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Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra celebrates the work of Black British composers

This spring, Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra performed works by Eleanor Alberga and Daniel Kidane, alongside Britten’s orchestral interludes from his best-known opera and a new work by one of Trinity Laban’s talented composition students. The concert, led by emerging conductor Matthew Lynch, forms part of Trinity Laban’s Kaleidoscope initiative, which celebrates the work of Black British composers and musicians.

“Symphony is a loaded word with a long history. It can be programmatic or related to dance. I wrote this symphony because I thought it’s about time I did. It was the perfect opportunity. The title symphony is non-restrictive: it can be a freeing form if one wants it to be.” says composer Eleanor Alberga in the pre-concert talk at Blackheath Halls, in conversation with Dr Emilie Capulet and fellow composer Daniel Kidane. Ahead of the evening performance, the audience gained an exclusive insight into the behind-the-scenes of Eleanor’s Symphony No. 1 Strata and Daniel’s Sun Poem.

Symphony No. 1 Strata was commissioned by the Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra in memory of David Nash, the orchestra’s principal viola and chairman who died in 2017. It premiered in spring 2022 in Bristol and the co-commissioners, the Meadows Chamber Orchestra, performed the work in Edinburgh a few months later. Named by the BBC as one of the best symphonies by female composers, Symphony No. 1 Strata comprises six movements and revolves around two of David Nash’s interests: geology and sailing. The first movement, ‘Firmament’, is based on the old Hebrew idea of a vast glass dome created by God that divides the ocean into upper and lower sections so that dry land can form. ‘Core’ is the “sonic centre” characterised by “constant vibrations” revolving around the notes F and E and creating a tense atmosphere. The heat and pressure rises to form ‘Mantle’, a movement containing a canon that represents the Earth sending signals in Morse code to the sun to not destroy it. ‘Crust’, ‘Sailing on Tethys’, and ‘Plumes’ complete the second half of the composition: an exploration of the Earth’s surface, a voyage along a pre-historic ocean, and the process of subduction where the ocean’s water bursts through the crust with great energy. “Geology told me where to stop”, explains Eleanor.

When writing, Eleanor uses material that reflects her Jamaican musical heritage, but her Western classical training also plays an important role. Her artistic journey started in Jamaica, where she studied the piano from the age of five, progressing to study music at the Jamaica School of Music. She then attended the Royal Academy of Music, became the company pianist – as well as Music Director  – of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and launched a career as a world-renowned composer, with works commissioned for the BBC Proms and the Royal Opera. Her compositions consistently make use of the dichotomy between tonality and atonality, a prominent trait of twentieth-century music. “My world was tilted upon introduction to Béla Bartók’s music.” she states. Eleanor equally emphasises that she “draws on so many composers and different ideas” while putting a unique stamp on her music, meaning it never becomes a pastiche of pieces she has previously heard.

Daniel Kidane’s Sun Poem provides a beautiful contrast to Eleanor’s expansive symphony. A profoundly personal piece, it commemorates the journey of fatherhood and two emotional family milestones: the death of Daniel’s father and the arrival of his first child. Co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony, Sun Poem premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2022, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. The opening trepidation of the woodwind contrasts with reflective string passages, portraying the “nerves and excitement of being a father”. Daniel explains that he found it more difficult to write fast movements when he was younger. However, the challenge was something that enticed him: an energetic, pulsing rhythmical movement thus became his trademark. The inspiration for this piece came from a poem by Kamau Brathwaite, also called Sun Poem, exploring the idea of heritage and paternal lineage. The composition comes full circle, evoking the excitement and turbulence of the journey of fatherhood up until the point that the newborn comes into the world.

Daniel began his musical education at the age of eight when he started playing the violin. He studied composition at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, before studying in St. Petersburg with Sergey Slonimsky and graduating from the Royal Northern College of Music. In 2018, he was appointed Jerwood Composer+, giving him the opportunity to write for and curate a series of concerts with players from the London Symphony Orchestra. He has written music for the likes of the Chineke! Orchestra and the BBC Proms, and is currently a Visiting Tutor in Composition at both the Royal Northern College of Music and Cambridge University.

Trinity Laban student Sam Pugh’s composition À la Baie dé St. Ouën is a prelude for symphony orchestra, written about Jersey’s largest bay. The beach spans almost five miles along the entire west coast of the Island, and across three of Jersey’s twelve parishes; its soft flat sand stretches far into the sea during low tide, contrasted by the surrounding sheer cliffs and sand dunes. Inspired by many visits to St. Ouën’s Bay, and experiencing its vast and expansive landscape across all seasons, Sam kept returning to it as a place of creative inspiration. He therefore sought to create a descriptive piece that depicted the bay in its entirety. Sam’s compositions showcase a unique style, using intricate harmonies and rhythmic complexity, while drawing inspiration from a range of classical, experimental, and electronic music. He continues to push the boundaries of contemporary classical music through his performances and compositions.

À la Baie dé St. Ouën features a recurring motif representing the bay, used to create continuity throughout. The harmony focuses on consonance, gradually evolving in complexity as the piece develops, and the quality of the harmony continuously shifts, much like the slowly changing tides. To further simulate the ebb and flow of the sea, the woodwind swell in and out softly, with support from the brass who gently interject with bell-like tones. A rainstick and suspended cymbal also create a gentle backdrop to the piece, contrasting with the tempestuous timpani and bass drum, who imitate the sound of a far-away storm over the Atlantic Ocean. The strings play a crucial role, serving as the foundation that permeates the entire piece, creating an atmosphere of tranquillity that mirrors the overall calmness of the bay. This is enhanced by the harp, which punctuates changes in harmony and, at the end of the piece, gradually fades away like distant bells. The composition marks the perfect ending to a magical concert by Trinity Laban’s Symphony Orchestra.

The Gold Medal Showcase 2024

Join us to celebrate Trinity Laban musical performance at its finest, with seven student representatives from TL’s music departments competing for the Gold Medal 2024.

The Gold Medal is an annual showcase where seven finalists are nominated by the Heads of Department for their high level of creativity and musicianship, receiving a Director’s Prize for Excellence and giving them the opportunity to compete for the renowned award.

The evening is an exclusive chance to listen to Trinity Laban’s extraordinary students on the brink of promising careers from the departments of Strings, Jazz, Composition, Piano & Keyboard, Wind, Brass & Percussion, Vocal Studies and Musical Theatre, showcasing diverse professionalism from across the conservatoire’s Faculty of Music. The winner is announced later that evening, with audience members having a chance to vote too.

This year, the Gold Medal celebrates a diversity of musical language, and music as a unifying force and expression of what makes us human. Our global creative community brings a multitude of voices and ideas to our home in South East London. Expect music as a theatrical experience as the seven nominees bring their personal language to the stage.

The seven finalists are:

Alina Pritulenko Piano (Keyboard)

Cameron Scott Trombone (Jazz)

Chiara McDougall Musical Theatre

Jamie Elless Composition

Nivanthi Karunaratne Natural Horn (Wind, Brass & Percussion)

Chung-Kwan Salome Siu Voice

Virag Hevizi Violin (Strings)

The competition is judged by a panel of Trinity Laban staff and industry experts, which in previous years has included President of EMI Rebecca Allen and Founder, Artistic and Executive Director of the Chineke! Foundation and Honorary Fellow and Visiting Professor of Double Bass at Trinity Laban Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE.

This year’s competition will be chaired by Dr Aleksander Szram, our Director of Music, and judged by:

YolanDa Brown OBE DL: musician, broadcaster and entrepreneur

Dr Amir Konjani: composer, Situation maker, and performance designer

Last year’s Gold Medal was won by Lewis Chinn, who wowed adjudicators and audience members with his magnificent tuba performance, showcasing impressive technical abilities while giving an emotive and exuberant performance.

Join us next month and witness seven exceptional young artists performing a mix of jazz, classical and contemporary music as they compete for Trinity Laban’s most prestigious prize.

When: Monday 22 January 2024, 19:00

Where: Hall One, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG

Book early to avoid disappointment.


Kaleidoscope: Celebrating Black British Music

Introducing Kaleidoscope, a groundbreaking new initiative celebrating the work of Black British composers and Black musical artists in Britain. The repertoire presented ranges across all genres, featuring solo, small and large ensemble, and staged performances, with selected works set in the context of music by composers from other backgrounds whose work is also frequently overlooked in mainstream programming.  

Kaleidoscope not only provides an opportunity for audiences to experience Black British music from across history and the current moment, but also ensures that our students are exposed to work that reaches beyond the established classical music canon taught in conservatoires, in which Black British composers and artists are routinely overlooked. 

Roger Wilson, Trinity Laban Governor and Founder of Black Lives in Music said: “Kaleidoscope is a bold new initiative. It’s typical of the work that Trinity Laban does in acknowledging and connecting a wider community in terms of students, performers, creators and audiences. There is a rich cornucopia of music to hear as part of the programme, while allowing us to celebrate their creators whose voices are traditionally underrepresented. Don’t Stop the Carnival on 26 October at Blackheath Halls embodied the very spirit of this initiative. It featured the collaborative, creative magic of Kevin Le Gendre and Camilla George and, in turn, heralded much more to come from this programme through to the end of this year and beyond.”

Dr. Aleksander Szram, Director of Music said: “As part of our commitment to amplify the music by hitherto under-represented composers, the Faculty of Music’s public performance programme over the next two academic years will seek to highlight and celebrate the work of Black British composers and Black musical artists in Britain. This ambitious initiative demonstrates Trinity Laban’s determination to make space for more voices, an aspect of our community that is quite unique in the sector and one that holds a very deep personal resonance with me.”

Some performance highlights in the 2023/24 season include:

Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra
Great Hall, Blackheath Halls
Thursday 2 November, 19:30 

Conducted by Alpesh Chauhan and Vicente Chavarria, Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra will perform Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Touissant L’Ouverture op. 46 and award-winning contemporary composer James B. Wilson’s Remnants for Poet and Orchestra.

Coleridge-Taylor was an 19th-century composer and conductor and is an iconic figure in Black British history. Toussaint Louverture was inspired by the eponymous black General, who was born enslaved, and led Haiti to independence from the French. 

James B. Wilson’s Remnants, featuring a poem by Yomi Sode, re-opened the Southbank Centre in 2022. In this work the words and music respond to 2020’s most viral image, depicting Patrick Hutchinson saving a counter protestor at a Black Lives Matter protest. 

Trinity Laban Jazz Orchestra & Big Band
Great Hall, Blackheath Halls
Wednesday 24 January 2024, 19:30 

Trinity Laban Jazz Orchestra will perform works by TL professor, composer and trumpeter Byron Wallen. Byron is a seminal figure in the Jazz world, and has performed with the likes of Chaka Khan, George Benson, Mulatu Astatke, and many others. Wallen is an acclaimed writer and producer whose original scores have been commissioned by the Science Museum; PRS, the BBC, Jerwood Foundation, Southbank Centre, National Theatre, Arts Council, FIFA and Sage Gateshead. 

Trinity Laban Big Band will play alongside Trinity College of Music alum, and acclaimed trombonist Winston Rollins. His background is steeped in music, having been in bands such as The Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Aswad, Jamiroquai, Courtney Pine. Currently he is a member of Jool Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, since 1994 he has been one of four trombonists in the Brass section of the Orchestra. 

Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra
Great Hall, Blackheath Halls
Thursday 28 March 2024, 19:30 

Conducted by Matthew Lynch, Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra will perform Daniel Kidane’s Sun Poem alongside Eleanor Alberga’s First Symphony. 

Matthew Lynch is a regular collaborator of the composers Max Richter and Devonté Hynes, and has performed their music with ensembles internationally. In the 2023/24 season he will be returning to London’s Southbank Centre to perform Beethoven’s Eroica with the Chineke! Orchestra and making debuts with, the Philharmonia, the London Mozart Players, Sinfonia Viva, and the French chamber orchestra, Le Balcon. 

Trinity Laban Chamber Choir with Alexander Douglas
St Alfege Church, Greenwich
Thursday 6 June 2024, 13:05 

Conductor, composer and multi-genre musician, Alexander Douglas, conducts Trinity Laban’s Chamber Choir in a programme that features classical works alongside gospel music.  

Trinity Laban Opera: Dido’s Ghost
Great Hall, Blackheath Halls
Thursday 4 – Saturday 6 July 2024 

As its annual Summer opera, Trinity Laban presents Errollyn Wallen’s continuation of the story of Dido and Aeneas, which frames the original Purcell opera within Wallen’s new drama.