I know I’m always in for a treat with the British Composer Awards, because I never know quite what to expect from each year’s nominations. How often does the music industry celebrate feminist operas featuring Barbie dolls, or duets that weave together spoken word, British sign language and architecture? Not often enough, some would argue, but it’s these surprises that keep me enthralled by the breadth of imagination of British contemporary composers and sound artists.
Yes, these annual awards are the chance to celebrate and highlight the best compositions that premiered in the UK in the past 12 months. But they’re also a chance to discover the endless possibilities present within music, when you remain open to wide sources of inspiration.
Even the seemingly banal or ‘everyday’ takes on fresh meanings when we’re encouraged to look at them from different perspectives – such as a sound compilation that brings a train journey between St Pancras and Margate to life, or a chamber ensemble piece that invites us to explore how we relate to our everyday surroundings.
The composers’ ingenuity never fails to astound me either, particularly their desire to use music to solve practical problems or help others. For example, last year’s nominee Eduardo Reck Miranda used a Brain-Computer Music Interface instrument – his own invention – to enable motor-impaired participants to compose music, by detecting electrical brain signals.
There is little that these composers shy away from confronting or exploring – however painful or extraordinary. We live in increasingly uncertain times and it’s becoming harder to ignore our vulnerability. The piece ‘Between Worlds’ by Tansy Davies, an opera set in the North Tower during 9/11, resonates all the more for this reason, inviting us to contemplate our own human spirit in the face of unimaginable horrors. I think these awards continue to express the complexities of our experiences through particularly unique, and often challenging, mediums.
I love these awards because, not only do they cross boundaries and mix genres, they reflect that Britain is home to many international composers and sound artists. For the first time ever last year, a fifth of our nominees were born oversees. Award winner Shri Sriram is an example of this – his influences stretch from Bombay street music to Wagner and drum and bass. We also had more women nominated than ever before too. We believe this is because of changes we made to the awards’ entry process – for the first time, we introduced anonymous judging and allowed composers and sound artists to enter their own work.
In art we have the opportunity to explore a richness and diversity of voices, where difference isn’t marginalised or oppressed. So please, take this opportunity for your voice to be heard and celebrated. Please enter your work or the work of a composer who you admire. I am already excited to discover what surprises are in store for this year.
Visit www.basca.secure-platform.com to enter works. Closing date is Tuesday 4 July 2017.
The British Composers Awards were created by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) in 2003 and are sponsored by PRS for Music. They are presented in association with BBC Radio 3, which provides exclusive coverage of the Awards.
Written by BASCA CEO Vick Bain