RPS Composers Programme

Temi Salau

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Establishing yourself as a professional composer is rarely easy. Now, as the pandemic continues to impact classical music, this has undoubtedly become even harder.

Annually, the Royal Philharmonic Society Composers programme aims to transform the prospects of promising composers and we are pleased to welcome applications for 2021.

Besides offering a commission – performed with one of a range of noted ensembles, venues and festivals – we support a cohort of composers taking critical steps towards establishing their careers, and equip them with the skills and confidence to seek further commissions and performances of their own beyond the programme. We do this through a year-long range of sessions and activities from Autumn 2021, including the opportunity to meet and draw insights from key figures in the music business and professional composers, workshops to develop skills that will enable you to promote yourself and your music, as well as individual sessions looking at your own personal objectives that we will help you to fulfil.

Furthermore we will give you an insight into the range of settings in which you and your music can have real impact, encouraging you to think more about the scope of everything you can do as a professional composer. Composers in the pandemic are recognising they need to draw upon, adapt and apply their skills in lateral ways, and we want to give you insights and encouragement into where and how you can do that yourself.

By being selected for the programme, we will proudly present you as an RPS Composer, part of a distinguished lineage that goes back to Beethoven and Mendelssohn, helping you get the recognition your music deserves. Your continued success beyond our programme matters hugely to us. As such, we will hold one or two consequent sessions with you and the cohort some time after you have completed your year with us. This will give you the chance to reflect together on what you have achieved as a result of your year on the programme and consider what further resolutions you next need to make.

‘This sort of support is like gold-dust at this point in my career.’
Laurence Osborn, RPS Composer 2018

What does the RPS offer? Usually we grant around seven commissions which last year had a value of £2,000 each, for a chamber or solo work plus its premiere performance with a leading ensemble, venue or festival in the UK. Each of these valued partners plays a vital role in your experience, giving you a practical insight into their creative work and how you as a composer can most fruitfully collaborate with more such organisations in future. Moreover, from Autumn 2021 you will attend a number of sessions through the year designed for you to set goals, make plans, and enable you to establish a good footing in the music profession, meeting contacts who will be invaluable for your future. We are particularly grateful to Schott Music – with whom the RPS shares its premises – whose team lend their expertise to several of these sessions helping our composers address a range of practicalities of being a professional composer and offer individual specialist guidance. We estimate all such activity will take place across approximately 15-20 days over the course of the year.

Our current cohort of composers is writing for Cheltenham Festival, Music in the Round, players from the Philharmonia, Presteigne Festival, and Wigmore Hall’s Composer Apprenticeship scheme. To give you a greater impression of what is offered, you can read about our current commissions and the composers fulfilling them. While plans are still taking shape, we expect a similar range of opportunities to be offered anew in the year ahead.

With each partner, we will set the brief and parameters for the work you are going to write in the first months of the programme with a view to you being able to make significant headway with it from the start of 2022. Each will have its own submission date, likely a month or two before performance and premieres take place from May to December 2022.

Interested in hearing first hand about the programme and what this year’s cohort have been up to? Have a listen to Alex Woolf’s New Notes podcast episode with 2020-21 RPS Composers Rūta Vitkauskaitė, James B Wilson, and Sylvia Lim, who take us inside their RPS experience so far.

Who is it open to? Vitally, you should be at a stage where you are able to demonstrate genuine commitment to establishing a career as a composer, both in what you write in your application, and also in the proficiency of the music you submit. You may have recently graduated or be coming to the end of your studies, but equally a formal degree or equivalent qualification is not compulsory. We recognise that composers pursue many different routes, so we look forward to hearing your individual story.

Please note, this opportunity is not open to those studying at Undergraduate or Masters level from September 2021 onwards. If you are still studying, we recommend that you focus on all that your college or university can offer, and you’re welcome to apply in a future year. Composers working towards a PhD are welcome to apply. Equally, given its purpose to help establish your career, this opportunity is only for those aged 18 and above.

We’re always keen to hear from those who have not considered applying to the RPS before, but you are equally welcome to apply again if you have in a previous year, so long as you take the time in your application to tell us what has been creatively occupying you since you last applied.

We are continually striving to address how we can minimise barriers to the widest possible range of applicants. We are proud to have adopted Sound and Music’s Fair Access Principles and are also signed up to the Keychange initiative, aiming to achieve 50:50 gender parity in the composers we support. We warmly welcome applications from composers of all backgrounds, particularly under-represented demographics, such as those who are Black, Asian and ethnically diverse, and those who are disabled. In this, we actively invite applicants to declare such characteristics in their application form, though this is not compulsory. We are also keen to ensure the application process and opportunity is as widely accessible as possible. If you feel that any part of our offer – or the experience in applying for it – could inhibit you or a candidate from applying, please do let us know (our contact details are below), and we will be happy to address this. We warmly welcome feedback and are keen to hear from anyone who may have identified potential barriers to applying.

What is the process? We strongly recommend you read the Application Guidelines before applying and continue to consult it throughout the application process. Applications can be made via our online application form (linked below). You will also need submit three of your compositions as PDFs for consideration by our panel, uploading these to a dedicated Dropbox folder. Selected applicants will be invited to an interview in June to talk more about your music and aspirations. We love to have the chance to meet and chat to all those we interview in person at our offices in London, but are very glad to accommodate remote interviews (for instance, over Zoom) where traveling is particularly difficult or not possible for some.

What does it cost to apply? There is no application fee or cost to those who undertake the programme.

When is the closing date? The closing date is midday, Tuesday 23 March 2021. We regret we cannot consider any applications or supporting materials received after that time.

Is this the ‘RPS Composition Prize’? Yes, this is the opportunity previously known as the ‘RPS Composition Prize’ though we changed the name to reflect that it offers more of a lasting association with the Royal Philharmonic Society, given that its recipients join our distinguished roster of composers which dates back 200 years.

If you have any further queries not addressed in the guidelines, you can contact our General Manager Robin Sheffield at robin@philharmonicsociety.uk or call one of the team on 020 7287 0019 (our voicemail will be checked daily whilst we work remotely, and we will reply to messages as soon as we can).

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