In 2015-16, we undertook one of our most exciting young composer project. Below you’ll find the audio-visual guide for ‘Pictures at our Exhibition’. We hope you enjoy experiencing the results as much as we did creating them.
‘Pictures at APO’s Exhibition’ (#APOpictures) is a piece that was commissioned by the Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra (APO) and had its world premiere at The Concert Hall, Reading Town Hall, in January 2016.
#APOpictures was inspired by Mussorgsky’s piano piece ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’; after attending an exhibition of works by his friend Victor Hartmann, who had recently died, Mussorsky was so inspired by ten of the pictures that he wrote a series of short piano pieces depicting them. He also composed ‘promenade’ sections reflecting his own walk around the exhibition, which joins the pictures together into a complete work.
In 2015, while planning on performing Mussorgsky’s piece in Ravel’s orchestration, the APO committee had an idea. We could run a competition to find the best young composers in the Reading area, and give each one the opportunity to compose a musical response to a work by a local artist. From a strong field, we selected four winners aged between 12 and 18: Alice, Robert, Thomas and Tim. In addition, one of our very own cellists, Maeve, an undergraduate composition student at the Royal College of Music, was asked to contribute a piece.
It was at this point that APO teamed up with one of Reading’s leading creative arts organisations, jelly. After a tour of the jelly studios, giving the opportunity to explore the space where the artists work and talk about their creative processes, each composer chose a work by one of the resident artists and composed a short piece of music in response to it.
Our young composers also benefitted from a fantastic workshop with world-famous British composer, Mark-Anthony Turnage CBE. Mark gave up several hours of his time to go through each of the composers’ pieces, giving them guidance on writing for a large orchestra.
APO is one big community, which is why it was particularly special to invite back our very first Young Composers Award winner from 2003, Roger May. Now a professional composer, Roger mentored the current young composers and wrote the music that would connect together the pictures, much like Mussorgsky’s ‘promenades’.
This guide has been written to keep this music alive long after its first performance. Each page is based on a movement from the piece, and shows you a picture of the art that inspired it, tells you about the composer and artist, and gives you a QR code. Scanning the QR code on a smartphone or similar device will allow you to hear the music as it was performed by APO, and hopefully inspire you to create your own music based on whatever sights, sounds or experiences you encounter in the future.
As artists, we find and express our creativity in a multitude of ways, mediums and techniques. At our shared open plan studios, we are daily exposed to and enriched by each other’s practices, see work developing and unconsciously we are influenced by each other’s rhythms. We showed the young composers the artists’ spaces where works are created, taking them into the context of the artists’ work where ideas develop and change. We explained the wide range of approaches, from Julie Simmonds’ expressive way of working with energy to create mixed media pieces inspired by landscape and colour to Mark Webber’s methodical approach to setting limitations and boundaries to what he does. Jim Attewell’s space is as fluid as his work, he moves across the room, engaging with the space, constantly reworking his painterly pieces – they are captured at a point and then the next day they are worked up again. Mark O’Neill’s work is often a solitary practice, taking subterranean photos of darkened unseen spaces capturing a different world of sound, colour and space.
All these pieces became an inspiration point, from the methods to the visual, and this is how the creative connection between artists and composers began.
Suzanne Stallard – Artist and jelly director
How to listen
You can either click on each individual picture on the right hand side, or tap below to hear the entire playlist from start to finish.