Young Composers

Photo: Ruth Evans

Nathan Dearden Recounts his Experience of Coming Together with the Young Composers, Fellowship and Chamber Choir Members After Many Months Apart

2020. Although I, or anyone else for that matter, would not have anticipated such a year, it has been a sobering reminder of how much music is a balm. 

Like many working musicians, or simply, music-lovers, I miss being squashed tightly together in a bar listening to a live act. That smell. I miss feeling anxious for a fellow performer on-stage before they sing that first note. Sweaty palms. I miss feeling elated and swept-up in the moment when the first song has finished. I miss being annoyed at the loud unwrapping of sweets in the quieter section of a Mahler symphony, or an unfortunate dry cough that drags you from that almost subconscious state. I miss that feeling of the first rehearsal with people you have never met before. Even sweatier palms. I miss that moment when you overhear musicians in the bar after a gig about “how devastating that early entry in bar 631 was”, although the concert was a triumph. I miss that moment when I first hear a piece of music ‘in the flesh' which I wish I had written myself, or that feeling that I “should give up as nothing can compete with what I have just heard”. In that space. At that time. Surrounded by those individuals. I miss being in a room with people whose simple goal is to come together and create music. 

This year has thrown so much at all sectors, at all industries, at all parts of our individual lives. We are constantly in search of those chinks of light that make us feel more whole again, the ’new normal’. 

Working with the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain throughout 2020 has certainly been my ‘chink of light’. Coming together through a series of amazingly curated online workshops, discussions, presentations, residencies and digital performances, to create music, has been a real eye-opener at the ingenuity, creativity and compassionate nature this organisation has. They really have been a musical foster family, of sorts, for many young people, up and down the country. 

When I received the email to say that the Young Composers, the Fellowship and members of the National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain were to come together, IN-PERSON, for a few days to work in Snape Maltings, I yelped. Although I did ask, “Do I know how to be around people anymore?“

The cold air of a late-October in Aldeburgh did not dampen the spirits of the singers and composers alike, as we neatly queue for our temperature checks on arrival, equipped with a myriad of face coverings. Homemade, hand-crafted, market bought, last-minute online purchases alike. From the swanky patterned to the classic all-black. Ben Parry won the unspoken contest yet again. Screens were erected. Chairs at a distance. Zones allocated. Over the space of just three days, we rehearsed from morning until evening with Ben Parry, singers received jaw-droppingly good vocal masterclasses from Richard Edgar-Wilson and Dominic Ellis-Peckham whilst the composers were inspired and in awe by the poetic wizardry of Garth Bardsley, we prepared and recorded interviews for NMC Recordings, and the joined choral forces even squeezed in a recording session of Ben Parry’s ‘Aldeburgh Carol’ for an upcoming release. We were back at it. 

Among this whirlwind of rehearsals, chatting, laughing, and doing what we all most love, the most profound takeaway from this three-day residency, in such an affecting landscape that Aldeburgh and Snape have on offer, was the final sharing. Twenty invited guests in the Britten Studio to hear live music. Naturally not ‘squashed tightly together’ but zoned into their own listening space. Not an unwrapping of a sweet in sight, but a sharp focus on what was in front of them. Live music. I didn’t think it would have affected me as much as it did. A premiere of a work is always anxiety-ridden, always with sweaty palms, but this was different. I cried the whole time. From the opening with Ben’s fitting Aldeburgh Carol and a world concert premiere of Thea Musgrave’s By The River, through each of our four new works, written especially for the occasion, to the crowning glory of Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia. Crying. You could taste it in the air. This was why we do what we do. That indescribable feeling being in a room with people whose simple goal is to come together and create music, great music. 

Our second Young Composers album with new music by Nathan Dearden, Lisa Robertson, Amy Bryce and Joe Bates, performed by members of NYCGB Fellowship is now available from NMC Recordings and other music platforms.

Listen to the album on Spotify

Download the Young Composers album

Hear more about the works from our four 2020 Young Composers

2020 NYCGB Young Composers Scheme Funders & Supporters:

Programme Digital Partner: NMC Recordings

Programme Innovation Grant Sponsors:

Steinberg Media Technologies (Technology Partner) and Stainer & Bell (Publishing Partner)


Supported by Principal New Music Sponsor & Programme Innovation Grant Sponsors (Technology Partner) Steinberg Media Technologies, Programme Innovation Grant Sponsors (Publishing Partner) Stainer & Bell, RVW Trust, The Finzi Trust, Lord and Lady Lurgan Trust, The Michael Tippett Musical Foundation, Britten Pears Arts, Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, and PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations.