Composition at ICMuS

Composition is one of the key areas in the research output of ICMuS staff, one of our most visible bridges with the music industry and, of course, also the focus of intensive student activity. The Momenta Quartet performing students works

Each of the composers based at ICMuS has an individual approach to innovation. They have in common a progressive outlook that betokens a desire to communicate and to engage performers and audiences through new aesthetics and new praxes based on sound and performative reality rather than on dogma. Far from naively ignoring the fundamental changes of the last century, they posit a critical engagement with the recent past, embracing its discoveries but eschewing rigid affiliations to currents or schools. They are leaders, not followers. Another common theme is the serious - though sometimes irreverent - engagement with enshrined cultural traditions: Northumbrian traditions of music-making (Tickell), English and Scottish folk musics (McKerrell, Tickell), music informed by Shetland tradition (MacDonald), technologically mediated creation and performance (Edmondes, Hogg), improvisation (Edmondes, Hogg), sound art (Hogg), European classical tradition (Fernández, Hogg), Latin American folk (Fernández).
Disparate though these traditions are, ICMuS's melting pot enables interactions that generate projects, collaborations and mutual influences between staff, often challenging the commonly accepted boundaries between genres. This culture pervades and includes students. Research students collaborate with staff in performance, multimedia and recording projects, students from different degree programmes embark on shared workshops and performances and research-led teaching based on recent discoveries.
At the postgraduate level, composition has attracted and continues to attract students from around the world who come to study at masters and PhD level. You can take an MMus specialising in composition to the extent of devoting two-thirds of your study time to it. The MMus also enables you to combine your composition studies with performance. If you already hold a masters-level qualification you can apply to do a PhD. This gives you the opportunity to develop a substantial body of new work following an original and innovative direction. You do this under the personalised guidance of one of our resident composers: Agustín Fernández, Kathryn Tickell, Bennett Hogg or Will Edmondes. You will find information on the work of these composers here.
In the undergraduate programmes, composition is at the heart of the curriculum. It is compulsory at entry level for BA and BMus Year Abroad, and thereafter there are elective modules in the discipline available at every stage of study. Composition can also be studied integrated with performance – reflecting genre-specific realities – in modules such as Creative Music Practice 1 and 2.
If you are considering undergraduate study at ICMuS you should know that composition will be available as a subject at every stage of your programme, regardless of the particular programme you choose, and you can be certain to be joining a lively community of developing composers working in a similar area.
We take an approach based on practical engagement with the material, where the students become involved in the production of their work from the earliest creative stages. Thus, the stage-one module Creative Projects has the students devise new work in workshops, resulting in pieces that are then performed in front of other groups for critique and assessment.

At the more advanced stages, composition studies are enhanced by the opportunity to interact with professional performers during and after the creative process. In recent years, visiting performers have included Northern Sinfonia – now Royal Northern Sinfonia, with whom we have a long-standing association – Ives Ensemble of Amsterdarm, Busch Ensemble, Notos Ensemble, duoDorT, Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea, Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band

At all levels, you can rely on the supervision of one or more of our resident composers.

In our compositional research, recent creative collaboration partners have included Peter Maxwell Davies, Penguin Café Orchestra, Joanna McGregor, Sting (Tickell), Magnus Andersson, Julian Siegel (Hogg), Northern Sinfonia, Instituto Laredo, Orquesta Filarmónica Nacional de Venezuela, Momenta Quartet, Orchestra Sinfonica di Perugia, Stefan Östersjö, Terje Thiwång (Fernández).

In the last few years the students have interacted with guest composers such as HK Gruber, David Lang, Peter Wiegold, Howard Skempton, Kent Olofsson, Richard Rijnvos and others. Student singers in a workshop of student music with Northern Sinfonia and HK Gruber at The Sage Gateshead (photo AF)