Transforming Communities

Kimie Composition Prize

Kimie Composition Prize

Matt Zurowski was on holiday from university last summer, about to enter his third year studying music composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Out of the blue, he received an email from his tutor inviting him to submit a music demo of his work, as he'd been put forward for a music prize.

Matt did as his tutor asked, and was "very surprised" when his tutor got back in touch soon after, to tell him he had won, and was being awarded £1000 from Live Music Now Scotland. The prize is part of LMN Scotland's policy of commissioning brand new classical music, and giving an emerging composer an opportunity to have their work heard. The funding for the prize was donated by Kimie Trust, who give financial support to organisations promoting music performance and appreciation in Scotland. Kimie Trust was established in 2009, in memory of Kimie Okada (1929 – 2008), a music lover from Tokyo who moved to Edinburgh and was always keen to support music in the country that she had made her home.

"It was amazing," says Matt. "I was really shocked when I heard." Carol Main, director of LMN Scotland sat down with Matt to explain what the award, the inaugural Kimie Composition prize, would involve. "I was being given money to compose a new, special work," recalls Matt. "The piece was to be played in a place where you wouldn't normally find classical music. Carol explained what the charity does; putting on concerts in places like schools, nursing homes and remote locations."

Matt, a 21-year-old undergraduate student, was delighted to hear that his brief for the composition was "very open-ended", and he was shown a long list of musicians and music ensembles that LMN Scotland work with. "I was told I could choose which ensemble would play my piece – which was a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop", says Matt.

He chose to write a piece for the Erskine String Quartet, as he was impressed with their work, and had never written music for stringed instruments before.

The inspiration for Matt's composition came from a series of black and white surrealist photos that he had found online. Building on his interest in German abstract and expressionist art, Matt began composing a series of three short pieces based on the photos, titled Monochromes. Consisting of three different pieces, Monochromes is intended to be suitable to play in a variety of situations, providing the Erskine Quartet with new repertoire that is suitable to play in concerts, to use in workshops and to play in varying outreach circumstances.

"I also chatted a lot to the Erskine String Quartet performers – to find out their musical influences, and what they enjoyed playing personally. I found it much easier to write for them when I understood the dynamic of the quartet a bit better, and which composers they enjoy."

Matt described the resulting composition as, "brooding, melancholic, but hopefully lush and beautiful". It has been performed several times in front of an audience now, most recently at Applecross Nursing Home in Barrhead. Pam Ribbeck, activities coordinator at Applecross, has been working with LMN Scotland since September 2013, to bring live music into the care home for residents to enjoy.

"The residents are mostly used to listening to songs from musicals or Scottish folk music – 'Que Sera', or 'The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen', they enjoy the old songs that are familiar to them," Pam explains. "But they've really enjoyed the chance to hear different kinds of music – and you can see it gets a very positive response from a lot of them."

When Matt's Monochromes was being performed, one of the residents, Jenny Chatterton, sitting in the audience, began conducting the quartet with her hands.

"She absolutely loves music," says Pam. "She really concentrates on what's being played and listens hard. She particularly enjoys when the String Quartet come in to play."

Matt is delighted his composition is getting an airing in front of audiences now, and found the process a gratifying one. "We're always encouraged to be pretty free at uni – I've written for string quartets, turntables and samplers in the past, so it was great that the Kimie commission was also very open. I'd never written for a care home audience, before, so it was exciting to think about ways of engaging with a completely different listener from what I'm used to. My thanks go to Live Music Now and Kimie Trust for this fantastic experience and to the Erskine String Quartet for their continued help and patience."

Monochromes will make regular appearances in the Erskine String Quartet's future concert programmes.

Written by Claire Sawers, who recently joined the LMNS staff team as their first Press and Marketing Officer.

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