The third Benslow Music Young Composers Competition, in partnership with soprano Sarah Leonard and pianist Stephen Gutman, has been won by Christopher Churcher (age 17; King Edward’s School, Edgbaston) in the 18 years and under category and Tan Tiag Yi (age 24; University of Oxford) in the 19-25 years category.

The winning pieces ‘Very Early Spring’ by Christopher and ‘I so liked Spring’ by Tiag Yiwill be premiered in a concert to be given by Sarah Leonard and Stephen Gutman on Tuesday 10 August 2021 at Benslow Music in Hitchin.

Christopher said: “Hearing Judith Weir pronouncing me as the winner of the competition was so surreal. I was pleased with my composition when I submitted it but to win was such a pleasant surprise. Writing for Sarah Leonard and Stephen Gutman and hearing my song brought to life so beautifully was a real privilege. Hearing your music performed for the first time is one of the most exhilarating parts of being a composer and I’m so grateful to Sarah Leonard, Stephen Gutman and Judith Weir for giving such detailed and useful feedback - the workshop was a truly invaluable learning experience.”

undefinedTan Tiag Yi

Tiag Yi commented: “Although the workshop had to take place online this year, the feedback from jurors Judith Weir, Sarah Leonard, Stephen Gutman and Peter Hewitt over the course of the day was incredibly thought-provoking and insightful. To have such wonderful performers bring my work to life is something I am very grateful for. It was also very interesting to hear multiple settings of the same poems at this year’s workshop, which gave me new perspectives on text-setting.”

The competition was judged by Benslow Music President Judith Weir (Master of the Queen’s Music), Sarah Leonard, Stephen Gutman and Peter Hewitt (Chief Executive, Benslow Music). 

Judith Weir said: “I don’t know if it’s the result of spending a boring year at home, but the songs selected for this workshop struck me as being an exceptionally distinguished set, particularly those by the five older students. Time very well spent looking at them, and I learned a lot from the comments.”

Sarah Leonard added: “What a wonderful day of music making.  We performed the ten finalists' songs live in the Morrison Hall in a workshop format, hopefully giving helpful advice on the structure of a song and how best to write for the voice and piano. The songs were of a very high standard and some were quite a ‘big sing’ for me! It was a delight for us all to be sharing live music making again. How we had missed it!”

Stephen Gutman said:Our chosen poems on the subject of Spring (by D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Charlotte Mew, Rilke and Mark Van Doren) which produced astonishingly varied responses from the young composers. Their imaginative connection with the poems they had chosen was very impressive. It was a joy to return to live collaboration with other musicians and to rise to the challenge of bringing the new works to life.”

Peter Hewitt said: “A fantastic workshop. So glad to have been part of it. Many thanks to Judith, Sarah and Stephen for their performances and penetrating, practical and most useful commentary. And bravo to the ten selected, skilled, composers from all of whom, not only the excellent winners, we’ll surely hear more in years to come - and who we hope to welcome on courses at Benslow Music”.

The judges also commended runner up Scott Manson (age 17; Bucksburn Academy) for his piece ‘Spring Thunder’ and Rebecca Farthing (age 20; Royal Academy of Music) for her piece ‘Very Early Spring’. 

The other 6 finalists were Phoebe Gault (age 16; Surbiton High School), Katherina Hristova (age 18; Royal Birmingham Conservatoire), Tanya D’Souza (age 17; The Tiffin Girls’ School), Sarah Cattley (age 25), Thomas Metcalf (age 25; University of Oxford) and Mason Birch (age 25).

Biographies

Christopher Churcher lives in Birmingham and has been composing and arranging music since the age of 12 with the support of his music teacher Dr Martin Leigh. Christopher also plays the piano, in which he has obtained an ARSM Diploma and the bassoon, in which he is working towards Grade 8. He also attended the Junior Royal Birmingham Conservatoire between 2017 and 2020, where he studied composition under Dr Kirsty Devaneyand Rob Jones and piano under Caroline McWalter. He was selected for the Sound and Music Summer School for Young Composers held at the Purcell School in 2019, attending workshops and composing music for the vocal group. Christopher is currently enjoying studying higher level Philosophy, German and Music for the International Baccalaureate with the hope of going on to study music at university. Outside of academia, Christopher has played the bassoon in a variety of chamber ensembles and has also accompanied choirs both inside and outside of school. 

Tan Tiag Yi is a third-year undergraduate music student at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, studying composition with Professor Martyn Harry and violin with Caroline Balding. He began composing in 2012 under the tutelage of Dr Hoh Chung Shih, and later studied with Mr Derek Lim and Dr Zechariah Goh. World premieres include pieces written for the Atlantic Music Festival (2019), ADDO Chamber Orchestra (2017) and the Southeastern Ensemble for Today’s and Tomorrow’s Sounds (2016). His piece And then the bell tolls…  (2018) for clavichord was recorded by Dr David Bohn as part of the Daniel Blitz Clavichord project. Currently, he is working on a song cycle setting the poetry of Shirley Lim Geok-lin, a contemporary Malaysian-American poet.

Sarah Leonard’s unique voice and unrivalled musicianship have led to a varied and distinguished career spanning four decades.  From her early beginnings in the BBC Singers, and a busy London session and consort singer, her career developed into a world respected champion of contemporary classical music. She has given many world premieres of operas, concert works and songs, and worked with some of the leading conductors and composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Sarah also loves British and American song and has many recordings of English Song in her 35+ discography. She is also known for being the soaring voice in the title music of the long-running BBC series Silent Witness. Along the way there have been many oratorio and song recital performances, and these continue to the present day. Alongside her performing career Sarah has developed a passion for teaching singing and continues to expand her knowledge in all the necessary areas to enable her students to reach their highest performing potential.  Sarah is much in demand as a private singing teacher in her London Studio, teaching both professional and amateur singers. She also teaches on the Musical Theatre BA Acting Course at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and gives very popular residential courses at Benslow Music in Hertfordshire and Jackdaws in Somerset.  https://sarahleonard.me/

British pianist Stephen Gutman has performed in the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Weill Hall in New York, Ueno Bunka Keikan in Tokyo, and throughout Europe. Born and based in London, he studied at the Royal College of Music and with Vlado Perlemuter in Paris, and was awarded first prizes in the Brant Competition and the British Contemporary Piano Competition. His friendship with the pianist Michal Hambourg in the 1990’s was an important influence on his work.  Passionately committed to the music of our time, Stephen has encouraged the creation of new work in a series of projects which have placed large-scale commissioning in the context of significant but possibly neglected repertoire.  Julian Anderson, John Casken, Tansy Davies, Michael Finnissy, Simon Holt, Gabriel Jackson, Colin Matthews, Anthony Payne and John Woolrich are some of the many composers who have written for him.  Stephen’s enthusiasm for French keyboard music including the French Baroque led to his recent recording of the complete keyboard works of Rameau played on the modern piano for the Toccata label.  There have been enthusiastic reviews in Fanfare, BBC Music Magazine (5 stars), the Gramophone and MusicWeb International who chose the final CD as their CD of the month. Other recordings are available on NMC and Avid Records, and his performances have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Deutsche Rundfunk and France Musique.  Stephen has given masterclasses and lectures at conservatoires and universities in the UK and internationally. He has led courses at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the Royal Northern College in Manchester, Benslow Music and Dartington Summer School.  Active as a player of chamber music, Stephen has performed with distinguished artists including György Pauk, Yfrah Neaman, and Karine Georgian. He has an ongoing collaboration with soprano Sarah Leonard. One of his projects, in duo with percussionist Richard Benjafield, created a sequence of compositions out of the fantasy What strikes the clocke? by 17th century composer Edward Gibbons which integrated new work by people of all ages and backgrounds. Stephen has worked with many ensembles including Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Composers Ensemble, Endymion, the Esbjerg Ensemble, New Music Players, ‘Sharp Edge’ (RPO), and the Verbier Festival Ensemble.  www.stephengutman.co.uk

Judith Weir lives in London, where she has had a long association with Spitalfields Music Festival; and in recent years has taught as a visiting professor at Princeton, Harvard and Cardiff universities. Honours for her work include the Critics’ Circle, South Bank Show, Elise L Stoeger and Ivor Novello awards, a CBE (1995) and the Queen’s Medal for Music (2007). In 2014 she was appointed Master of The Queen’s Music in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In January 2015 she became Associate Composer to the BBC Singers. Much of her music has been recorded, and is available on the NMC, Delphian and Signum labels. In 2014-15 there were releases of The Vanishing Bridegroom (NMC) and Storm (BBC Singers/Signum). Judith Weir’s music is published by Chester Music and Novello & Co. www.judithweir.com