Monday, August 12, 2013

On competitions

Clarinettist and Twitter pal Heather Roche recently wrote an interesting post about composing competitions. She asked a number of questions of composers about the whole business of entering competitions. As I spent ages wibbling on in the comments in reply, I may as well recycle that into a post here.

I have very mixed feelings about competitions generally, which are a lot to do with the notion (drummed into me as a teenager by a cherished teacher) that the very idea of a competition is utterly opposed to what music should be about, and of course nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I never win the damn things. Nevertheless, I've entered a number of them over the years. This is partly as it's just one of those things you do, but it's also because I suffer from anxiety, and it sometimes seems like a way of getting my scores out into the world in a way that keeps things at arm's length, in some way, and makes it feel less like ACTUAL PEOPLE are JUDGING my music. As I've got older and lost most of my enthusiasm for the idea of career-building, these occasions have become fewer. Strangely, last month I put in for five or six competitions/calls. This was simply because I happened to see a lot that seemed like they might be interesting for one reason or another, or happened to be asking for pieces written for a lineup I'd already written for, or just seemed to fit in one way or another with an idea I already had at the back of my mind. So far I've had three outright rejections, one promising but noncommittal response, and deafening silence from the rest (probably because the deadlines are not reached or only just gone).

So with that in mind, and apologies for the length of this reply (I'm struggling to stay awake through this, god knows you just be losing the will to live), here are some answers to Heather's questions:

"what about a call for works makes you want to submit a work?"
Generally, an opportunity that fits in with whatever my interests are at the time, or fits a piece I've already written or have half written or have in mind, or features musicians who I think might be sympathetic to what I'm trying to do, or just sounds like it might be interesting.

"What makes you hesitate? What makes you run away screaming?"
Deadline! It amazing how often I find out about something about two weeks before the deadline. Maybe that's just me though. These days I'm less inclined to submit unless I can do so online; frankly it costs money that I don't have to print scores. I'm not so keen on the idea of writing for an obscure instrumentation (unless it's a really interesting one), as it's a lot of time to spend on something that may not have any use beyond the specific competition; remember, I never win these damn things. Fees (see below); I know a lot of groups, festivals etc. are short of money. But so am I!

"How can festivals or ensembles encourage you to submit?"
I've done the "turn up at a rehearsal, do a workshop, get a recording" thing, and while it's not entirely without its merits, these days what I really want to do is work with people who are interested in what I'm doing and might be interested in more than a one-night stand. So I guess anything that sounds like I won't just be rep fodder would attract my attention more.

"Under what conditions might you think it acceptable to pay a fee to enter a competition?"
Generally, never. I have entered competitions where a fee was payable in the past. I look back at those as money I might as well have burned.

"What kind of prize would you expect or like to see offered in both situations in which you have paid and those in which you haven’t?"
All I really want from these things is a performance, the opportunity to work with some sympathetic musicians who'll take the music and the aesthetic seriously and be helpful of technicalities and forgiving of my misjudgments, and ideally a connection with some musicians who I might want to work more with (and vice versa of course).

"Having described the situation at the Witten festival, does that sound like something you would be interested in, or advise your students to submit pieces for?"
Yes it does, and I did! But as I say, I never win these damn things, and so must add that to my ever expanding collection of rejection emails. C'est la vie. I console myself with the satisfaction of having gotten a working piece written in only a couple of weeks; I actually think it's one of my favourite things I've written for a while, so I hope it'll get a chance somewhere else.


Lucia said...

I read all the way to the end and was interested!

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