Composer profile: Benjamin Oliver

Going from strength to strength, I caught up with composer and conductor, Benjamin Oliver.

What have you been up to since Sounds New last year?

It’s been a quite a busy year!

Over the summer, leading up to the performances in December, I was involved in the final stage of the International Composer Pyramid, run by Sounds New and Coups de Vent. I wrote a new piece for the competition, Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. I didn’t win this time but was delighted to be voted best piece by the audiences in the UK and France and also by the musicians playing the music!

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Ben Oliver (second from right) and members of Workers Union at Sounds New in 2012

Apart from my composition work I also began a permanent position as Lectureship in Composition at the University of Southampton in October. I have worked in various roles at the University for a couple of years but it’s great to be working full-time and helping develop the new music activities within the music department.


The Workers Union Ensemble has also been busy preparing and rehearsing for a burst of activity later in 2013. We have been awarded funding by the PRS Foundation for Music, which has allowed us to commission new works from Joe Cutler, Danny Saleeb and Matthew Kaner as well as run a call for new three-minute works. We have concerts planned at the University of Southampton, Birmingham Conservatoire and LSO St Lukes in October and November. Members of the ensemble also featured in the RMA Postgraduate Student Conference composition workshops in January, which were chaired by Michael Finnissy.

What are you working on at the moment ?

I’m currently writing two new orchestral works; Lullaby for Joni for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Loop Concerto for Kent County Youth Orchestra (KCYO) and jazz pianist Ivo Neame. The BBC SO commission comes through a ‘Sound and Music Embedded Residency,’ which includes two workshops with the orchestra at Maida Vale studios to try out ideas. It has been fantastic to work closely with the orchestra and conductor Garry Walker to try out ideas.

I am particularly honoured that KCYO asked me to compose piece for their fiftieth anniversary concert in September. I played in the orchestra for many years so it feels like a bit of a homecoming gig. Ivo Neame is also an alumni of the orchestra so it should be fun!

What impact (if any) has being involved with Sounds New last year hah on your musical life since last May?

The opportunities Sounds New have given me over the past few years has been great. I have been treated to two fantastic performances of my work and I know that the recognition of an international festival has been really useful. My recent KCYO commission, for example, partly came about because Peter Bolton from Kent Music heard Momentum being played by the London Sinfonietta in the festival last year.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

I’m excited by discovering new sounds and new ways of doing things. The contemporary music that interests and excites me tends to challenge the listener. That is music that challenges preconceptions and endeavours to say something new. I’m drawn to dirty grooves so music that engages with pulse or loops in intriguing ways generally floats my boat!

What should we keep an ear out for in the next twelve months from you?

7th September 2013
Kent County Youth Orchestra Fiftieth Celebration Concert @ Mote Hall, Maidstone
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9; Britten: Sea Interludes; Ben Oliver: Loop Concerto featuring Ivo Neame.

9th November 2013
Workers Union Ensemble @ LSO St Luke’s’
Featuring new works by Joe Cutler, Danny Saleeb and Matthew Kaner.

14th November 2013
BBC Symphony Orchestra @ Maida Vale Studios
Featuring new works by Ben Oliver (Lullaby for Joni), Aaron Holloway-Nahum and Tom Coult.

Right, I should go and compose some music now!!

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Ben at a recent BBC Symphony Orchestra workshop: image credit Aaron Holloway-Nahun

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Follow Ben on Twitter and Workers Union on Twitter.

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