• Jonathan Brigg, Nathan James Dearden and Aileen Sweeney to spend 2021/22 season with the orchestra as inaugural Britten Sinfonia Magnum Opus composers, culminating in performance(s) of newly commissioned works 
  • Eight composers have their music explored in workshops and recorded by Britten Sinfonia musicians as part of the orchestra’s new Opus 1 scheme for early stage composers 

Contemporary music and support for composers has been part of Britten Sinfonia’s DNA since the orchestra was founded almost three decades ago, resulting in over 200 commissions and important opportunities for emerging composers to workshop and hear their work performed by some of the country’s finest chamber and orchestral musicians.

Now, Britten Sinfonia has introduced a new strand in its support for composers, developing two distinct programmes in answer to differing needs of emerging composers: 

  • Opus 1 for composers at the earliest stage of their professional careers
  • Magnum Opus for those whose career is further advanced  

At the heart of both is the opportunity for composers to engage directly with the orchestra’s outstanding musicians, and to come together with their peers for discussion, workshops and performances, something which has been sorely missed during the pandemic and which the composers themselves have identified as a crucial element in their musical development. 218 composers applied to either Opus 1 or Magnum Opus in an application process with no age limit or cost to apply.

Opus 1

In a programme that marries peer support and interaction with practical help by providing a key tool of the trade, this summer Britten Sinfonia brought together eight composers from across the UK for Opus 1

Composers Hugo Bell, Jamie Elless, Pia Rose Scattergood, Pete Walton, Elliott Park, Darius Paymai, Rachael Gibson and John Rivero-Pico workshopped and discussed their music with  Britten Sinfonia musicians, Programme Directors Joe Cutler and Dobrinka Tabakova and each other. The scheme culminated with members of Britten Sinfonia recording a piece of music by each composer, providing a valuable practical addition to their musical portfolios.  To continue this network of support, Opus 1 composers will be invited to Britten Sinfonia rehearsals, concerts and events throughout this season.  

84 composers applied to Opus 1.  The shortlist was chosen by composers Joe Cutler and Dobrinka Tabakova, with Britten Sinfonia clarinettist Oliver Pashley, one of the participating musicians, joining the final selection process.

Magnum Opus

Aileen Sweeney, Nathan James Dearden and Jonathan Brigg. Photo: Milly March

Three composers who are further along in their careers, will spend the 2021/22 season ‘embedded’ with Britten Sinfonia, culminating in a performance of their work as part of Britten Sinfonia’s London concert season in Autumn 2022.  

Jonathan Brigg (b. 1984, Bradford, England), Nathan James Dearden (b.1992, Tonyrefail, Wales) and Aileen Sweeney (b.1994, Glasgow, Scotland) have been selected from 134 applications, following an initial anonymised long and short listing process, and interviews by composers Dobrinka Tabakova and Joe Cutler, and Britten Sinfonia Artistic Director Meurig Bowen

All three composers have previously had work performed by leading professional ensembles; Magnum Opus offers them the chance to build on these earlier experiences over a longer time-frame.  Eschewing a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, Britten Sinfonia will tailor the experience throughout the 2021/22 season to meet the needs of each composer.  Alongside the commissioning and performance of new work(s), the composers will also have access to the expertise of the ‘behind the scenes’ Britten Sinfonia team – from marketing and fundraising to programming and finance – and the chance to become involved in the orchestra’s burgeoning creative learning programme, which each year takes music to and makes music with over 6,000 people in communities across the East of England.

Rachel Wilkinson, Britten Sinfonia’s Creative Learning Manager comments: 

“Aileen, Jonathan and Nathan were chosen from a very strong and varied shortlist.  All three have distinctive compositional voices, a deep commitment to music, and a strong sense of adventure and inquiry – qualities very much in keeping with the orchestra’s own approach. They stood out as well-rounded creatives and are all active performers as well as composers: Aileen plays the accordion, writes and performs Scottish folk music, and co-hosts a contemporary music podcast; Jonathan is a pianist and teacher with a deep love of jazz; Nathan is immersed in the choral tradition, working with professional and community choirs in Wales.  We are very much looking forward to working with them across the coming year, and hope they find the experience rewarding, invigorating and enjoyable.”

Meurig Bowen, Britten Sinfonia Artistic Director and Chief Executive comments:

“In developing these two new strands to Britten Sinfonia’s work, we have taken a step back and taken soundings from composers: performance opportunities are of course key, but so too is the chance to engage with peers, to gain insight from the very best musicians in the business and to become immersed in a creative musical environment, with the opportunity to explore and experiment. This is especially the case for young and emerging composers. 

It was abundantly clear from our selection process for these two Opus programmes how rich the seam of composing talent is in the UK. We want to do all we can to help composers develop and new music to flourish, so that the future of music is every bit as exhilarating as the past.”

Further information about Opus 1 and Magnum Opus composers can be found by clicking on their names in the details of each scheme