Notes from last night’s ‘from darkness into light’. New Music in the South West season finale, performed by Kokoro at St George’s, Bristol. Sunday 18 Sep 2016

There can be little doubt that it’s hard to get new music into the ears of listeners, no matter what the genre happens to be. It can be especially difficult if you’re a new or relatively unknown writer of compositional music. Which is why Dr Julian Leeks, himself a composer, took up the challenge to get more people to hear new music written by young and little-known composers, particularly those working in the south-west of England.

In 2012, Julian founded New Music in the South West (NMSW). The not-for-profit organisation now holds an annual concert to showcase some of the work of its associate composers as well as holding the finale of the NMSW Young Composers’ Prize. This year’s imaginative and cleverly designed programme was entitled from darkness into light. It opened with five dark and unsettlingly eerie compositions – little-heard works of established 20th-century composers including György Ligeti’s L’escalier du diable and Benjamin Britten’s Funeral Blues (arr. Iain Farrington). The first part of the programme came to a close with two transitional pieces – the stress-laden Baros by Lois Wyatt (commissioned by NMSW) and the nightmare-ridden The Pains of Sleep by Julian Leeks, taking the listener on journey from the darkness into the edges of light.

Next in the programme came the three new compositions short-listed for the NMSW Young Composers’ Prize. Each one gave hope for a new dawn and a bright, optimistic future for classical composition in the hands of the next generation of writers. The three pieces – The Journey by Max Mitchell, Apis Mellifera by Emily Winson and the winning composition, Bridge of a Life by Sam MacDonald, displayed a great deal of originality, technique and the composer’s ability to take a compositional idea and bring it to life with clarity and definition. The air of confident optimism continued to the programme’s conclusion with performances of Lux by Stephen McNeff and Totti by Graham Fitkin.

Enthusiasm and passion for new music was in abundance on the evening and NMSW shows great signs of going from strength to strength over the coming years. Education, and supporting writing and composition is at the heart of its own ambition, and also at the heart of the dedicated Kokoro ensemble who brought the music to life on the night with some wonderful performances. I doubt that anyone in the audience remained in the dark about the bright optimism for the future of new music. Perhaps one day we’ll see the local aspirations of NMSW taken to a national level, as these new works most definitely need to be heard again and again.

Debbie, Notes from Last Night