As a very recent graduate of the Royal College of Music, this summer was the perfect time to spread my wings a bit, and that I definitely did - not once, but twice (in quick succession) thanks to the generosity of a Help Musicians UK Career Development bursary.
My first adventure was a week at the 57th Weimar Masterclasses, held at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt and, for the first time, including a course for composers. Led by Tristan Murail and with Ensemble Recherche doing the music-making, it was these impressive names and their inspiring legacies that had really got me excited about the course. Also, it was far too tempting a chance to brush up my A-level German, immerse myself as much as possible in German culture, and discuss Masters courses with people who knew the system much more intimately than me.
I learned more from them than I could have hoped for: on top of workshops on our prepared pieces, Murail scheduled one-to-one lessons with each of the seven composers, and each evening led a 2-hour seminar where we discussed each others’ works and listened intently whilst Murail politely blew our minds with his fantastic explanations of his spectral processes, and allowed us to look in detail at his patches. Sitting in on everybody’s workshops with the ensemble were similarly illuminating, as each composer had written such different pieces with a vast array of notation styles on display; listening to the discussion between composer and players over ever-increasing subtleties in the music brought the significance of what we do to life.
My second adventure, two days after the final concert in Weimar, took me deeper into Europe - an exquisite train journey that glided alongside the Vltava brought me to Prague, and the 7th International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition. It is unlike any other competition for young composers I’ve heard of: in ten ‘shifts’ across five days, shut in a room at the top of the Prague Conservatoire, I wrote two brand new pieces - based on motifs only given to us on the first morning. To say it was a challenge would be something of an understatement! I wasn’t sure I would even be able to finish, so the fact that I did and ended up with two completed pieces I’m reasonably proud of was a compositional revelation. The camaraderie amongst all of us competitors was fantastic, and I got to mix with composers from Korea, Greece, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Taiwan, USA, Canada, and others - it was fascinating to get a sense of political, educational and musical situations from around the world.
Plus, I got a taste of Czech cuisine - I’m currently working on perfecting my own potato pancakes.
Thank you, Help Musicians UK, for the chance to push my boundaries and take a big step into my post-conservatoire career!