Where did it all start?
Some fifteen years ago, the Orchestra in association with Lady Panufnik devised a scheme to support composers interested in writing for a full symphony orchestra, in memory of the late composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik.
'My composer husband received three commissions and recorded most of his symphonic music with the LSO. He worried about how young composers could nowadays attain essential experience with highest level orchestras: this project fulfils his dream.'
Three composers took part in the scheme's pilot year in 2005. Each year since then, six emerging composers have received support and mentoring from composer Colin Matthews through the Panufnik scheme to develop their orchestral writing skills.
The LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme has been generously supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust since its inception.
Image: © kevinleighton.com
Sir Andrzej Panufnik
Sir Andrzej Panufnik is one of the most important and original symphonic composers of the second half of the 20th century.
In Nazi-occupied Poland, with public concerts banned, he arranged a massive amount of classical music for two pianos which he played as a duo in 'artistic cafés'. At great personal risk he conducted illegal concerts and composed patriotic resistance songs.
In 1945, the 31-year-old Panufnik, eager to help the revival of classical music post-war, was appointed chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1946, he was similarly asked to restore the Warsaw Philharmonic to life.
After 1948, with the imposition of Soviet Socialist Realism, Panufnik’s situation changed dramatically. As Poland’s leading composer, greatly respected throughout Europe, he was under much more intense pressure than his compatriots, bullied to write according to the Soviet imposition of Socialist Realism.
In 1954, he made a dramatic escape from Poland as a protest against Communist control over creative artists, and this resulted in a raft of vicious propaganda and lies put out about him followed by total censorship of his name and his music in Poland for 23 years.
From 1957 to 1959, he served as Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, his last official position before deciding to dedicate his life entirely to composition.
By the 1970s, Panufnik was very much part of British musical life and his music was performed by most of Britain’s leading orchestras, with performances at the BBC Proms and at many LSO concerts.
Image source: http://panufnik.com/biography/
How does it work?
Over the course of twelve months, each composer creates a three-minute composition for the full Orchestra, guided by renowned composers Colin Matthews and Christian Mason (himself a participant in the 2006 Panufnik Composers Scheme).
The scheme begins with a two-day induction called 'Reality Days' at LSO St Luke's. The new composers meet together with Colin and Christian, introduce their music to the group, and learn in detail what they can expect from their time on the scheme. They also get to grips with writing for orchestra by workshopping their first sketches with an LSO musician.
Composers begin the process of developing their three-minute piece. Over a number of months, they benefit from:
- 1:1 and group mentoring sessions with Colin Matthews, Christian Mason and the other composers on the scheme
- Workshops with LSO players, where composers can learn about individual instruments and experiment with ideas
- Access to LSO rehearsals and concerts, allowing composers to get to know the Orchestra as a whole up close
- Tailored support from an extra tutor for those with less experience writing for an orchestra
The LSO copyist works with composers to generate scores and parts for the Orchestra.
'This scheme is about experimentation and it's the opportunity to do absolutely whatever they want to do. It's very exciting to watch the development.'
March: Panufnik Composers Workshop
One year after they began writing, the composers experience a pivotal point in the writing process as they gather together at LSO St Luke's to hear their pieces performed in full for the very first time.
LSO Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth , who has been involved with the scheme since the very beginning, conducts the workshop. The day is split into two sessions, both open to the public, focusing on three composers' works in the morning and three in the afternoon. (The two composers who received commissions in the previous year's workshops also present their latest work ahead of the premieres next season.) More than just a performance, these workshops are a chance for everyone involved in the process, including Colin Matthews, Christian Mason and LSO musicians, to openly discuss the pieces and offer even more tips and guidance.
'The Panufnik Composers Scheme is something I'm very proud of. It's young composers having the opportunity to be performed by the LSO in a workshop day. We play their music, we rehearse, we advise. It's something so amazing.'
Images: © kevinleighton.com
Listen: The Panufnik Legacies
In 2010, LSO Live released an album of works by selected composers from across the first five years of the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme.
'Much to relish here, the music of now and the future … All round, very impressive.'
Panufnik composer 2019
In December 2018, Jonathan Woolgar was announced one of 2019's six Panufnik composers. Here he tells us all about his own experience writing for a full symphony orchestra.
'The make-up of the orchestra is loaded with musical-historical subtext. That the orchestra is what it is, sits how it sits, wears what it wears, and plays how it plays, is not to be taken for granted. It is the living embodiment of a particular tradition.
Therefore, one question I asked myself when writing a three-minute piece for the LSO was when to go with the grain of that tradition and when to go against it. The essential make-up of an orchestra creates certain sonic hierarchies and acoustical facts which inform how a composer can make that orchestra sound good, to make it balance and really ring. But there is also the matter of performance tradition and repertoire. There is music that sits snugly and deeply in the DNA of an orchestra, which defines the traditions of orchestral music – one might think of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. One of my favourite sounds in the world is an orchestra, especially one like the LSO, playing Wagner, Mahler or Strauss. I want to engage with that soundworld in my own orchestral writing because I love it so deeply; many orchestral players and listeners love it too.
But like any composer, I want to bring something new to the table, to give listeners something that they haven’t heard before – or at least something that they have heard before but expressed in a new way.
I sought to make the Orchestra sound gloriously like itself, to create a piece that relates to the traditions of what an orchestra is and which the musicians can sink their teeth into. But I tried to do this in unexpected and even disorientating ways. The title, PROTO-SYMPHONY, reflects this. The loaded tradition of the symphony is pressure-packed into a tiny space; familiar sounds and gestures are compressed or combined or reordered, the earnestness of an Austro-German symphony meets the hairpin turns of a funfair ride. I have, I hope, met the Orchestra on its own ground, while also giving the musicians and listeners something new to chew on.'
Matthew Kaner: The Calligrapher's Manuscript
Panufnik composer 2011
Composer Matthew Kaner talks about his piece The Calligrapher's Manuscript, which features on the 2016 LSO Live recording The Panufnik Legacies II, and what it feels like to write for 'some of the best musicians in the world'.
Listen: The Panufnik Legacies II
'This stimulating release is every bit as impressive as its predecessor. Each composer here represented is imaginative and confident, and of course they benefit hugely from the Panufnik Scheme.'
Panufnik composer 2019
Joe Bates was also announced as one of 2019's six Panufnik composers in December 2018. He told us about the significance of writing his three-minute orchestral piece.
'My new piece for the LSO, Muted the Night, marks a major step forward in my musical ideas and marks moments of enormous change in my personal life.
The title is taken from a gorgeous poem by Wallace Stevens, Peter Quince At The Clavier. Its fundamental message is that “music is feeling, then, not sound” – a romantic understanding of music-making that I find very seductive. My partner Jesse gave me a hand-printed copy of the poem, which hangs above my piano. It somehow fused in my mind with a piece that obsessed me last year, Cassandra Miller’s wonderful Duet for Cello and Orchestra.
Its witching chords sunk into my writing last summer, as I began to rethink some of my core musical ideas. Since 2016, my music has made use of notes that fall outside the typical Western scale. Whereas a piano divides each octave into twelve evenly-spaced notes, most of my music uses 24 notes. These ‘quartertones’ lie in between every one of our usual pitches – between a C and a C-sharp, for example. I’ve been particularly influenced by the composer Giacinto Scelsi, whose stark music swells fluidly in between the notes. His violin concerto, Anahit, was one of the first pieces I produced in London with my music night Filthy Lucre; its tantalising sound has stayed with me.
At first, I used quartertones as a source of music disorientation. Years of playing had shaped my hands, allowing them to find customary chords and melodies with ease. Retuning my keyboard shook up my familiar patterns and helped me find new ideas.
To write this work, I decided to ditch the disorientation and gain a better understanding of my quartertone system. I developed a tonal system, a quartertone analogue to the usual major and minor keys. I then divided the orchestra into two groups; each group uses three different quartertone pitches. These pitches give them access to two keys each, for a total of four key areas.
This restriction came with two benefits. For players, quartertones can be challenging. Limiting the total number thus eases performance. For me, the clear key system allowed me to use some familiar bits of musical rhetoric – the arpeggio, the perfect cadence – in unfamiliar and exciting ways.
I also devised a fun way to explore this system. I usually plot my quartertone works using my voice and a retuned digital keyboard. For this piece, I began with a retuned autoharp. The autoharp is a folk instrument, like a zither with keys. The keys allow it to move through a set of conventional chords and keys. When retuned into my zany system, it plays conventional chords within an unconventional system. This was the source of a lot of my initial ideas.
Halfway through writing this piece, I was hit by a car. I spent two weeks in the hospital, with a shattered kneecap and a fractured vertebra in my neck amongst my worst injuries. A great deal of this piece was written in the weeks afterwards. I was recovering at my parents’ home, gradually getting up onto crutches. I would spend most of my days propped up in bed, writing this piece.
It was, to be frank, a bleak time. My friends and family were wonderful, but I found the sudden confinement and not-inconsiderable pain difficult. By this point, much the piece’s tone had been established, so I’m not sure if you can hear any relics of the accident in it. But to me, Muted The Night will always be associated with the strangeness of that period: writing brass fanfares and beating out cross-rhythms in between endless games of online chess and dully painful physio routines. Perhaps these emotions surface from time-to-time, in the slightly-numb ending, or the fidgety timpani rhythms that underpin most of the piece’s second half.'
What comes next?
Each year after the public workshop in March, two composers are selected to develop their works further. They are commissioned to write either a 5- or 10-minute piece, which are then premiered in one of the Orchestra's main season concerts at the Barbican.
George Stevenson and Joel Järventausta received commissions after the Panufnik public workshop in March 2019, and will have their pieces premiered by LSO Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda and Conductor Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas in the 2020/21 season.
And it doesn't end there …
Composers who pass through the Panufnik Composers Scheme become part of the LSO family, sometimes receiving additional commissions or having their other works programmed as part of the LSO's main season.
- The 2019/20 season opened with the world premiere of 2007 Panufnik composer Emily Howard's Antisphere, commissioned for Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO by the Barbican.
- In February 2020, the LSO gave the European premiere of 2013 composer Elizabeth Ogonek's All These Lighted Things.
'A real relationship develops, which continues beyond the scheme itself, so that we feel that a 'Panufnik family' has been established.'
- In the LSO's 2020/21 season, Patricia Kopatchinskaja will give the UK premiere of 2006 composer Francisco Coll's Violin Concerto.
- At the 2019 BMW Classics concert in Trafalgar Square, young musicians from LSO On Track and Guildhall School joined the Orchestra on stage for the world premiere of 2006 Panufnik composer Bushra El-Turk's Tuqus.
Image: Sir Simon Rattle & Emily Howard at the 2019/20 season opening concert, © Mark Allan
'I feel my husband would be really happy to know that this scheme is in his name, he would think very highly of it.'