NCEM Announces Winners of Its Young Composers Award 2016


NCEM Announces Winners of Its Young Composers Award 2016 

NCEM Young Composers Award 2016 Winners - Kristina Arakelyan and under 18 winner AlexDakin

NCEM Young Composers Award 2016 Winners
Kristina Arakelyan and Alex Dakin

The NCEM Young Composers Award 2016, presented in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and Theatre of the Ayre directed by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, has been won by Alex Dakin in the 18 years and under category and by Kristina Arakelyan in the 19 to 25 years category.

Alex Dakin’s Sonnet 147 and Kristina Arakelyan’s Penelope will be premiered by Theatre of the Ayre and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show this autumn.

Alex Dakin was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He lived in Villasanta, Italy, and Deal, Kent, before moving back to Cheshire in 2008. He took up the piano at the age of 7, and three years later he began learning to play the cello. Soon this after he started taking an interest in composing. He was awarded a place at Chetham’s School of Music in 2011, where he now studies composition with Jeremy Pike. He has composed a variety of pieces, including two orchestral tone poems, a piano sonata and a string quartet. His septet Abhorrentes was highly commended in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers’ Competition in 2013, and his piano sonata won the under-16 category of the EPTA Composers’ Competition in the same year. His interest in early music largely stems from his experiences accompanying songs by Dowland in arrangements for viola da gamba and harpsichord.

The structure of this song is based on the sonnet’s changes in mood and tone, so I have divided it into three sections. The first section seeks to convey the narrator’s yearning and the solemnity of the sonnet. Words like ‘longing’ and ‘preserve’ are given extended durations, and the lute accompaniment consists mostly of single notes, simple rhythms and slowly changing harmony. The second section follows the narrator’s descent into madness. The writing here is more frantic, with shorter note durations and wider leaps for the voice, as well as a faster harmonic rhythm in the lute. In the third section the narrator condemns love to be ‘as dark as night.’ Here the texture and melody are similar to the opening, though the lute’s open harmonics add a touch of coldness to the music. The choice of a very low register for the singer adds to the darkness and pessimism of the final lines.

 Kristina Arakelyan was granted a scholarship to study piano and composition at the Purcell School of Music in 2006. She is currently a composition scholar at the Royal Academy of Music. Aged 15, she won first prize in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers’ Competition; other awards include overall cup winner of the EPTA Composers’ Competition (2009), the David Cox prize (2012) and first prize in the ‘Shakespeare 400’ Orchestra of the Swan Young Composers’ Competition (2014). In 2011 she was commissioned by Music for Youth to write a choral piece that was performed at the Schools Prom in the Royal Albert Hall; she has also been commissioned by Grace Francis to write a piano piece that was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (2015) and in Florida. Her compositions have also been performed at the Vatroslav Lisinsky Hall (Croatia), Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid (Spain), and in London at the Wigmore Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Southbank Centre.

The poem ‘Penelope’ by Carol Ann Duffy appealed to me because of the vivid imagery and because of the inspiring journey we see in Penelope’s life. Contrary to the description in Greek mythology in which Penelope uses treachery to repel her suitors by telling them that she will accept their advances once she has finished embroidering, Carol Ann Duffy tells an entirely different story by focusing on the female perspective. She speaks of a woman who has found her life’s purpose, her talent, and is preoccupied with pursuing it. The most exciting part of the poem for me was the sheer delight of being wrapped in your internal world of creativity – something that Duffy herself felt when writing about Penelope’s embroidery, and that I felt as I wrote music to her poem. In my music I describe Penelope’s psychological journey through the repetition of the beginning theme with different accompanying harmonies to symbolise growth. I have also used the Dorian and Phrygian modes in the harmonic and melodic construction in order to evoke what the Ancient Greek lyre may possibly have sounded like. The lute adds a very exciting and original colour and is very much in keeping with the idea of the ancient and the exotic that is explored in the theme of the poem.

Young composers, resident in the UK, were invited to create a contemporary response to one of the most intimate musical forms of the Renaissance, the lute song. The music had to set one of four selected poems by William Shakespeare or Carol Ann Duffy.

Eight finalists were selected and invited to the National Centre for Early Music in York on Thursday 12 May, when their entries were presented by Theatre of the Ayre’s Elizabeth Kenny with mezzo soprano Anna Starushkevych and tenor Nicholas Mulroy in a workshop led by Christopher Fox, composer and Professor in Music, Brunel University, London.

At 7.30pm on the same day, each of the pieces was performed by Theatre of the Ayre at a public concert in the presence of a panel of judges comprising Elizabeth Kenny, Director of Theatre of the Ayre; Les Pratt, BBC Radio 3 Producer; and Delma Tomlin, Director of the National Centre for Early Music.

Delma Tomlin, Director of the NCEM said: “The NCEM Young Composers Award 2016 workshop offered us all a fascinating insight into a 21st century vision of the English lute song, utilizing some of the most flawless poems ever written and beautifully presented by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and singers Anna Starushkevych and Nicholas Mulroy. Each musician generously offered their own thoughts and interpretations of the music, working with each individual composer to create something truly unique.  A remarkable day for all concerned.”

Les Pratt, Lead Producer of BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show said: “In the 70 years since Radio 3’s inception, the station has had a strong commitment to early music, to commissioning new music and supporting young talent, so as an organisation, we’re delighted to continue our involvement with the NCEM Young Composers Award.  Yet again, I have been hugely impressed by the quality of submissions we received this year.  The workshop was hugely productive, and it was immensely enjoyable to watch and listen to Elizabeth, Anna and Nicholas working closely with our shortlisted young composers to create such polished performances.”

Elizabeth Kenny, Director, Theatre of the Ayre added: “We have had a fantastic day interacting with eight inventive and creative minds. Each person has challenged us musically, technically and most importantly, emotionally with an astonishingly vivid and varied set of responses to the chosen texts.  It’s been a privilege to get to know and work on them.”

The concert performance was streamed live and is available at:

The performance of the shortlisted entries was recorded courtesy of music technology students Davide Cuoghi and Jed Fulwell from the Department of Electronics at the University of York. 



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