Young Composers

Eleven new pieces for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, viola and piano were premiered at a unique workshop held in the West Road Concert Hall as part of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas.

Working with the university has brought us a much bigger audience, which these fantastic pieces deserve.

Edna Murphy, Chairman, Cambridge Youth Music,

The workshop was organised jointly by Cambridge Youth Music and the University of Cambridge music outreach project, CaMEO.  Entrants, all under 18 and in full-time education in Cambridgeshire, took up the challenge of composing a short piece of music on the theme of “Frontiers,” the 2013 Festival of Ideas theme.

Described by University Lecturer in Musical Composition Richard Causton as a “richly varied” programme, the final pieces were inspired by ideas as diverse as sunrise in the mountains, European Union politics, murder most foul, and 20th Century American poetry.

At the end of the workshop, Dr Ewan Campbell, Cambridge Music Society Composer in Residence 2012/13 and Lecturer in Composition at King's College London, and Richard Causton announced the age group winners and the overall winner:

  • Stephanie Gaunt, 11, from Cambridge, won the 11 and under competition with “From Baroque to Blues.”  Oliver Mavaddat-Rhys was Highly Commended.
  • William Harmer, 13, from Waterbeach, won the 12 – 14 category with “Archibald’s Definition.”  Rebecca Revie was Highly Commended
  • Saffron Usher, 17, from St Neots, won the 15 – 17 category with “Sunrise at mountain frontier.” Josephy Reynolds was Highly Commended.

William Harmer was declared the overall winner and the 2013/14 Cambridge Young Composer of the Year, the youngest ever winner since the competition began in 2006.  His winning composition, “Archibald’s Definition,” was inspired by the poem Definition of the Frontiers by American poet Archibald MacLeish. 

“It’s a very good piece,” said Dr Ewan Campbell, giving feedback after the ensemble performed the piece. “The score was very detailed with precise dynamics – hard to play but very clear.  The piece displays an advanced level of ability and maturity that you would not expect of such a young composer".

Dr Cambell particularly highlighted Williams’ use of semiquavers passing through the ensemble, representing the wild animals in the poem, and his use of quintuplet rhythms to suggest the chaotic nature of the wind, resulting in a composition praised by the adjudicators as “highly idiomatic and excellently imagined”

As Cambridge Young Composer of the Year, William will now receive a commission to write a piece to  be performed by the Cambridge New Music Ensemble.

“The whole workshop was really useful,” said William after receiving his trophy. “I am really happy to have been given the opportunity to do this.”

Edna Murphy, Chairman of Cambridge Youth Music, said “This unique competition helps young people to develop a whole range of skills and builds their confidence. Working with the university has brought us a much bigger audience, which these fantastic pieces deserve. They are innovative, unique, adventurous, exciting compositions.”

Joe Shaw, Outreach Officer at the Faculty of Music, said “Cambridgeshire Young Composer of the Year is not only an invaluable opportunity for the faculty to share our resources and expertise with Cambridgeshire students.  It also allows our academics and students the chance to work with and inspire new generations of enthusiastic musicians.”

Dr Ewan Campbell conducted the ensemble and gave each young composer detailed feedback on their work. “The Cambridge Young Composer Competition is one of the most exciting features of the CYM calendar,” Dr Campbell said. “The symbiotic collaboration between the older students from Cambridge University performing the compositions of the younger, school-age students is a mutually beneficial learning experience for all. I thoroughly enjoyed the task of conducting, critiquing and adjudicating the music of Cambridge's aspiring youth composers, and I look forward to working with both CaMEO and CYM again next year."


Front row: Young Composers, Left to Right:  William Harmer (Winner, 12 – 14 and overall), Saffron Usher (winner, 15 – 17), Joseph Reynolds, Rebecca Revie, Benjamin Somers Heslam, Stephanie Gaunt (winner, 11 and under), Oliver Mavaddat-Rhys, Dominic Wills

Back row: Richard Causton, Dr Ewan Campbell and the ensemble.

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