Looking back over the past thirty years of working in three conservatoires (Royal Academy of Music, Birmingham Conservatoire and Codarts Rotterdam) I get much pleasure from thinking about the influence that composition and new music has had on these institutions in this time. The exceptional series of composer concerts that Paul Patterson organised for the RAM in the 1980s, featuring visits by among others Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Berio, Penderecki, were a window on a Composition Department that exerted (and still does!) a considerable influence on the Academy.
In Birmingham Conservatoire, Andrew Downes built up a strong and broad Composition Department that Joe Cutler has developed further into a major part of the Conservatoire’s personality. New work is constantly in evidence and the sense of open-mindedness that goes with this has a very broad influence.
And I am delighted to say that Peter Jan Wagemens leads a similarly inspired department in Rotterdam along with Paul van Brugge, Robin de Raaff, René Uijlenhoet and Hans Koolmees. Last night, I attended the first concert this season of the Akom Ensemble, under the direction of Roberto Beltran, playing works by Codarts composition students in a programme where ‘Poems from the First World War meet composers of today’. Beginning with a thoughtful talk on the First World War by Paul Schuurman and followed by a fine performance of Ives’ The Unanswered Question, the featured works set poems by John McCrae, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Alfred Lichtenstein and Wilfred Owen. A moving and beautiful event for Armistice Day in an equally beautiful venue – the Korenbeurs in Schiedam.
What is really interesting is that the Akom Ensemble is a creation of Jan Kuhr who has been a leading student composer in recent years. The ensemble contains graduates and students of Codarts with some other players too, and they provide performances through the year for the Codarts’ Composition Department. This is a really creative way of providing enough performance opportunities for composers and excellent performing experience for emerging professional players. Win, win all round.