Following a couple of years of delivering workshops and masterclasses via Zoom, it was wonderful to travel to Aldeburgh once more to deliver an in-person course in contemporary music and composition for the brilliant Aldeburgh Young Musicians. We began the week exploring the topic of Rhythm. Following some introductions and warm up games, we rehearsed a seminal work by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen called Workers Union. This piece, composed in 1975, puts rhythm to the fore. The score, written for ‘any group of loud sounding instruments’ is precisely notated in terms of rhythms, but there are no specific pitches; the musicians are to create these themselves in the moment of performance. After exploring the work, the young musicians composed their own rhythm pieces, which we worked up throughout the week into a complex full-scale rhythmic piece.

Musicians taking part in AYM residential course April 2022

AYM residential course April 2022

The next topic of the week explored the idea of Words and Music. We explored text scores by Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros and listened to examples of concert music which incorporated spoken word. Following this, the young musicians created their own pieces incorporating spoken word on the theme of dreams. The results were striking - often quirky, unexpected, and utterly unique.

The final topic of the week was devoted to melody and pitch. We explored different approaches to constructing melodic lines and studied how composers in the twentieth century applied traditional techniques in new ways. The young musicians created a performance of Rzewski’s iconic Les Moutons de Panurge (written in 1969) which begins in quite a traditional manner before descending into (controlled!) anarchy as the moutons of the title follow their leader and jump from the calmness of a boat into the wild unpredictability of the sea!

The final performance on Friday featured just a fraction of the work explored and created on the course. One of the highlights for me was the young musicians’ own magical interpretation of Oliveros' Earth Ears (written in 1982/85) which opened the concert. Throughout the whole week, the young musicians rose to the considerable challenges of exploring this unfamiliar repertoire with a wonderful sense of openness and adventure.

Mark Bowden, composer