The joys of Adopting a Composer

Volunteer Rosemary Allen found out more about Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s successful partnership with emerging composer Seán Doherty.

Jeremy Bradshaw, who has been playing violin in the orchestra since 1996, told us that new music – often challenging for players and audiences alike – has been at the heart of KSO’s repertoire ever since they were founded 59 years ago. Composers represented in their programmes have included, among others, Thomas Adès and Judith Weir.

Sharing with their audiences the excitement and sense of achievement of a world or UK premiere is one of the aspects that makes playing in KSO so rewarding. The aims of Adopt a Composer seemed to gel perfectly with our own. We were particularly excited at the chance to work with Seán and contribute to the composition process itself. We had never been asked before by a composer to describe in words what kind of analogies the concept of an orchestra conjured up in their minds, and were intrigued.

The first play-through of Seán’s initial ideas was inconclusive, but many of the orchestra’s members felt there was something of value beginning to take shape. They have learned from experience, that the fog of incomprehension one struggles to penetrate on a first outing with a new piece, usually clears at some stage during the rehearsal run. Seán was creating sounds that, for many of them, were absolutely new – in terms of both the end results and the technique required to generate them.

One of the high points was when the new orchestral sounds starting fusing and we realised we had never heard anything quite like this before. But best moment was the concert performance, when our concentration was tightened up and we were determined to do justice to this talented, tirelessly energetic, young man and his compelling ideas.

It has reinforced their belief that they must continue to support good new composers and help get their work out there. Jeremy’s advice to other groups attempting a similar project, is ‘to be deadly serious about it and accept that it will be challenging and quite possibly confusing. But there is no alternative to giving it 100% and studying and playing it the very best way you know how – and the rewards, as always, will reflect the effort you invest’.

Find out more about the Adopt a Composer scheme.