Composer James Wilson tells us about his piece, The Green Fuse – which features in Spark Catchers performed by Chineke! orchestra – and his experience attending his first recording sessions. 

The Green Fuse is my first composition to be recorded and released by a record label. I have been an admirer of NMC since I learned of its existence (roughly 10 years ago) and it was a completely unexpected surprise to be asked to contribute to an upcoming release. Within a couple of months of being invited, I found myself assisting the wonderful musicians of Chineke! to perform and record the music. As a composer there have been many small triumphs throughout my career but having my work recorded is a special milestone. Recordings make music more accessible, more readily available. The thought that my music has been preserved so that a wide audience can hear it is something very special. I have often heard it said that as composers we write music because we have a creative compulsion to do so; that is who we are as artists. But our music is a way to communicate with others; it becomes the vehicle through which we share our life experiences and musical perspectives. A composer with no audience is like speaking in an empty room or sending a letter to an abandoned home. There is a wonder to the pure act of creation for its own sake, but music lives when it is heard. I feel very lucky that The Green Fuse will be added to NMC’s catalogue, alongside other contemporary music that I love.

The Green Fuse is the second piece I’ve composed for string orchestra and was written in the summer of 2017. It was specially commissioned for the Cheltenham Festival that year. I have been told it was the first premiere that Chineke! ever presented in a concert. It is a privilege to be part of this incredible ensemble’s history and how wonderful for this music to be put on their first album showcasing music by living Black and Minority Ethnic composers. 


James Wilson & Chineke!

James Wilson (right) at the recording sessions for The Green Fuse with Chineke!

The day the music was recorded will be one I will remember for a long time. There are so many surprises whenever we do something new; for instance, I was taken aback by how little our excellent sound engineer, David Lefeber, needed in order to record the music. There was no large mixing desk, just a modest setup with a few cables going into a laptop. It was also great to see Chineke! in action again. Their playing is always full of life and vitality and they play with total commitment. I remember that on the day I had a strong feeling of apprehension but the session went very well; it was all sewn up in less than 2 hours. The session was abuzz with animated discussion between the musicians, the conductor and myself, with our sound engineer also being of great help. It was such a positive day and I am very excited to hear the final result of our efforts once the album is released.

The Green Fuse stands out to me, in my musical output, as a piece through which I most directly explore existential themes. The music is based on a Dylan Thomas poem 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ (1934). The poem is full of rich images and emotion. It discusses a duality in nature: The same force that results in death and destruction powers beauty and growth. Nature is wild and Thomas’ grappling with that fact was fertile ground for a composition to emerge. The music I wrote in this piece, in the same way, has a duality: there are phases of growth and then recession. But conceptually I am not aiming to merely represent this idea in sound. The Green Fuse is my response to this idea identified by Thomas, and a response to his way of expressing his thoughts. His words are a starting point through which the music takes on its own identity. For instance, I can feel a sense of consolation in Thomas’ words, perhaps somewhere in the background of the music I wrote, that might also be present. 

Again I must say, I feel so lucky to have music that means so much to me being recorded and shared. What a fantastic privilege.


Spark Catchers


NMC Release Highlights 2019

The Air, Turning EDMUND FINNIS: THE AIR, TURNINGOfficial Charts

'An intriguing disc of a composer to watch' Gramophone

'Edmund Finnis invites rather than demands attention - and the more it is given, the more its gifts unfold.' BBC Music Magazine  ★★★★★Classic FM

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | Ilan Volkov conductor | Eloisa-Fleur Thom violin | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group | Richard Baker conductor | London Contemporary Orchestra | Robert Ames conductor | Mark Simpson clarinet | Víkingur Ólafsson | Benjamin Beilman violin | Britten Sinfonia | Andrew Gourlay conductor



PathsERIKA FOX: PATHSOfficial Charts



'An intriguing introduction to the vivid soundworld of Erika Fox ... her moment, overdue, has at last come' Guardian

'Full of both kinds of extremes, emotionally and musically ... the music sings of traditions old and new and is utterly Erika Fox's own' BBC Radio 3

Goldfield Ensemble | Richard Uttley piano | Richard Baker conductor





 ‘Freya Waley-Cohen’s Ink is a compelling listen with just the right amount of intrigue and spikiness to hook me in’









'A brilliant, terrific disc' Classical Music Magazine ★★★★★

'[The Recordings] provide striking proof of the vividness of Rands' orchestral writing'. The Guardian ★★★★




'What we like we call real while what we don’t like we call intrusion. David Fennessy shows us the impossibility of separation, the beauty of both.' The Herald

'ironic and clever … a polysemous delight to hear' The Wire





'A most welcome initiative … Colin Matthews’ Ghost Story, an object lesson in conjuring up atmosphere from the most basic means .. or the most testing of all, Tansy Davies’s Hawk, and action-packed two and a half minutes of vertiginous dynamics' The Sunday Times







'Four male voices, precise and pure to the nth degree, topped off with a countertenor shining like a lighthouse beam over polyphony ancient and modern... a commanding performance' The Times

'A powerfully imaginative meditation on Christ's crucifixion' World Magazine





'These three dance-related scores embody a deep compositional deftness' Sunday Times

'unusual and creative... the music is striking' The Art Music Lounge





'There's ingenuity and a keen musical instinct here' BBC Radio 3 Record Review

'This is a fascinating recording; Bailie's imagination knows few bounds.' BBC Music Magazine




Official Charts



'Poetry Nearing Silence compellingly meditates on Tom Phillip's book The Heart of Humument... Anderson responds equally brilliantly to wider-ranging external stimuli' Sunday Times






'The title piece is a large-orchestral unfolding that unites compelling turbulence with rarest detail' The Sunday Times


Staff Picks of the Decade

The Air, Turning Ellie, General Manager

Edmund Finnis: The Air, Turning (2019)

"It's so difficult to pick a favourite from the last ten years but i'm going to select this striking recent release in our Debut Discs series that I have found myself revisiting a lot this year.

Edmund creates a beautiful, haunting soundworld. I love how he writes for string instruments in particular, exploring all sonic possibilities: delicate, subtle and airy through to bold, cinematic lyricism."





The Importance of Being Earnest Lucile, Development & Creative Production Co-ordinator

Gerald Barry: The Importance of Being Earnest (2014)

"There’s always been a special place in my heart for Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It was one of the first albums we listened to in the office when I started working at NMC, and indeed one of the first new music albums I ever listened to, and I was completely taken aback by it. I find it to be just the right amount of bonkers to be absolutely engaging throughout. When then had the pleasure of having Gerald in the office for a live Twitter Q&A, it was such a fun day and you can definitely see where all the energy in his music comes from."




PhotographyAnne, Executive Director

Errollyn Wallen: Photography (2016)

"I love this album for the sheer exuberance of Errollyn’s writing and the completely committed performances.  It has an immediacy which makes it compelling, combining styles and influences effortlessly in music that is completely original and with which the listener is really able to connect.   Some years previously we’d had a project proposed to us, to include the Cello Concerto but we’d not been able to realise that.  So I was genuinely thrilled when Errollyn approached us with this, the first album devoted to her orchestral work."




At the speed of stillnessAlex, Development & Partnerships Manager

Charlotte Bray: At the Speed of Stillness (2014)

"Of the many NMC gems released this decade, Charlotte’s Debut Disc is a firm favourite. With its exceptional performances and colourful programme of exciting music - from the explosive energy of violin concerto Caught in Treetops, to the drama of Replay and intimacy of Oneiroi - there’s something for everyone in this album. The highlight for me is Fire Burning in Snow performed by BCMG and Lucy Schaufer, which really captures the emotion at the heart of the piece and is a great introduction to Charlotte’s musical world."




VenablesRachel, Recordings & Marketing Co-ordinator

Philip Venables: Below the Belt (2018)

"Of all the promotional campaigns I’ve worked on in my time at NMC this was definitely one of my favourites. Illusions is the highlight for me. Brilliant music from Philip Venables, excellent playing from London Sinfonietta conducted by Richard Baker and the unforgettable musings of David Hoyle – what’s not to like? Special commendation for being too punk for the classical charts!"






Artificial Environments Clare, Office Assistant

Joanna Bailie: Artificial Environments (2019)

"I have fond memories of listening to this album when I first started at NMC a few months ago, just before it was released! Joanna’s soundscapes are eerie and unsettling yet strangely nostalgic. The combination of just-about-recognisable processed field recordings with sparse instrumentation in slow-moving forms, make for a fascinating exercise in attentive listening."



On this week's blog, composer Joe Cutler tells us about his second album on NMC, Elsewhereness, which was released in October 2018, and his selection process for the pieces which are featured on it. 

Joe CutlerIn this age of streaming and downloads, there might be an argument that the album format has become outdated and obsolete. But for me, it’s a wonderful and highly creative medium. The process of thinking about what to include is perhaps rather like an artist deciding on what work to present in a solo show. How do you curate the space? It’s exciting to see what relationships and narratives emerge when you place various, contrasting pieces alongside one another. The results can be quite self-revelatory. 

I always take a long time over creating a recording. There are pragmatic reasons for this; firstly, release schedules are generally planned well in advance, so labels prefer proposals which build in a reasonable lead-in time. Secondly, my experience of making records is that funding often happens in dribs and drabs. At Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where I teach, there is a fund I can apply to but the amounts are not vast; certainly not enough for a whole disc. But if you stagger things over three or four years, then gradually something emerges bit by bit. That’s the reason why one of the first recordings on my new album, For Frederic Lagnau, dates from 2014. That was really the start of this whole journey. 

My debut NMC solo album, Bartlebooth, came out in 2008. It was a very important chance for me to bring together a number of key pieces that, up to that point, presented a broad and representative range of my work. Elsewhereness comes ten years later just as I turn 50. In programming this album, I thought carefully about what to include, focussing on works from recent years, including those that might point to future avenues. All the pieces come from more or less the last decade, and what binds them all together is a celebration of creative relationships and friendships. 

BartleboothThe album feels very personal to me. Even the cover is personal; it’s a wonderful photo taken by my brother-in-law Chris Redgrave near where we used to live in Oxfordshire. The image is of a tumble-down-barn set within flat fields which expand outwardly towards a deep, expansive horizon. I feel it captured a sense of ‘elsewhereness’ perfectly. 

The title track, Elsewhereness, was written for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Royal Gala Opening of the new concert hall, and was my first large orchestral piece in over a decade. Having worked at the Conservatoire since 2000, the context of writing this piece felt very close to me. Having quite a long time to compose it offered the chance to really reflect on the impermanence of the cities we construct, and simultaneously think about how to personalise my orchestral “sound”. Whilst my relationship with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire goes back a long way, the piece also presented an opportunity to work with the remarkable Lithuanian conductor, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla.

McNulty for piano trio was a commission from the Fidelio Trio and is also a very recent piece, written in 2016. I’ve known the members of the Fidelio Trio for nearly 20 years, and have worked extensively with the trio collectively and individually. Two members of the group are Irish and I’ve spent quite a lot of time with them in Ireland so I wanted to draw upon that experience. I grew up in a very Irish part of London, have a bit of Irish ancestry, and played fiddle in a band in an Irish pub in Warsaw in the mid-1990s. In McNulty I wanted to create a piece that celebrates a kind of faux-traditional music.

For Frederic Lagnau was a commission for Workers Union Ensemble, and is scored for saxophone, oboe, vibraphone, percussion, piano and double bass. The piece was written in memory of Frederic Lagnau, a French minimalist and complete original. I met Frederic at Darmstadt in 1992. We were both outsiders there, and got on immediately. The piece consists of five short “miniatures” which run continuously from one another, creating a larger whole.

Soprano Sarah Leonard is someone I have worked with regularly since 2002. So much of what I’ve learnt about writing for voice and setting texts has been through her. Akhmatova Fragments is scored for soprano and 11 solo strings, setting short poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova that deal with themes of love, regret, sleeplessness and ageing. I was particularly keen to include these pieces on the album as they have been “resting” for the last 10 years. I’m fond of the structure, the way the first four movements are very brief, concise and self-contained, whilst the final movement is much longer, unravelling in a completely different way.

ElsewherenessSikorski B was written for Noszferatu, a collective I co-founded with three close friends in 2000 (Finn Peters on sax, Ivo de Greef on piano and Dave Price on percussion). The group has been of great importance to me, offering a chance to explore the spaces between genres that I’m drawn to. The title is an homage to Tomasz Sikorski, a Polish composer who, in the words of composer Stephen Montague, used minimalism to “bludgeon rather that to entertain”. I encountered his music whilst a student in Warsaw and was drawn to the relationship between uncompromising structures and emotional intensity. My piece is also a slight foray into the incorporation of improvisation within fixed musical structures, something that is developed in the album’s final piece.

Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder was a commission from the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and was written for Trish Clowes’ Emulsion Sinfonietta, an ensemble that was set up to go beyond defined boundaries of genre. The piece builds on my work with Noszferatu, allowing saxophonist Iain Ballamy and percussionist Tim Giles a free space to navigate through tightly constructed musical sections. The title alludes to football formations, where similar relationships between improvisation and structure exist. Working with Trish and her ensemble has certainly led me onto new ground, and I’ll be writing a substantial piece for her and the BBC Concert Orchestra for autumn 2019. Everything is work in progress really! 


NMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!


In this NMC Archive blog, Helen, flautist from the Marsyas Trio, tells us about their album, In the Theatre of Air, which was released in October 2018. 

Marsyas TrioIn the summer of 2015 we had the pleasure of meeting Welsh-born composer Hilary Tann. We were planning our next commission and invited her to lunch. At that time the Marsyas Trio had been performing Hilary’s Gardens of Anna Maria Luisa de Medici. I love her style, which seems to fuse a French aesthetic with an obvious passion for the Japanese Shakuhachi flute. As we gradually overcame the shyness one feels when meeting a composer for the first time, we bounced ideas back and forth. We had recently witnessed the awe-inspiring spectacle of the murmuration of starlings off the Brighton pier. Hilary loved it. Her music is full of musical visualisations. This was the beginning of a journey which has culminated in the release of this album, aptly named In the Theatre of Air. We can only thank the NMC team for their endless support and hard work. 

Breathing life into a new piece takes multiple performances, numerous sessions with the composer, and deep-diving into the composer’s other work, to fully appreciate what’s been written on the page. And then a recording to ensure the piece lives on and is played by others. 

Since its beginnings almost a decade ago, the Marsyas Trio has championed music by women composers. Our repertoire is full of hidden gems. It seemed only natural to celebrate the Suffrage Centenary with an album by living British women composers. In the early days of the Trio, we put forward programme after programme to concert promoters…“The Great Gender Divide”, “Why No Women Mozarts”… It’s really exciting that so many people are now as enthused about women composers as we are.

100 years ago this album would never have been possible. Now the sky is the limit. Which composers could we include that would represent how far we have come in the last 100 years? How could we represent multiple generations and the vast diversity in musical styles that we have today – with a balance between breaking new ground and touching the soul? 

It’s an immense privilege for the Marsyas Trio to have been able to include the awesome line-up on this album. Judith Weir, the first woman to become Master of the Queen’s Music, a prolific composer whose music is inspirational and multi-dimensional. Our scoop came one Friday evening when I was at home trawling the internet. Judith’s Several Concertos had never been recorded! Or had it? I wrote to her. Indeed there existed no commercial recording. I couldn’t believe it. Here was our opportunity to share something striking and new. Recording is still hugely relevant. And powerful. We now have the ability to reach a global audience via the internet. 

We then discovered the short, poetic piece, Canta, Canta!, by Thea Musgrave and wrote to ask her permission to make a version for alto flute. I love the alto flute. It has the depth of sonority of the bigger wind instruments whilst retaining the lyricism and expression of the voice. This piece translated beautifully from the original for clarinet. In 2018 Thea celebrated her 90th birthday and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music. We had to laugh when we saw Judith Weir had photo-bombed the image of Thea with the Queen, accepting her award! (see the image here)

Alongside these icons of British music, we wanted to represent voices of our own generation. Georgia Rodgers is undoubtedly a unique figure in today’s composing scene. A scientist and acoustician, she has a feel for finding unconventional beauty in sound via a scientific approach. We premiered her piece York Minster at our album launch concert, a piece that explores the acoustic properties of that building, designed with deliberately ‘out of tune’ notes that create a mesmerising experience in colour. 

Finally, Laura Bowler’s work Salutem completes the British line-up. We had commissioned this as a theatre work in 2014. It is a nod to George Crumb’s ground-breaking work Vox Balaenae, and extends on his language and concept to bring us into the Modern Age. Laura is a fearless composer who stretches the boundaries beyond anything I could have imagined. This piece was the biggest challenge for us in the recording studio, demanding that our engineers pull out all the stops in order to realise the ambitious, transformational quality of this work. We performed this with its original Shadow Puppetry at the launch with the fantastic Smoking Apples company. 

To round off the album, we agreed with Eleanor Wilson, NMC’s General Manager, to include a bonus track of a gorgeous short piece by Amy Beach, written a year after American women got the right to vote. Beach was an incredible talent who fought to break social and cultural norms in order to pursue her career. One can’t help but reflect on the juxtaposition of her life and struggle with that of her modern British female counterparts on this album. 

In The Theatre of AirThere is no other ensemble in the UK doing what we are doing – flute, cello and piano trio is not your standard Piano Trio. This ensemble dates back to Clementi and Haydn, yet in the early days we would side-step exclamations of “A Piano Trio with FLUTE??” In our own way, we are trying to break moulds. The Trio’s name reflects the heroic stand of Marsyas against the higher deity Apollo.


NMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!


On this week's Archive Blog, Elaine Gould, NMC Supporter, Senior New Music Editor at Faber Music Ltd, and author of Behind Bars, The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, tells us about all the steps she takes to transform a manuscript into performable scores and parts.


A few years back I received a message from an eminent player: 'The composer tells me he's finished his piece today. Could you post me the solo part 1st class so I can have it to practise tomorrow?'


The player should have known better. When the composer finishes their piece, that's when the  editor's work begins. We oversee the life of the piece from manuscript to first performance, through any revisions – the composer may have some second thoughts after hearing it – to its final form.


I never tire of the thrilling moment I set eyes on a new piece – am I looking at the next masterpiece? The editor is privileged to be often the first pair of fresh eyes to look over what the composer has written.


Most pieces now arrive as Sibelius files although some are still hand-written manuscripts. We read the score as if conducting or playing it ourselves for the first time, checking that what's on the page makes sense – most of the time scores are very accurate – and it is what we think the composer intends. A score is a set of instructions and these need to be crystal clear. An editor is looking for what might be missing: will the performers need further instructions? Often it's a case of adding more information.


I'm hot on practicalities: is the writing fit for purpose? A piece for an amateur choir, for instance, must be of an appropriate level of difficulty so that there's a realistic chance of a decent rendering: I will sing through each line in my head to check there are not streams of intervals too tricky to pitch.


Barry Guy Score


In an instrumental piece we check parts don't disappear over a page turn, or lines move instrument mid-phrase. It's worth noticing at this stage if a 2nd harp part suddenly appears on page 98 when not on the commission brief (ensembles will be reluctant to pay for extra players not budgeted for); that pitches are not written inadvertently out of range, or super-human technical difficulties such as impossible stretches left in. Asking percussionists to dash around the platform playing a number of large instruments is very impressive to watch – but no composer wants to have their piece remembered for that reason!


We plan what materials the piece needs for performance: A piece with voices or an instrumental soloist may need a piano reduction of the instrumental parts for rehearsal purposes.


How will each individual copy look? What size does the music need to be in the conditions it's to be played in? Where is there time to turn a page? On one occasion a composer was surprisingly resistant to my plea 'the violinist is playing non-stop for 14 minutes: please could we add more than one crotchet rest so he can turn the page?'


Our job is to ensure the player has any other information he needs to play his part, since he may not have reference to a score. He'll need to know where to enter after rest periods, so entry cues from other players are very important. Choosing the appropriate cue is quite a skill.


Once the editor has marked up a hard copy of the score, a music typesetter sets about tidying or reformatting it and then extracting instrumental parts. Publishers tend to have a small team of treasured experts who do this painstaking work. Proofs go back and forth from typesetter to editor until the score and parts are formatted for purpose and looking good.


In between times, each instrumental part is checked meticulously against the score by the editor or a proofreader, and any further anticipated problems or discrepancies sort outed. Our duty is to save musicians from wasting their time. Problems not addressed in advance irritate the musicians and take up valuable rehearsal time to sort out. When I talk to organisers about 'workshops of new works' invariable everyone remembers the half an hour sorting out some finer point rather than the qualities of the new piece – which is a great shame.


How music looks on the page is terribly important. Sometimes a composer is carried away with the beauty of the score, adding layers of complexity that look frightfully impressive. Are these really necessary? How will they come off the page in performance? Is it realistic for the musician to absorb masses of detail while following the conductor (or other players) and  trying to project the musical line across to the audience? Is there too much distraction in the notation that's likely to stifle his musicianship? Whilst the editor ensures the musician has sufficient notation in the copy, these questions are of equal concern. It's a fine balance.


Complexity on the page doesn't necessarily mean a piece sounds complex. A simple idea may require copious instructions, a complex musical structure may look almost bland on the page. A composer needn't feel any pressure to make the page look erudite. Masterpieces come in many forms and we look forward to discovering them!


NMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!



All entries in chronological order
14 September 2020
21 August 2020
26 June 2020
18 May 2020
11 May 2020
9 January 2020
16 December 2019
9 December 2019
28 November 2019
21 November 2019