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Winners of the NCEM Young Composers Award 2014 announced

The 2014 NCEM Young Composers Award, presented in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and The Tallis Scholars has been won by Freya Ireland (aged 16) in the 18 years and under category and jointly by Kerensa Briggs (aged 23) and Hugo Bell (aged 22) in the 19 to 25 years category.

Freya Ireland's  Lamentations, Kerensa Briggs' Lamentations of Jeremiah: Jerusalem, return to the Lord thy God and Hugo Bell's The Lamentations of Jeremiah will be premièred by The Tallis Scholars on Friday 24 October at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Oxford in a public concert promoted by Music at Oxford as part of the Music at Oxford International Concert Season 2014/15 , and recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show at 2.00pm on Sunday 2 November 2014.

Young composers, resident in the UK, were invited to write a new three to four minute work for a capella (unaccompanied) choir, specifically with The Tallis Scholars in mind, scored for SSATB with the possibility of dividing these voices into ten parts. They had to set verses (Lamentations) from the Book of Jeremiah, a Biblical text which mourns the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in about 600 BCE and which has inspired many composers, from Tallis to Palestrina and Gesualdo to Stravinsky.

The Award was judged in York on Thursday 8 May 2014. The shortlisted entries were presented by The Ebor Singers in a workshop setting throughout the day in the presence of the young composers, followed by an evening performance of their works by The Ebor Singers in front of a panel of judges - Peter Phillips, Director of The Tallis Scholars; Les Pratt, BBC Radio 3 Lead Producer: The Early Music Show; and Delma Tomlin, Director of the National Centre for Early Music.  

Delma Tomlin, Director of the NCEM said: "We were absolutely overwhelmed this year in terms of both the very high standard and quantity of responses to the Award. Live-streaming the finalists' concert enabled us to share this wealth of new talent with an even wider audience throughout the UK and gave the young composers an immediately broader platform for the premier of their compositions. As the National Centre for Early Music, we are delighted that our partnership with BBC Radio 3, The Tallis Scholars and Music at Oxford extends the geographical reach of this Award across the UK. We look forward to all three performances in Oxford this October."  

Les Pratt, Lead Producer for BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show said: "BBC Radio 3 is proud and committed to supporting young musicians in the early stages of their career, whether they are performers or composers. Our partnership in this competition is a key part of that support, and we were delighted with both the quantity and quality of this year's entries. We are very much looking forward to recording the three pieces with The Tallis Scholars in Oxford this October and to broadcasting them as part of Radio 3's Early Music Show."

Peter Phillips, Director of The Tallis Scholars added: "We were thrilled that nearly 80 young composers wanted to take up the challenge of setting the Lamentations text. I was looking for music which I could interpret with The Tallis Scholars on a big occasion and so high was the standard that in the older age category we decided to give a joint prize. I can't wait for the concert and broadcast we shall give in October."

The York concert performance was streamed live and is available until the beginning of August 2014 at: 

The shortlisted entries were recorded by music technology students from the University of York and will be available to listen to on the NCEM website:


Press Contact: 
Shona Galletly, on behalf of National Centre for Early Music 
m: 07813 796 733

Notes to Editors:

1. The National Centre for Early Music is administered by the York Early Music Foundation and funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire. 

2. BBC Radio 3 is the home of classical music and broadcasts a wide range of distinctive classical and cultural programming including jazz, world music, arts and over 30 new drama programmes a year. The station broadcasts more live classical music programming than any other and is the home of the BBC Proms, broadcasting every Prom live and over 600 complete concerts a year. Radio 3 is also committed to supporting new talent; composers, writers and new young performers through schemes such as World Routes Academy, New Generation Artists, New Generation Thinkers and is the most significant commissioner of new musical works in the country.

3. The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned. 

4. Winners Biographies

18-and-under category 

Freya Ireland (16)

Throughout the piece, the bass part sings in Latin; in my setting of these Latin words I aimed to emulate the sounds of plainsong, through the resolutions and the contour of the line, and through the rhythm, which mimics that of spoken word. The upper four parts sing in a mixture of English and Latin, as well as of course the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The bass writing juxtaposes my writing of the top four parts, whose long indulgent notes explore a fairly free tonality. The piece is about harmony: passages of careful dissonance gradually whittle down to a unison note, or a consonant chord. This reflects the text of the piece, since Jeremiah is lamenting at the destruction of Jerusalem, a subject that also relates to harmony. There is harmony between different civilisations, as well as the discords that caused the people to destroy the city.

Freya Ireland has sung in church choirs for many years and is currently a member of the Tewkesbury Abbey Choir - an experience that has given her an enthusiasm for sacred choral music. She plays orchestral percussion, drum kit, clarinet and piano, and has played extensively with county and regional orchestras. She has also recently joined the National Youth Orchestra as a composer. She has written a number of small choral anthems, and also many works for instrumental ensembles, some of which have been performed at her school. She is currently learning about photography and is planning a performance that will combine an acoustic electronic score with a series of projected images.

19 - 25 category

Kerensa Briggs (23)  
Lamentations of Jeremiah: Jerusalem, return to the Lord thy God

The piece is based on the sayings of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah following the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, but it also resonates deeply with the tragedies of our own time. To reflect this, I wanted to include early compositional techniques in a modern idiom, while exploring a journey through grief and atonement, despair and hope. As in the style of late Renaissance English composers, melodic lines begin by imitating each other. The long held notes that were historically in the bass parts are here transferred to the upper voices, with the lower parts creating more scrunchy harmony underneath. The interval of the fifth is also evident, but decorated with richer harmonies above. I also wanted to reflect the emotive response of the people in the wavering demi-semiquavers that are sung above one of the most important messages of the text: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God'. As the piece progresses, the verses depict the mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem, and the emotive response to the terrible things that happened to the people following the conquest. The piece ends with an intimation of hope at the text 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God', which is here presented in the major key.

Kerensa Briggs studied composition at Bristol University under John Pickard and Richard Barnard and has had works performed in several areas of the UK. As well as composing, she is an avid singer, and was a member of the Royal School of Church Music Millennium Youth Choir and the Royal School of Church Music Chamber Choir. While at Bristol, she sang in several choirs and played harp for the Bristol University Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra. She is now continuing her study of composition with Sussex-based composer Christopher Hussey. 

Hugo Bell (22)
The Lamentation of Jeremiah

The Lamentation of Jeremiah gravitates between the tonal centres of F# and C and never reaches absolute closure. The variety of textures and compositional techniques in the piece seek to express the multifaceted sorrows of the original text. The opening octatonic tenor melody appears throughout the piece, and features a descending four-note pattern that is commonly associated with mourning.

Hugo Bell is a fourth-year music undergraduate at Newcastle University, where he is majoring in composition. He has recently completed a year at the University of Gothenburg Academy of Music and Drama, where he studied organ, singing, composition and conducting. He has recently had works performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Newcastle University Contemporary Music Ensemble, Iuventus Cantat (Austria), Gothenburg Academy Chamber Choir (Sweden), and has also received runner-up awards in the Whitehall Choir Young Composer Competition and the Durham Cathedral Composition Competition. He will have his first major instrumental composition performed at the Sage Gateshead in July. As a performer, he is currently director of Newcastle University Contemporary Music Ensemble and has previously been director of Newcastle University Student Choir.

5. Finalists in the 2012 NCEM Composers Award

18-and-under category:
Jared Bennett (18)
Lux in Tristia
Lux in Tristia takes the listener on a musically cyclical journey: from familiar sonic territory in the opening section, to a more unfamiliar vocal sound world reminiscent of Debussy, and closing with a state of calm and tranquillity, to mirror the stylistic impression of the opening. An interesting feature is the interpolation of English and Latin, which highlights the differences in sound between the two languages, while bringing them ever closer together through the common message the words themselves bear. The title was the suggestion of a close friend, and can be translated as 'Light Within Grief', referring to the hope that lies within even the darkest of lamentations. This is brought to life by the work's optimistic and uplifting final few bars, rising up out of the fraught and despairing nature of the music that precedes it.

Jared Bennett went to Merchant Taylors' School, where he studied clarinet and recorder, his principal instruments, as well as saxophone, piano and bassoon. He has always had an interest in composition (though never received any formal training), and has had his pieces performed by members of the National Schools' Symphony Orchestra (with whom he played principal clarinet) multiple times. He intends to go on to write music for film, television and video games, and a current project involves writing the music for a modification of the popular video game Half-Life 2, entitled The Survival. From October he will be studying music at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and he is currently writing a musical comedy that he intends to put on once there, as well as other chamber, orchestral and solo works. 

Anna Disley-Simpson (17)

The performance space was an important consideration while writing the piece, so I took care to create small gaps at the ends of some phrases in order to make the most of the echoic tendencies of a church. A recurring technique is the carrying on of a word sound at the end of a phrase into the next one; for example, the two soprano parts and alto part carry on the relaxed 'o' sound at the end of 'populo' to portray the widows weeping mentioned in the verse. Renaissance-style counterpoint is often used, but the harmony is predominantly contemporary sounding. The second half of the piece includes the climactic build up to the highest note of the piece on a third repetition of the word 'Ierusalem'. 

Anna Disley-Simpson is in her last year at the The Purcell School, where she was offered a scholarship in 2012, with composition as her first study. She has been writing music for a number of years and particularly enjoys writing for voices. Although she has sung in choirs since primary school, she has never attempted to write sacred choral music, so this award has been an opportunity to experiment, using a mixture of both renaissance and contemporary techniques. 

Freddie Meyers (17) 
Lamentations of Jeremiah 

The work is scored for five-part vocal ensemble (though some sections divide the voices into ten parts) and is in four sections: Incipit, Aleph, Beth and Coda. The Incipit opens with a minor (major 9) chord, which gives the whole section a reflective and sombre mood. To counter this, Aleph has a more polyphonic, lively texture, created by the overlaying of five rhythmic ostinati. Beth, in contrast, is calmer, but slowly builds to climax on the word 'Ierusalem'. From here, the dynamic dies down until only a single alto line is heard, on top of which the choir echoes the chord that opened the work. 

Freddie Meyers started composing at the age of seven and his Shepherds' Song was performed at his school when he was eleven. He initially studied composition with his father, but since December 2013 he has been studying with Huw Watkins, composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. In 2012 he was a winner in the 12-16 age group of the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition with Three Apparitions, resulting in a performance by the Aurora Orchestra in an early evening Prom. His song Remember was sung at the Wigmore Hall in 2011, and Prologue: 3x5 for 15 pianos was performed at Trinity School, where he is a music scholar. He became a composer with the National Youth Orchestra in 2013 and during the year he had pieces performed around the country: Fanfare for Brass Quintet in Belfast and Derry; Gyre at The Sage and Royal Festival Hall; and Altitudes at Tate Modern. His piece for chamber orchestra, Gyre, was premiered by the Kingston Chamber Orchestra in June 2013, and he gave the first performance of his Fantasia for Voiceflute in the Trinity School 'Musician of the Year' final in May 2014. He is currently working on commissions for the Stanesby Trio and the Croydon Youth Orchestra. 

19 - 25 category:

Aditya Chander (19)

The short text of Lamentations - from the first verse of the first chapter of the Lamentations of Jeremiah - while not outwardly passionate, does carry strong connotations of dolour, and this is reflected in the dark, organ-like sonorities of the music, which draw primarily on influences from late French romantic music. The main body of the text features chamber-style writing and interactions between the vocal parts, with sinewy inner-part homophonic movement that is interspersed with soaring solo passages from the soprano I and tenor parts in particular. While rhythmically and texturally calm, a feeling of unrest permeates the music, and the arrival points are inconclusive, reflecting the nature of the text. The work is framed by two wildly rhapsodic tenor solos, which feature words that introduce and conclude the verse from the original text of the Lamentations.

Aditya Chander is currently on a gap year before he starts at Magdalene College, Cambridge, to read music. As a composer he has had much national success with his work: he was highly commended in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition 2012 and The Times Christmas Carol Competition 2013. His compositions have also enjoyed international exposure: one of his chamber works was recently performed in Daegu, South Korea, by Ensemble Sonore, from which he has received subsequent commissions, and he also wrote an orchestral work that was premiered to critical acclaim in Plzeň and Prague, the Czech Republic, in July 2013. He was formerly a student of Cecilia McDowall at Junior Trinity College of Music, where he was twice awarded the Young Composers' Prize. He received further guidance from Sinan Savaskan at Westminster School, and attended the Sound and Music Summer School for young composers four times, working with composers such as Edmund Jolliffe, Matthew Sergeant, Alison Cox, Kerry Andrew and David Horne. He is also an ex-National Youth Orchestra DipABRSM violinist, violist, pianist and tenor. 

Lillie Harris (20) 

Researching the Lamentations was a moving experience, because they depict an incredibly tragic, human event. The siege of Jerusalem lasted 18 months, and the consequences of this are detailed in the Bible: how people resorted to extreme measures to cook food, how they had to fling their dead over the walls, how the city became a slum. The poems seem to me to have been a cathartic, healing exercise for the people that wrote them, so I wanted to explore the idea of the stages of grief in my piece. I have included text from the second poem where the Daughter of Zion 'speaks', to allow that voice to express the anger that was felt at God's apparent abandonment. Elsewhere I overlap the English and Latin versions of the first and second Lamentations so that it seems that many voices are speaking all at once, to reflect the sheer number of people affected by this tragedy.

Lillie Harris is now in the second year of her undergraduate degree at the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Haris Kittos. Her interest in composition grew out of her instrumental experiences throughout her childhood - she achieved a distinction in her Grade 8 exams in both piano and flute - and a flair for language, especially creative writing. In 2011 she was invited to take part in the Young Xenarchitects project, and her piece, Nineteen-to-Twenty-Hundred AD, was performed at the Southbank Centre. A collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and Royal College of Music led to her short work for solo cello, Lola on the Beach, being played at the gallery in December 2012. Last year her African-Baroque fusion piece, The Dahomey Amazons Take a Tea Break, was one of the shortlisted works in the 18-years-and-under category of the NCEM Young Composers Award.