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Winners of the NCEM Young Composers Award 2016

The NCEM Young Composers Award 2016, presented in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and Theatre of the Ayre directed by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, has been won by Alex Dakin in the 18 years and under category and by Kristina Arakelyan in the 19 to 25 years category.

Alex Dakin's Sonnet 147 and Kristina Arakelyan's Penelope will be premiered by Theatre of the Ayre and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show this autumn.

Young composers, resident in the UK, were invited to create a contemporary response to one of the most intimate musical forms of the Renaissance, the lute song. The music had to set one of four selected poems by William Shakespeare or Carol Ann Duffy.

Eight finalists were selected and invited to the National Centre for Early Music in York on Thursday 12 May, when their entries were presented by Theatre of the Ayre's Elizabeth Kenny with mezzo soprano Anna Starushkevych and tenor Nicholas Mulroy in a workshop led by Christopher Fox, composer and Professor in Music, Brunel University, London.

At 7.30pm on the same day, each of the pieces was performed by Theatre of the Ayre at a public concert in the presence of a panel of judges comprising Elizabeth Kenny, Director of Theatre of the Ayre; Les Pratt, BBC Radio 3 Producer; and Delma Tomlin, Director of the National Centre for Early Music. 

Delma Tomlin, Director of the NCEM said: "The NCEM Young Composers Award 2016 workshop offered us all a fascinating insight into a 21st century vision of the English lute song, utilizing some of the most flawless poems ever written and beautifully presented by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and singers Anna Starushkevych and Nicholas Mulroy. Each musician generously offered their own thoughts and interpretations of the music, working with each individual composer to create something truly unique.  A remarkable day for all concerned."

Les Pratt, Lead Producer of BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show said: "In the 70 years since Radio 3's inception, the station has had a strong commitment to early music, to commissioning new music and supporting young talent, so as an organisation, we're delighted to continue our involvement with the NCEM Young Composers Award.  Yet again, I have been hugely impressed by the quality of submissions we received this year.  The workshop was hugely productive, and it was immensely enjoyable to watch and listen to Elizabeth, Anna and Nicholas working closely with our shortlisted young composers to create such polished performances."

Elizabeth Kenny, Director, Theatre of the Ayre added: "We have had a fantastic day interacting with eight inventive and creative minds. Each person has challenged us musically, technically and most importantly, emotionally with an astonishingly vivid and varied set of responses to the chosen texts.  It's been a privilege to get to know and work on them."
The concert performance was streamed live and is available at:

The performance of the shortlisted entries was recorded courtesy of music technology students Davide Cuoghi and Jed Fulwell from the Department of Electronics at the University of York. 


Press Contact: 
Shona Galletly, on behalf of National Centre for Early Music 
m: 07813 796 733
Notes to Editors:
▪ Winners Biographies' and Programme Notes
18 years and under category
Alex Dakin (18)        
Sonnet 147
Alex Dakin was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He lived in Villasanta, Italy, and Deal, Kent, before moving back to Cheshire in 2008. He took up the piano at the age of 7, and three years later he began learning to play the cello. Soon this after he started taking an interest in composing. He was awarded a place at Chetham's School of Music in 2011, where he now studies composition with Jeremy Pike. He has composed a variety of pieces, including two orchestral tone poems, a piano sonata and a string quartet. His septet Abhorrentes was highly commended in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition in 2013, and his piano sonata won the under-16 category of the EPTA Composers' Competition in the same year. His interest in early music largely stems from his experiences accompanying songs by Dowland in arrangements for viola da gamba and harpsichord.

The structure of this song is based on the sonnet's changes in mood and tone, so I have divided it into three sections. The first section seeks to convey the narrator's yearning and the solemnity of the sonnet. Words like 'longing' and 'preserve' are given extended durations, and the lute accompaniment consists mostly of single notes, simple rhythms and slowly changing harmony. The second section follows the narrator's descent into madness. The writing here is more frantic, with shorter note durations and wider leaps for the voice, as well as a faster harmonic rhythm in the lute. In the third section the narrator condemns love to be 'as dark as night.' Here the texture and melody are similar to the opening, though the lute's open harmonics add a touch of coldness to the music. The choice of a very low register for the singer adds to the darkness and pessimism of the final lines.

19 to 25 years category
Kristina Arakelyan (21)
Kristina Arakelyan was granted a scholarship to study piano and composition at the Purcell School of Music in 2006. She is currently a composition scholar at the Royal Academy of Music. Aged 15, she won first prize in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition; other awards include overall cup winner of the EPTA Composers' Competition (2009), the David Cox prize (2012) and first prize in the 'Shakespeare 400' Orchestra of the Swan Young Composers' Competition (2014). In 2011 she was commissioned by Music for Youth to write a choral piece that was performed at the Schools Prom in the Royal Albert Hall; she has also been commissioned by Grace Francis to write a piano piece that was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (2015) and in Florida. Her compositions have also been performed at the Vatroslav Lisinsky Hall (Croatia), Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid (Spain), and in London at the Wigmore Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Southbank Centre. 
The poem 'Penelope' by Carol Ann Duffy appealed to me because of the vivid imagery and because of the inspiring journey we see in Penelope's life. Contrary to the description in Greek mythology in which Penelope uses treachery to repel her suitors by telling them that she will accept their advances once she has finished embroidering, Carol Ann Duffy tells an entirely different story by focusing on the female perspective. She speaks of a woman who has found her life's purpose, her talent, and is preoccupied with pursuing it. The most exciting part of the poem for me was the sheer delight of being wrapped in your internal world of creativity ¬- something that Duffy herself felt when writing about Penelope's embroidery, and that I felt as I wrote music to her poem. In my music I describe Penelope's psychological journey through the repetition of the beginning theme with different accompanying harmonies to symbolise growth. I have also used the Dorian and Phrygian modes in the harmonic and melodic construction in order to evoke what the Ancient Greek lyre may possibly have sounded like. The lute adds a very exciting and original colour and is very much in keeping with the idea of the ancient and the exotic that is explored in the theme of the poem.

▪ The National Centre for Early Music is administered by the York Early Music Foundation and funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire. The NCEM has a thriving creative learning programme which includes the biennial International Young Artists Competition (July 2017) for emerging ensembles and a year-round music programme focusing on young people living in challenging circumstances across York and the Humber region. 

The 2016 NCEM Young Composers Award is supported by Mayfield Valley Arts Trust and Arts Council England.

▪ 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.

▪ Elizabeth Kenny is one of Europe's leading lute players. Her playing has been described as "incandescent" (Music and Vision), "radical" (The Independent on Sunday) and "indecently beautiful" (Toronto Post). ).  In twenty years of touring she has played with many of the world's best period instrument groups and experienced many different approaches to music making.  She has an extensive discography of collaborations with ensembles across Europe and the USA, and her own repertoire interests have led to critically acclaimed recordings of solo music from the ML Lute Book, and songs by Lawes, Purcell and Dowland. In 2011 she was one of three shortlisted nominees for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards in the best instrumentalist category.  In 2007 she founded her group Theatre of the Ayre, its focus seventeenth century vocal music with an improvisational character.   Elizabeth Kenny recently devised and directed Le Malade Imaginaire, and A Restoration Tempest, for the OAE at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  She was one of the artistic advisory team for the York Early Music Festival, 2011-14.  She returns to York in 2016 as a judge for the NCEM Young Composers Award, as part of a growing commitment to enlarging the repertoire for the lute with new work.  She has given premiere performances of solo and chamber pieces by James MacMillan, Benjamin Oliver, Heiner Goebbels and Rachel Stott.  

Elizabeth taught for two years at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, is Professor of Musical Performance at Southampton University and Professor of Lute at the Royal Academy of Music. She guest-edited a Dowland-themed issue of Early Music to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the composer's birth in 2013, and is the author of occasional articles on seventeenth century performance.  

Theatre of the Ayre is Elizabeth Kenny's platform for bringing dramatically minded singers and players together to create inspirational programmes of seventeenth-century music. They have performed in and broadcast from major festivals across the UK, Belgium and Germany. Always looking for innovative ways of presenting theatrical music, they created bespoke choruses of schoolchildren as Cupids during a tour of John Blow's Venus and Adonis, a live recording of which was released on the Wigmore Live label in January 2011. They followed this with performances of Charpentier's Actéon, as well as several smaller-scale projects (Ayres and Dialogues; Dowland Anniversary Collection; and Setting the Baa High: English Pastoral) which toured in 2013-14. Lutes&Ukes, Theatre of the Ayre's ground-breaking collaboration with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, became known as a 'genre-crashing supergroup', following tours in 2013 and 2015, the first of which saw them develop an education project involving nearly 400 ukulele-wielding children across London and York. Equally committed to making the more recherché corners of the music of the seventeenth century beautiful and accessible to new audiences, they developed 'The Masque of Moments' in 2015, highlighting the glories of little-known vocal music from the Jacobean and Caroline masque, a recording of which will be released this year.

▪ Anna Starushkevych mezzo soprano
Born in the Ukraine, Anna studied singing at the Lviv National Academy of Music  and the Lviv State Music College in Ukraine. She continued her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with Laura Sarti and now studies with Dennis O'Neill and Teresa Berganza.  
Anna was the first mezzo-soprano to win the York Early Music Festival Prize at the Handel Singing Competition in 2012. In  2015  she was nominated  for  the  Helpmann  Awards'  Best  Female  Supporting  Role in an Opera for Rosimonda  in  Handel's  Faramondo at the Brisbane Baroque  Festival. Having won the  Susan  Longfield  Award  and  third  prize  in  the  Jackdaws  Vocal  Award  at  the Wigmore  Hall  in  2010 Anna returned  to  the  Wigmore  Hall  to  perform  the  role  of  St  Mary  Cleophas  in  Handel's  La  Resurrezione  for  the  Handel  Festival  2013.  

Roles include:  Ofelia  in  Salieri's  La  grotta  di  Trofonio (Bampton  Classical  Opera  2015), Orlofsky  in  Die  Fledermaus (Celebrate  Voice  Festival  2014, Salisbury), Erato  in  Gluck's  Il  parnaso  confuso  and  Orfeo  in  Bertoni's  Orfeo  (Bampton  Classical  Opera  2014); Rosimonda  in  Handel's  opera  Faramondo (Göttingen  International  Handel  Festival, recorded by Accent Records).  Other  operatic  highlights  include  a  principal  role  in  a  new  project,  Handel  Furioso,  for  the  Grimeborn  Festivals  2012/13  and  Junon  in  Charpentier's  Actéon  at  the  Wigmore  Hall  with Theatre  of  the  Ayre.

She has also given  solo  recitals  and  performed  in  concerts  in  Austria,  Belgium,  Switzerland,  Italy  and  Ukraine and in  the  UK  at  the  Wigmore  Hall,  Barbican  Hall,  St  George's  Hanover  Square,  St  Martin-in-the-Fields,  Milton  Court  Concert  Hall  and  LSO  St  Luke's.

▪ Nicholas Mulroy tenor
Born in Liverpool, Nicholas studied at Cambridge and at the RAM. Recent engagements have included Bach Christmas Oratorio with the ACO in Australia, Monteverdi Vespers in New York's Carnegie Hall and the Salzburg Festival, Schubert songs and Britten's complete Canticles at the Wigmore Hall, and Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie at the Opéra de Paris. He has especially enjoyed prolonged collaborations with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, John Butt, Jordi Savall, Paul McCreesh, Laurence Cummings and Emmanuelle Ham. He recently sang the title role of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in Australia and sang Janacek's Diary of one who Vanished for Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Recordings include a Gramophone Award-winning Messiah, as well as Bach cantatas (Actus Tragicus and Oster-Oratorium) for SDG. He is an ARAM and a Musician in Residence of Girton College, Cambridge, where he was previously Director of Chapel Music.