiered at the 75th Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts.

Alex Ho

2023 was a busy and highly successful year for Alex. The groundbreaking artistic collective Tangram, of which he is an integral part, was shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award, and Alex was selected to take part in Glyndebourne Opera’s ‘Balancing the Score’ programme, a three-year residency which supports composers from backgrounds currently unrepresented in the world of operatic composition. In addition, Untold (an anti-Opera) was awarded the 2023 FEDORA Opera Prize in a ceremony held in Prague, and his song cycle The Glass Eye was premiered at the Oxford International Song Festival. www.alexhocomposer.com

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