Composing for BBC Concert Orchestra

Radio 3 New Generation Artist, saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes looks forward to the premiere of her newest work

Composing for BBC Concert Orchestra

On Tuesday 18 November I’ll be performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to launch my third album, Pocket Compass, and to premiere my commission for the BBC Concert Orchestra and my band. This very much feels like the finale to my two years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.

It’s been an action packed two years filled with many memorable moments. There have been opportunities to get all sorts of ideas realised, be it my own two-night festival, Emulsion, a Late Junction session with violinist Donald Grant and actor Peter Cant or the session of my ‘Odd Trio’ with cellist Louise McMonagle and drummer James Maddren.

I have always been fascinated by the textures and forms of classical music. A full orchestra especially provides so many colours. I was brought up on classical, but discovered jazz at about 13 or 14 and quickly took control of my listening and CD collection at home. I was a huge fan of Keith Jarrett, had found the music of Iain Ballamy via the iconic 1980s big band Loose Tubes, adored all the Miles Davis recordings I could find and then discovered the music of Wayne Shorter.

I loved his angular and beautiful melodies, his quirky harmonies, his highly individual sound and his approach to improvising. As well as his small band playing and writing, he had many larger ensemble recordings like The All Seeing Eye and High Life, not to mention all the imaginings of Weather Report… the list goes on and on. If you don’t know his work, go and check out his discography!

I had found someone to look up to, whose concept for life and music was totally inspiring to me. This enabled me to think about how I would bring my musical worlds together – small band jazz and the orchestral textures I had been brought up with. I was also a big fan of Astor Piazzolla and had an ear for any kind of jazz that was a bit different – I adored Iain Ballamy’s album All Men Amen.

Over the last ten years or so I have written a lot of music for my band, sometimes incorporating strings or woodwind. On my first album I managed to bring together enough people to record two orchestral tracks. I’ve written songs, started messing around with effects pedals (inspired by my guitarist Chris Montague) and based music on poems or stories, finding inspiration wherever I can.

When I started the NGA scheme I had meetings with the BBC Concert Orchestra about how I could collaborate with them and two ideas quickly emerged. The first was to record 20 minutes of music with them on my next album, and the second was to work towards a live performance where I would premiere a commission for them. We recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios in January and now we are in the autumn – not far from the album release, and I’m in the thick of making the final touches to my piece for the orchestra, entitled 'The Fox, The Parakeet and The Chestnut’.

On 19 September I got to hear the first draft of my composition played by the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Clark Rundell in a workshop, which was a fantastic opportunity (see photo below). Hearing how all the textures I’d imagined fitted together was really useful and I could ask myself questions like – do some sections need to be bigger? Can I make the colours more interesting? How will the written material fit with my own group improvising over the top? Clark is really supportive and encouraging and he’s definitely given me the confidence to be more daring with my writing, introducing me to other pieces of music he thinks might help me with my approach or the sound world I’m looking for.



I’ve also really enjoyed checking out a lot of percussion music for this commission. The guys in the percussion section of the BBC Concert Orchestra are fantastic so I wanted to feature them as much as possible. I asked a friend for some percussion music recommendations and I got totally hooked on Ionisation by Varèse – what a piece! Other pieces that have really caught my ear in the last year or so have been Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, John Adams’s Gnarly Buttons, Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos 10 and 15 and, very recently, Mahler’s Third Symphony, thanks to an excellent Prom I went to.

Perhaps most significantly, I have had several opportunities to hear Wayne Shorter’s orchestral projects live over the last couple of years, and have been able to observe rehearsals and sound checks. These have been invaluable learning experiences.

I can’t wait for November 18 – it’s going to be such a special concert for me. My music is part of a larger programme which includes the incredible vocalist Norma Winstone and a premiere from the BBC Concert Orchestra’s associate composer Guy Barker. The concert is part of the EFG London Jazz Festival and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

Last but not least, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone that has supported me over the last 2 years – what a ride!


Trish Clowes, BBC New Generation Artist (saxophone and composition)


Trish Clowes will perform 'The Fox, The Parakeet and The Chestnut’ with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 18 November. Visit for more information 

Pocket Compass is out on 10 November on the Basho Records label





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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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