Young Composers

Photo: Ben Tomlin


Enjoy Kristina Arakelyan's vibrant reflections on a jam-packed May and June 2021 for NYCGB Young Composers. Activity included sessions with Bob Chilcott, Tori Longdon (Stay at Home Choir), Alexandra Harwood, VOCES8 and a special visit to Stainer & Bell's headquarters.


The last two months (May and June, 2021) were packed with exciting activities. The first event in May presented us the opportunity to meet with Bob Chilcott and hear about his path as a composer. It is always fascinating to learn about composers’ journeys and be able to ask questions about the creative process. In addition, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to sing with the Fellows, expertly led by Suzzie Vango, especially after such a long period of silence which we have experienced as musicians! To me, these experiences are the foundation of writing music – I always think of my performers as I write: ‘what do they think, feel, hear as they encounter a new piece of music?’; ‘what are the dynamics when a group of singers form a choir?’. It is great to have the opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of professional singers (and feel the adrenaline rush of finding the correct notes and intonation as we sight-read repertoire)!

Another wonderful event that month was a meeting with Tori Longdon, facilitated by Katie Lodge, NYCGB, Learning and Engagement Manager. Hearing about Tori’s excellent initiative, the ‘Stay at Home Choir’, was very exciting and it prompted a discussion on very important questions surrounding Classical music. In particular, it made me think about the importance of involving our audiences when presenting them with music, and how being active participants in music can motivate, unite and inspire.

Then came the wonderful event on the 11th June – first, a meeting with Alexandra Harwood, followed by visiting VOCES8 in their rehearsal. I absolutely loved both halves of the day! Alexandra’s approach to speaking about her journey as a composer was so honest and inspiring. The way she started the day was brilliant (and I made notes, speaking as an educator). Rather than asking us to only say our names by way of introduction, she also asked us to share: ‘what is your passion and goal?’. What a meaningful way to get to know a new group of people! What followed was a brilliant discussion and it reinforced my belief that we should do more to demystify what it means to be a musician, with all the strengths and weaknesses of our profession, and share our journeys.

We then had the great honour of hearing a VOCES8 rehearsal. It is fascinating to see how much work goes into each note, harmony and nuance. I learned so much by observing the world-class musicians in rehearsal, led by Barnaby Smith and Ben Parry. The Fellows then went on to lead the ensemble in turn – it was so exciting as this was the first opportunity to watch my colleagues in action. They each showed musicianship and individuality in their leadership of the ensemble, which was wonderful to observe. This experience had an amazing impact on all of us! Here is what other members of the group had to say about the day:

After a long time away from experiencing live music, to hear them rehearse and have the chance to conduct them was an overwhelming joy.

Michael McCartan, Fellow

I really enjoyed the chance to finally see this years’ Fellows in action, conducting none other than the inestimably amazing VOCES8. This was the first time in at least 18 months hearing a choir perform, so it was an immensely emotional moment. I was blown away at the emotional and artistic depths that the Fellows explored with VOCES8, as well as their technical knowhow. This is a rehearsal that I will never forget!

Derri Lewis, Composer

Photo: Michael McCartan

The final event in June was a visit to the Stainer & Bell headquarters. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome we received from the entire team! It was fascinating for us to have access to how the publishing company operates and to ask questions. We were given a tour of the building and learnt how the music is edited, stored and distributed. The incredible legacy of Ralph Vaughan Williams was felt by us all in our conversations and symbolised by the beautiful portrait of the composer by Mariusz Kaldowski.

I was honoured to perform on the new grand-piano in the entranceway of Stainer & Bell, where this portrait hangs. But most of all, I was over the moon to receive a copy of the famous Stainer & Bell Musidoku (sudoku with musical symbols). It is highly addictive!