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SoundState 2022: Meet the composers

SoundState at the Southbank Centre celebrates what it is to make music in the 21st century. But whose music making will you be listening to during these five days of creativity and premieres?

Some living, some sadly passed on; some young, some old; some well-known, some only just emerging. The 18 different composers whose works will be performed at SoundState not only come from across the globe, but also span significant spectrums of musical influence, experience and ideology. All of which comes together for a festival where distinct musical styles engage with universal issues, from climate change to the female body.

So, who are these composers? Well, we’re glad you asked. Here’s not only who they are, but where you can hear their works.

Mason Bates in front of a brick wall
Mason Bates by Ryan Schude

Mason Bates

A Grammy-award winning composer of symphonic pieces, and DJ of electronic dance music, American Mason Bates showed an aptitude for blurring his interests together as early as the age of 22 with his Concerto for Synthesizer, which was premiered by the Phoenix Symphony in 1999. Bates has gone on to be composer in residence with, among others, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the California Symphony. His work Liquid interface receives its UK premiere at SoundState.

Composer Missy Mazzoli on a graffitied rooftop

Missy Mazzoli

American composer and pianist Missy Mazzoli has received critical acclaim for her chamber, orchestral and operatic work, and in 2018 became one of the first two women to receive a commission from the Metropolitan Opera House. Mazzoli has been composer-in-residence with both Opera Philadelphia and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and is founder and keyboardist for Victoire, an electro-acoustic band dedicated to performing her music. SoundState sees a UK premiere of her piece River Rouge Transformation.

Composer Rebecca Saunders stands in front of a white backdrop
Rebecca Saunders by Astrid Ackermann

Rebecca Saunders

A multi-award-winning London-born composer, among the gongs on Rebecca Saunders’ mantelpiece are the Busoni Prize of the Berlin Academy of the Arts, the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize , the composition prize of the ARD, and the Mauricio Kagel Music Prize. Much of Saunders's music is based upon a single pitch, or sometimes a small collection of pitches which govern large sections of music, and her compositions have been performed by notable ensembles worldwide, from the Arditti Quartet, to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Her work to an utterance for piano & orchestra receives its UK premiere at SoundState.

Prof. George Walker and Benjamin Steinberg look over a musical score
Prof. George Walker (right) with Benjamin Steinberg. Image from Creative Commons

George Walker

Born in 1922, George Walker was an American composer, pianist, and organist, who became the first African American to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Walker believed that true abstraction is impossible in music – ‘Sound is produced from vibration. Vibrations are felt’ – and that what music has to say is real; it can be said in no other way. His own compositions were influenced by a wide variety of musical styles including jazz, folk songs, and church hymns, as well as classical music. His piece Sinfonia No.5 (Visions) receives its UK premiere at SoundState.

Mark Allan
Visions & Utterances

UK premieres of works by Bates, Mazzoli, Saunders and Walker are presented by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in our Royal Festival Hall on 30 March.

George Lewis, London Sinfonietta

George E. Lewis

Composer, performer and scholar of experimental music, American George E. Lewis is renowned for his work as an improvisational trombonist, and for his pioneering work with ‘computer music’ which he began in the 1970s. The latter saw Lewis create Voyager in the 1980s an improvising software that listens and reacts to live performers, which he has used in interactive performances. SoundState will see the London Sinfonietta give the world premiere of Lewis’ Emergent; The Deformation of Mastery.

Alex Pacton plays the trombone in front of a whitewashed wall
Alex Paxton

Alex Paxton

Composer and jazz trombonist Alex Paxton arrives at the Southbank Centre fresh off the back of winning the Small Chamber Composition award for Sometimes Voices at the Ivor Novello British Composer Awards in December. Despite his young age, Paxton has already written six operas, and has written music for ensembles including three of our resident orchestras, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta. It is with the latter of these that Paxton’s composition Candyfolk SpaceDrum will be given its world premiere at SoundState.

London Sinfonietta orchestra

Works from Lewis and Paxton are given their world premiere by London Sinfonietta in Tapestries, in our Queen Elizabeth Hall on 31 March.

Meredith Monk plays the keyboard on stage
Meredith Monk by Peter Moore

Meredith Monk

Not one to settle for one string to her bow, Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, director, choreographer, and creator of new theatrical works, films, and installations. A pioneer of interdisciplinary art, she has explored diverse modes of perception and expression for more than 50 years, to forge a distinct style that somehow manages to feel both ancient and contemporary. Monk joins us at SoundState to perform music from her acclaimed album Memory Game together with Bang on a Can All Stars.

Meredith Monk & Bang on a Can singing
Meredith Monk & Bang on a Can: Memory Game

Monk performs music from her acclaimed album with Bang on a Can in our Royal Festival Hall on 1 April.

Tansy Davies stands in an industrial setting
Tansy Davies

Tansy Davies

The music of English composer Tansy Davies is informed by the worlds of the classical avant-garde, funk and experimental rock, whilst her scores are known for containing unusual directions, such as 'urban, muscular', 'seedy, low slung', 'stealthy' and 'solid, grinding'. Davies has written works for ensembles such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, whilst her celebrated opera Between Worlds movingly imagined the last hours of those who lost their lives in 9/11. Her piece Nightingales: Ultra-Deep Field receives its UK premiere at SoundState by the Arditti Quartet.

Portrait of Betsy Jolas
Betsy Jolas by Jean-Christophe MARMARA

Betsy Jolas

Unlike most composers of her generation, Franco-American composer Betsy Jolas never encouraged a break with the past and it is felt that her keen knowledge of tradition has often informed her creative drive. A student of Darius Milhaud and Oliver Messiaen, who she served as assistant to for three years at Paris’ Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, Jolas’ numerous works have been performed internationally by orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Her String Quartet No.8 (Topeng) receives its UK premiere by the Arditti Quartet at SoundState.

Portrait of Christian Mason
Christian Mason

Christian Mason

Winner of the 2015 Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung Composer Prize, Christian Mason’s work has been described as ‘astonishingly inventive and powerful, generating a searing, hypnotic intensity’. His orchestral works have been performed by, amongst others, Orchestre National de France, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Founding Artistic Director of the Octandre Ensemble, which promotes contemporary music with regular performances across the UK, Mason has written a new composition for the Arditti Quartet, This present moment used to be the unimaginable future, which receives its UK premiere at SoundState. 

Clara Maïda
Clara Maïda

Clara Maïda

Based in both Paris and Berlin, Clara Maïda is a French composer of experimental instrumental and electronic music. Among the many prominent ensembles, festivals and institutions to commission works by Maïda are the French Ministry of Culture, the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm of the DAAD, Radio France and the Paris International Guitar Festival, whilst her music has been performed by, amongst others, the Arditti Quartet, Orchestre National de Lyon, and KNM Berlin. Maïda’s das spinnt for amplified string quartet is performed at SoundState by the Arditti Quartet.

Portrait of  Violinist, Irvine Arditti
Heikki Tuuli
Arditti Quartet

Works by Davies, Jolas, Mason and Maïda will be performed by the Arditti Quartet in our Purcell Room on 2 April in a performance that is also part of our Purcell Sessions series.

harald hoffmann

Liza Lim

Liza Lim’s music focusses on collaborative and transcultural practices, and ideas of beauty, ecological connection and ritual transformation are ongoing concerns in her compositional work. Lim’s four operas – The Oresteia (1993), Moon Spirit Feasting (2000), The Navigator (2007) and Tree of Codes (2016) – as well as the major ensemble work Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus (2018) explore themes of desire, memory, and the uncanny. A composer who has been widely commissioned by some of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras, Lim’s Sex Magic for contrabass flute with live electronics & installation of kinetic instruments receives its European premiere at SoundState.

Flute player Claire Chase
Ross Karre Documentation Services
Liza Lim’s Sex Magic

On 2 April, Claire chase performs Lim’s Sex Magic as part of her ongoing Density 2036 project in our Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Conlon Nancarrow
Creative Commons

Conlon Nancarrow

The complexity of American-born composer Conlon Nancarrow’s early compositions meant his work was rarely well-performed. He discovered the solution with the automated player piano, and it was for this he composed extensively. With Nancarrow living in isolation in Mexico, it wasn’t until the 1980s that his work reached a wider audience, with Gyorgy Ligeti describing him as ‘the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives ... something great and important for all music history’. Nancarrow’s Canon C from 3 Canons for Ursula is performed at SoundState by Mark Knoop.

Matthew Shlomowiitz wears a check shirt
Matthew Shlomowiitz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Raised in Adelaide and now based in the UK, Matthew Shlomowitz is a composer whose work is largely for chamber ensembles often featuring unusual instrumental combinations, such as Free Square Jazz which is for recorder, electric guitar, double bass and drum kit. He is also known for his interdisciplinary works combining music with video or visual performers and  co-directs Plus Minus Ensemble with Mark Knoop and Vicky Wright, and it is Knoop who will perform Shlomowitz’ Explorations in polytonality and other musical wonders, Volume 1 here at SoundState.

Akiko Ushijima, artist headshot

Akiko Ushijima

Though trained as a composer, Akiko Ushijama’s artistic interest is in expanding the boundaries of music, with her recent works serving as experiments in integrating visual and performative elements with music. Ushijama’s works have been premiered in Tokyo, New York and The Hague, and performed by artists including Gerard Bouwhuis, Susanna Borsch, Bang On A Can and Asko Schoenberg ensemble. SoundState will see the world premiere of her new work, performed by Mark Knoop.

Mark Knoop standing profile to the camera with a patterned shirt in front of a distressed brick wall.
Dimitri Djuric
Mark Knoop

Works by Nancarrow, Shlomowiitz and Ushijima are performed by Mark Knoop in our Purcell Room on 2 April, in a performance that also features as part of our Purcell Sessions series.

Eva-Maria Houben
Courtesy of the artist

Eva-Maria Houben

Eva Maria Houben is a German composer, organist, pianist and musicologist for whom the sensitisation for sound process and perceptual processes play a central part in her approach to music. Houben is associated with the Wandelweiser Composers Ensemble, and as an organist she has given concerts throughout the world for approaching 50 years. At SoundState Houben teams up with GBSR Duo to perform her evocative work for piano, percussion and organ, together on the way.

Couple standing on field looking at camera.
Dejan Mrdja
Eva-Maria Houben & GBSR Dup: together on the way

Houben joins forces with GBSR Duo in our Queen Elizabeth Hall on 3 April to perform her piece for percussion, piano and organ.

Deep Minimalism Festival at St John's Smith Square
Deep Minimalism Festival at St John's Smith Square Credit Alice Boagley 2016

Pauline Oliveros

Pioneering electronic composer Pauline Oliveros was one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, and served as its first director. Technological, and musical advancement were at the heart of Oliveros compositions, and in 1989 she discovered the art of Deep Listening through recording an album in a disused industrial cistern 14 feet underground. The music of Oliveros, who passed away in 2016, is brought to life by flautist Claire Chase in SoundState’s penultimate performance.

Late-night Folk Music performance
Claire Chase presents Pauline Oliveros

Claire Chase plays Oliveros’ experimental solo flute compositions in our Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer on 3 April

Anna Thorsvaldottir in front of reflected lights
Anna Thorsvaldottir. Photo by Kristinn Ingvarsson

Anna Thorvaldsdottir

The music of Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir is often influenced by landscapes and nature; combining intricate detail with a sense of expansiveness, it is full of instrumental colour. Four of Thorvaldsdottir’s orchestral compositions have been premiered by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, with whom she is now composer-in-residence. Thorvaldsdottir’s piece Entropic Arrows will be performed by players from the Philharmonia Orchestra at SoundState’s final concert, Music of Today: How Forests Think.

Wu Wei Sheng Player
Music of Today: How Forests Think

The music of Thorvalsdottir, and that of Liza Lim, features in the final performance of SoundState, in our on 3 April.