26 March 2021

The Composers’ Workshop has been a busy hub of activity this year, even with a second national lockdown in place. Edmund Finnis, Composer and OA, listened to some of our work in the first Composition Masterclass at Abingdon School broadcast yesterday evening.

We started with Andreas Lo’s piece Le Bouclier Canadien. A stirring orchestral tone poem of a style reminiscent of the Nationalist works of the late 19th Century. A real strength of this piece was the interweaving melodic lines which form the basis of the first and final section and the subtle dynamic shading at its opening. It was also pleasing to see Andreas tackle writing for full orchestra so convincingly.

Nicholas Raptakis’s piece The Mountain, also scored for full orchestra, was very well-received. This piece has been a long time in the making and serves as an appropriate culmination for Nicholas’s composition career at Abingdon School: he has been composing music consistently since arriving with us in the third year. Some really strong features of this piece were the memorable thematic material, finely crafted orchestral textures and the care with which the final moments of the piece were put together.

We followed this with a Piano Sonata movement from Owen Ravden. This piece, which aimed for a Beethovenian style, was particularly enjoyable. Of note was the strength of the phrase structure of the piece, which generated real excitement with its off-kilter rhythms. The harmonic changes were also really advanced and reveal the good ear that Owen Ravden has for harmony. The change in texture at the end with its inter-cutting of the hands was also a really interesting development and rounded off the piece well.

Oliver Simpson’s exciting piece for string quintet The Hunt was exceptionally well-crafted. A number of melodies interweave amongst the instruments whilst a cello ostinato provides the rhythmic backdrop for the piece. The melodic writing was a real strength of the piece: I have found myself humming the tunes from The Hunt on a daily basis.

Oliver Smith’s Piano Sonata blended two contrasting themes – one light, one dark. The sheer variety that Oliver wrought from this material sustained a deep interest throughout the work. His use of the piano was also incredibly exciting, often making use of the extremes of the instruments and novel combinations of sounds.

Our thanks must go to Edmund, whose advice exhorted our composers to lead with their imaginations, listen widely and keep a wide range of possibilities open when writing their own music. I have since seen Edmund’s insightful advice put into practice and I’m sure that the workshop will form the basis of many exciting conversations in the future. Very well done to all the boys involved for all their hard work and the high standard of work they produced as a result.

Dr Jason Preece, Assistant Director of Music

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