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Scottish Sirènes win Choir of the Year 2012

1 November 2012

Les Sirènes, a 22-voice female chamber choir from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), have been crowned as Choir of the Year 2012, following the grand final of the UK’s largest and most prestigious competition for amateur choirs, held at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 28 October.

Out of an original entry of 138 choirs involving more than 5,000 singers, six choirs took part in the final, which was judged by voice coach Mary King, head of the Southbank Centre’s Voicelab; Greg Beardsell, artistic director of the Ulster Youth Choir and National Youth Choir of Ireland and associate musical director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain; and West End singer and actress Ruthie Henshall.

Les Sirènes and Ysgol Glanaethwy Senior Choir from North Wales had both got through on wild cards from the category finals three weeks earlier, and were competing against Children’s Choir of the Year Lindley Junior School, from Huddersfield; Youth Choir of the Year Methodist College Senior Girls Choir, from Belfast; Adult Choir of the Year Surrey Hills Chamber Choir; and Open category winners the Oxford Gargoyles.

This year’s final was remarkable for being so representative of the whole of the UK and for an extraordinarily high standard of performance. The jury based their decision on a strict mark scheme, and although overall placings remain confidential, they did reveal that only five marks separated the winning choir from the one in sixth place.

Les Sirènes had impressed the judges in the adult category final with performances of Poulenc’s Ave Verum Corpus and Elgar’s The Snow, but their 24-year-old conductor Andrew Nunn chose lighter repertoire for the grand final – Robert Latham’s arrangement of the folksong Oh Soldier, Soldier and Michael Neaum’s arrangement of the Billy Joel song And so it goes – feeling it would be more appropriate for the TV and radio broadcasts. Praising the choir for their perfect balance between the warmth of professionally skilled voices, a blended, homogenised sound and ‘the best controlled pianissimo legato I have ever heard’, Mary King made the point that while many conservatoires, especially in London, are advising their vocal students not to sing in choirs, it was good to see this group proving the value of the opposite approach.

Speaking to MT a few days after the competition, Andrew Nunn confirmed that his colleagues at the RCS, particularly head of vocal studies Stephen Robertson, are very supportive of his work with Les Sirènes, which he founded five years ago. ‘I was thrilled with Mary King’s comments,’ he said. ‘She really appreciated how difficult it is to get singers who are training to be soloists to tone down their vibrato and achieve a coherent sound. I do it by choosing very carefully which voices to put on each part, with mainly lighter voices on the top, bigger, weightier voices on second soprano and mezzo and then letting them sing out.’

He added that not all the choir members are vocal students; some are instrumentalists. They meet weekly and new recruits have already been auditioned to join the ensemble for future performances. ‘We can’t wait to get some dates in our diary!’


The Choir of the Year Grand Final 2012 is broadcast on BBC Radio 3's The Choir on 11 November and on BBC Four television on 23 November.

National Centre for Early Music launches 2013 young composers' competition

29 October 2012

The early music ensemble Florilegium has joined forces with the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) and BBC Radio 3 to present the 2013 NCEM Composers Award,  which will be launched on Radio 3's Early Music Show on 3 November. The award is open to young composers resident in the UK in two age categories: 18 and under, and 19 to 25. The winning works will be premiered by Florilegium at the Bath International Music Festival and recorded for broadcast on the Early Music Show.

Delma Tomlin, director of the NCEM, said the performances at Bath 'will be a great honour for the young composers at an important stage in their careers. As the National Centre for Early Music, based in York, our partnership with Bath broadens the geographical significance of this award for young composers across the UK and follows hot on the heels of Durham in 2012 and London in 2011.'

Chris Wines, senior music producer at BBC Radio 3, said his station is 'committed to supporting new composers' and that he 'looks forward to sharing the results and music of the award with our listeners. The Early Music Show is especially pleased to be working alongside the esteemed period music ensemble Florilegium in what promises to be an exciting and imaginative competition.'

Applicants should register their interest in the competition by 8 February, and completed scores must be delivered by 8 March. The award will being judged in York on 27 April, when a shortlist of entries will be presented by Florilegium in a workshop in the presence of the composers. There will be a public concert that evening, at which Florilegium will perform each of the pieces in front of a panel of judges before the awards are made.

Ashley Solomon, director of Florilegium, said he hopes this year’s competition 'will promote inspiring new works for baroque chamber ensembles'.


Awards for Young Musicians launches chamber music programme

23 October 2012

Awards for Young Musicians (AYM), the charity which gives financial help to teenage performers, has launched a series of orchestral chamber music programmes in collaboration with the English Chamber Orchestra. Supported by funding from the Elias Fawcett Trust, these are the first formal ensemble opportunities for recipients of Awards for Young Musicians funding.

Musicians from the English Chamber Orchestra (ECO)'s Close Encounters education and outreach team will coach and rehearse four ensembles. Each will then perform in a special Prelude concert before one of the ECO’s own evening concerts. The first of these will take place at London's Cadogan Hall on 2 December.

'This project gives the young musicians the opportunity to rehearse and perform in the same way that a professional chamber ensemble might do,' said AYM’s Beverley Mason. 'It combines concentrated rehearsal time, personal practice and a lot of fun in the process.'

Each of the four projects will feature a different instrumental combination. The first, a string ensemble entitled With Strings Attached, has begun its rehearsal sessions at the Royal College of Music. In the coming months three more groups will be created: Ensemble Classique in spring 2013, Celebrations of Diversity in summer 2013 and Le Swing in autumn 2013.

Donations to support the work of Awards for Young Musicians can be made at a-y-m.org.uk

Hubs showing some 'shameful' employment practice, says MU

22 October 2012

Diane Widdison, the Musicians' Union's national organiser for teaching, has said that some 'shameful' employment practice is going on in England's new music education hubs.

The remarks were made at the opening of the union's third biennial teachers' conference. Widdison said that there were 'pockets of good practice' in the hubs, but that many were showing a 'real desire to erode teachers' terms and conditions'. She added that the MU plans to recruit a network of union representatives in all the hubs in order to ensure that teachers are supported and their concerns are heard.

The MU teachers' conference took place in Cambridge, with an opening address given by Paul Harris, the well-known music educator and writer. Harris explored the theme of what makes a 'virtuoso teacher' before answering questions from the floor, many of which concerned ways to handle pressure from employers and pupils' parents to put pupils in for inappropriate exams. Other sessions were led by Lincoln Abbotts, ABRSM's director of teacher support; Christopher Gray, programme leader of Aberdeen University's music and communities degree course; and Richard Crozier, former head of professional development with ABRSM.


PRS for Music launches new scholarship scheme

22 October 2012

PRS for Music and the popular music college BIMM Brighton have launched a new scholarship scheme to help the development of songwriters and music business entrepreneurs.
The Springboard Scholarships, which go towards the funding of courses at BIMM Brighton, are designed to improve employment opportunities within the music industry and to equip students with the skills to develop their careers. The first recipients began their courses at this term.

Mark Lawrence, director of membership and rights with PRS for Music, said: 'We are delighted to collaborate on this unique scholarship arrangement with BIMM. Challenging economic times often give rise to exciting ideas, entrepreneurs and creators. We are licensing forward thinking start-ups like Mixcloud and supporting hard-working songwriters like Adele, but we also recognise the need to do more work with grass roots and emerging songwriters and composers. I am genuinely excited by this scheme. These students are going to be the future faces of the industry.'

BIMM Brighton student Kate Walsh was the first unsigned artist to have an album reach No 1 in the iTunes chart. She said her time at BIMM 'was priceless, learning from professional songwriters who know what they're talking about and bouncing ideas off other students was an invaluable experience that I'll never be able to recreate. BIMM tells you how the industry really is and prepares you for a real future doing something you love!'

Vaseema Hamilton, principal of BIMM Groups, said he was very proud of the scheme. 'Our aim is to ensure equality of opportunity for young people, to raise aspirations and educational attainment, improve employment prospects and offer young musicians and entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop under the guidance of BIMM’s highly experienced tutors and use this unique opportunity as a springboard into employment.'

Applications are now open for entry in October 2013. Each scholarship is for £1,000 towards course fees. Minimum entry requirements are four GCSEs at C or above.


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