New Music – Music Lab

New Music – Music Lab

Everything you wanted to know about Contemporary Music – But were afraid to ask!

Our Commitment to New Music

“Nothing defines the Orchestra of the Swan better than its commitment to new repertoire.  While it is artistic director David Curtis’s policy to commission works that complement classical pieces, it is his own enthusiasm in presenting them that sustains the exercise.  More-over, his often imaginative programmes have a knack of making connections which are genuinely stimulating.”  The Guardian

Orchestra of the Swan is a major champion of new music and has premiered over 60 new works by established composers and emerging talent including Douglas Cuomo, Joe Cutler, Tansy Davies, Joe Duddell, Alexander Goehr, John Joubert, Joanna Lee, Paul Moravec, Roxanna Panufnik, Paul Patterson, Joseph Phibbs, Julian Philips, Robert Saxton, Dobrinka Tabakova, Errollyn Wallen, Huw Watkins, John Woolrich and many others.

Recordings of new work include Philip Sawyers Symphonies, works for trumpet and orchestra by John McCabe, Robert Saxton and Deborah Pritchard performed by the outstanding trumpeter Simon Desbruslais and joint commissions with Kyo-Shin-An Arts of new work for koto and shakuhachi and chamber orchestra.

OOTS has an extensive programme in schools and with Birmingham Conservatoire and Coventry University which includes its ‘4 Shorts’ and Classic Re-imagined programmes lead by OOTS Resident Composer Dobrinka Tabakova.  Orchestra of the Swan identifies and nurtures new talent, helps train tomorrow’s music educators and offers CPD opportunities for school staff.

‘Four Shorts’ Apprentice Composer Scheme

Four Shorts is a unique project and highly successful scheme that encourages and nurtures emerging talent in schools and Conservatoires.  It sees A level music students working with Conservatoire and University Composition students, mentored and supported by OOTS’ Resident Composer.

Previous Resident Composers have been Errollyn Wallen, Huw Watkins – RPS/PRSF ‘Composer in the House’ – and 2014 -2016 Grammy nominated composer Dobrinka Tabakova  For 2016-18 we will appoint Joanna Lee, continuing to champion female composers.

We nurture new talent, help train tomorrow’s music educators and offer CPD opportunities for school staff, including invitations to rehearsals/concerts and filming/recording of the project for monitoring and evaluation.

Orchestra of the Swan commissions ‘4 Shorts’ from composition students at Coventry University and Birmingham Conservatoire. These last 3-4 minutes and are introduced, rehearsed, discussed and performed before live audiences at pre-concert events at Stratford ArtsHouse.

School students have their worked rehearsed and recorded by OOTS to submit as part of their A level portfolio.  All students are supported by OOTS Resident Composer Dobrinka Tabakova, Artistic Director David Curtis, members of Orchestra of the Swan and music staff of the participating schools.

The scheme has been generously supported by:

  • The Sorel Organization – New York
  • The PRS Foundation
  • Royal Philharmonic Society
  • Ambache Charitable Trust
  • The Tippett Foundation
  • Arts Council England
  • The Betty Baker Legacy


  • Peer to peer learning
  • An aspirational model for all students
  • Opportunities for composers to have work performed live by an orchestra with a strong commitment to and reputation for performing new music
  • Increased confidence for all participants
  • CPD opportunities for school music teachers
  • Further introductions to new music and young composers for our audiences

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation is key to the continuing success and future development of this scheme, we monitor:

  • Number of new works (school and conservatoire) composed, performed and recorded
  • Number of participants
  • Audience attendance – box office data
  • Audience reaction – audience survey

Previous beneficiaries now establishing successful composition careers:

“David Curtis introduced us to a wonderfully gurgly, beautifully scored for gestural strings and buzzing harpsichord, three-minute “short”, ‘Submerge’ by Birmingham Conservatoire student Kirsty Devaney”. Birmingham Post


From October 2014 to March 2015, our apprentice composers, mentored by Dobrinka Tabakova lead workshops with A-level students from King Edward Sixth and Shottery Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon. These workshops will guide the students through the process of composing new work and conclude with recording session of the student A level work performed by members of Orchestra of the Swan directed by Artistic Director David Curtis.

2014-15 Composers In The Series:

Anna-Margarita Oprenova

Anna-Margarita Oprenova 4 Shorts Composer 2015Anna-Margarita started playing the violin when she was four and at the age of six was accepted in the National Music School ‘Liubomir Pipkov’, in Sofia, Bulgaria. Through her teenage year she was awarded First Prize two year in a row at the Annual Aural Competitio “prof. Kamen Popdimitrov” and Second Prize at the XXth National Violin Competition “Vurban Vurbanov” for Performance of Bulgarian Musical Compositions.

After graduating she was accepted with a partial scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire where she studied with the Senior Violin Tutor, Mr. Nathaniel Vallois. Although Anna was very committed to her violin, she had interest in many different styles such as classical, folk and jazz.

She is part of two folk ensembles and has been asked to take part as a leading vocalist at many groups and bands. She has studied with musicians such as Joe Broughton, Peter Daley and Lee Gibson and has performed at venues and festivals such as Town Hall Birmingham, Adrian Bolt Hall, Towersey Festival, Shambala Festival and Cropredy Festival.

After finishing her two years as a violinist she took a decision to transfer to the Composition department. She is currently studying composition with Martin Riley and Howard Skempton. Her music is strongly influence by the Eastern European culture and folk style and her complex interests have allowed her to exceed in all areas of her coursework. She has found opportunities to perform and present music to a variety of audiences with the diverse styles.

Samuel James

Sam james, ComposerSam James (b.1993) is a British composer, performer and musician currently based in Birmingham. His music has been played by ensembles including Decibel, Orchestra of the Swan, the Schubert Ensemble, the Thallein Ensemble (featured on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now) and London CoMA and by soloists including Rowland Sutherland and David Murray; his works have been performed in venues such as Symphony Hall, Birmingham; St John’s Smith Square, London; The Sage Gateshead; and the Adrian Boult Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire.

As well as being a composer, Sam has worked as a pianist with Heiner Goebbels, Diego Masson and Richard Baker and as a guitarist with Alvin Curran and Howard Skempton.

His debut album, Sleep, is due for release later this year.

To listen to one of Sam’s compositions, click here.

Rosemary Clements

Rosie Clements, composerRosie Clements is a young composer who has been studying at Birmingham Conservatoire under Howard Skempton, Sean Clancy and Errollyn Wallen.

She has written music for various ensembles including but not limited to Ensemble Krock, The Schubert Ensemble and Orchestra of The Swan.

Her music has been performed at venues throughout Europe including the Orgelpark Amsterdam and live on Resonance FM. Rosie is also a keen educator and events manager and was the artistic director for Frontiers Festival 2015.

2013-14 Composers In The Series:

Read more about this season

Ryan Probert

Ryan Probert, Composer 2013-14 Shorts SeriesRyan was born in the small village of Clearwell in the Forest of Dean.  His music’s most integral feature is the presence of references to other artistic mediums, The Resonance of Words for example is constructed almost entirely from the shape of Japanese letters, Fire from The Elements contains hidden within each phrase a variety of words related to the subject using Messiaen’s musical alphabet and The Brightest Flame contains music extracted from da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Ryan has been taught composition by a variety of teachers including Joe Cutler, Jo Kondo, Richard Causton, Sean Clancy, Liz Johnson, Howard Skempton, and Michael Wolters, and has been taught conducting by Dan Rosina and Edwin Roxburgh, conducting many of his own premiers. Ryan has also attended masterclasses by composers including Andrew Toovey and Mark-Anthony Turnage.
Click here to hear a sample of Ryan’s previous work.

Yfat Soul Zisso

Yfat Soul Zisso, ComposerSince commencing on her music studies at the relatively late age of 15, Soul has been dedicated to her dream of becoming a composer. She graduated from Cardiff University, studying with Arlene Sierra and Robert Fokkens and for a brief time studying with Alison Kay, before commencing her Master’s degree in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire under the tuition of Joe Cutler and Howard Skempton. Her first orchestral piece, From the Darkness, was performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales with conductor Jac van Steen as part of the Composition: Wales project. Her interests range from the use of different musical sound worlds to children’s books and the exploration of various extended techniques. She is also interested in writing for dance and has composed music for Rambert Dance’s Vintage Rambert project. In addition to composing, she is also a singer, having been a member of BBC National Chorus of Wales for three years, and a choral conductor, having conducted several student choirs.
Click here to hear a sample of Soul’s work which was performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Tom Armitage

Tom ArmitageTom Armitage is a pianist and composer from East Yorkshire. Born into a highly musical family, he took up piano and singing from an early age and achieved a high level in both. Pursuing both piano and composition as his main disciplines, he studies both at the Birmingham Conservatoire with Fumiko Miyachi and Professor Philip Martin, and composition with Michael Wolters and the Ivor Novello award winning composer, Errollyn Wallen. Tom has been composing since the age of 13 when he made his debut on the podium to conduct his first orchestral work. Since then, he has written for many of the finest musicians and ensembles including the Ebor Singers of York, CHROMA Ensemble, the Schubert Ensemble, the Tenby Trio – for whom he was the Composer in Residence for during the 2011-2012 concert season, and Decibel during the ‘Birmingham Frontiers+ Music Festival’. Additionally he has won numerous prizes and competitions for piano and composition, including the ‘Icarus Composition Prize’, a finalist in the ‘National Centre of Early Music Composition Prize’ and a finalist in the ‘Philip Bates Composition Prize’ in 2013. Current projects include a commission for the Conservatorio Profesional de Música Teresa Berganza in Madrid and two CD’s of music from Southwest France and original piano music to be commercially released in early 2014.
Click here to hear a sample of Tom’s previous work.

Kirk Hastings

Kirk hastingsKirk started playing music at the age of 9 on the flute in his hometown between Cheltenham and Gloucester in Gloucestershire. Before the end of year 7 he had picked up guitar, bass, euphonium, drums and percussion to add to his collection. At the age of 14 he made the decision to leave flute behind and pursue mainly in alto saxophone (later Tenor) achieving grade 8 trinity board by the time he was 17. He realised his attraction to composition during his A levels as he was composing a short series called The Monopoly Suite. This piece explored different styles and instrumentation between the buildings and different social/economic classes around a Monopoly board. After school he went on to study Music Composition at Coventry University under the tuition of Dr Tom Williams and Dr Christopher Hobbs in his final year.

Kirk is a diverse composer and enjoys composing for many different circumstances. He writes for orchestral scores as well as his own Rock and Jazz projects. In February 2013 the Messian Quartet (Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano) of Orchestra of The Swan premiered his piece ‘δίνη’(Vortex) resembling the opening of Hades’ portal to the underworld whilst also attempting to create a real sound vortex between the players themselves. Kirk is also currently creating new modern jazz and world music inspired album under the name The KH Constituents and is also keen on writing and playing for musical theatre. Known for doing smaller adaptations of ‘Our House’ in Warwickshire for which he was on lead Tenor Saxophone and is currently co-writing music for a new theatre piece which is set to be performed in May next year. He is intrigued by the exploration of sounds through strings (as shown by δίνη) and is currently working on a new piece for the orchestra’s string ensemble doing just that.
Click here to hear a sample of Kirk’s previous work and click here for the live performance of δίνη.

2012-13 Composers In The Series:

Read more

Kirsty Devaney

Kirsty-Devaney2012Kirsty Devaney (b.1990) is a British composer currently studying with Joe Cutler and Howard Skempton at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Kirsty is only at the start of her professional career but has already gained recognition for her work. In 2011 she was nominated and shortlisted for a British Composer Award for her piece Hadal Zone written for CoMA London. Kirsty has been involved in many projects and had opportunities to work with professional ensembles and performers such as members of the WNO (Welsh National Opera), , CHROMA and many more. Her next projects include writing for Orchestra of the Swan, the Thallein Ensemble, Sarah Watts, CoMA and BCMG (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group).

Kirsty draws influences from many composer including Morton Feldman, Ligeti, Kajia Saariaho, Kevin Volans and has been fortunate to participate in masterclasses with composers such as Huw Watkins, Louis Andriessen, Richard Ayres and Jo Kondo.

A confident and inventive orchestrator and arranger, Kirsty has sold many arrangements online and had them performed all over the world at music festivals by ensembles such as Chroma. She has also been involved in re-orchestrating Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Blood on the Floor for Orkest de ereprijs. Kirsty also plays a key role as an orchestrator and administrator for Birmingham’s annual event ‘The 48 Hour Musical’.

Chris Roe

ChrisRoe-5ShortsChris (b.1988) graduated from Manchester University in 2010, and recently completed a Masters in Composition at the Royal College of Music, studying with Kenneth Hesketh and being awarded the RCM Adrian Cruft Prize for Composition. Chris worked closely with ensembles including the RCM Wind Ensemble, London Sinfonietta. Composers Ensemble, East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, and l’Arsenale with UK performances in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Britten Theatre, National Portrait Gallery, and the St. Magnus festival, and international premieres in Prague’s Rudolfinum Concert Hall and the Etchings Festival in France. In 2011 Chris won the International Antonín Dvorák Composition Competition, and more recently reached the final of the Villiers Quartet New Works Competition.

Chris has a diverse range of musical interests with recent projects include a chamber opera for the RCM Opera School and Tête à Tête, a performance of Immortal Coils  by NonClassical, and work on 51 Prod.’s recent film. Chris has also recently received funding from the PRS/Bliss Trust to study the use of electronics in music for a week at Paris’ famous institution, IRCAM, and will be participating in the Aldeburgh English Song Project, composing new songs to be performed at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival in a masterclass with Ian Bostridge. As well as composing, Chris holds various teaching positions, sings with chamber choirs Chantage and Cantus Ensemble, and is a keen jazz pianist.

Ian Fisher

IanFisherIan Fisher (b. 1992) is currently studying Music Composition at Coventry University. A commercial composer at heart, Ian has scored original music for various video-games, animations, and iphone/android applications. In 2011 Ian won the Coventry University Composition Competition for the Children and Young People’s Palliative and Complex Care programme.

His current projects include a series of 4 pieces fusing traditional Japanese music with modern electronic dance for fitness-class company Dansu Fitness, as well as the soundtrack to old-school isometric RPG Fabula Divina, developed by DarkOwlStudios.

Freya Waley-Cohen

freya-waley-cohenFreya Waley-Cohen (b.1989) graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2011. She is currently studying with Simon Bainbridge at the Royal Academy of Music on the Masters program.

Her first orchestral work, ‘The Jester’s Silhouette’ was performed in January 2012 by the Knighton Chamber Orchestra at the Embrace Arts Centre. She wrote the score for Chris Storey’s short film The Room, shown at the Voice of the Grain exhibition in the Ambika P3 gallery, as well as at the British Film Institute. Freya’s solo cello piece Haunted Heaven was performed at the 2012 Spitalfields winter festival. 2013 has featured performances Freya’s work by CHROMA ensemble and the Blossom Street Singers.

Freya’s Clarinet Trio Incense was shortlisted for the Presteigne Festival International Composition Competition 2009, receiving a workshop with Huw Watkins, Catriona Scott, and Bozidar Vukotic. Freya currently runs the ListenPony series of new music concerts, which she cofounded in 2012. ListenPony gives young composers performance opportunities, at venues such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and most recently Arch 402 Gallery in Hoxton. Freya has been appointed composer in residence at the 2013 Northern Chords festival at The Sage Gateshead, writing and arranging for musicians such as Ben Johnson and Mark Simpson. Other upcoming performances include a new choreography to her trio for double bass, baritone voice, and bass clarinet, Thel on the 15th of May at the Roehampton Dance Festival.


Classics – Re-imagined 2015-16

Classics – Re-imagined is a new project for 2015-16 and will encourage young musicians at Stratford College and Stratford High school to ‘re-imagine and re-interpret’ some of the great baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century repertoire using their own contemporary idioms; rock, pop, rap, electronic etc.

Students will be invited to attend OOTS ArtsHouse rehearsals and concerts and to choose their own inspiration from OOTS ArtsHouse concert programme to re-interpret in an idiom of their own choice, supported by OOTS musicians and Resident Composer, Grammy nominated Dobrinka Tabakova.

Students will introduce and perform their ‘re-imaginings’ in informal pre and post-concert events in the ArtsHouse Atrium, presenting a unique opportunity for our audience to hear Bach, Beethoven or Britten, re-imagined by today’s young people in a contemporary genre.


Beats-in-the-Bar 2015-16

Beats-in-the-Bar 2015-16 continues our partnership with Stratford ArtsHouse and sees groups of OOTS musicians presenting informal performances in the bar from 5.00 – 7.00 pm on selected evenings.  Join us for a relaxing early evening drink, conversation and music from Bach to the Beatles, see ArtsHouse Beats-in-the-Bar for further details.

Dobrinka Tabakova, Resident Composer

Dobrinka Tabakova, composerFollowing OOTS prestigious ‘Composer-in-the-House’ award from the Royal Philharmonic Society and PRS for Music Foundation we are delighted to announce that the Sorel Organization, New York, has given grant aid of $60,000 to enable Orchestra of the Swan to appoint the Grammy nominated Dobrinka Tabakova as OOTS Resident Composer 2014-16.

The Sorel Organization grant will support Dobrinka’s work as OOTS Resident Composer which will include several commissions, including a major work for the Shakespeare 400 anniversary in 2016, close involvement with OOTS Learning and Participation Programme and giving pre-concert talks and introductions to her own music and that of other major influences on her own work.  During her Residency Orchestra of the Swan also plans a CD of Dobrinka’s work.

Her work will see Dobrinka encouraging young composers of the next generation in OOTS ‘4 Shorts’ project, especially encouraging young women composers in composition projects at Stratford Girls Grammar School

The Sorel Organization 


The Sorel Organization intends to create opportunities for women in composition, conducting, piano, voice and film scoring. Our mission is to keep musical excellence alive and to help expand the boundaries for women in music.

Claudette Sorel

Claudette Sorel trained under Olga Samaroff Stokowski, Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. At the age of 10, she made her New York Town Hall debut and the following year performed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

Miss Sorel made more than 2,000 concert, recital, and festival appearances and played with 200 major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, NBC Symphony, and London Philharmonic. She recorded for RCA Victor, Monitor and Musical Heritage and has given premiere performances of works by Lukas Foss, Harold Morris, Paul Creston, Peter Mennin and others. Her numerous awards and citations from the time she was 12 include the Ford Foundation Concert Artist Grant and the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Award (as its youngest winner). She judged for countless international and national music competitions.

The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc

The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc., established in 1996 by their daughter, Claudette Sorel, is a 501©(3) private foundation. Through our Medallion program The Sorel Organization intends to create opportunities for women in composition, conducting, piano, voice, and film scoring. Our mission is to keep musical excellence alive and to help stretch the boundaries for women in music.

Participating Choirs and Orchestras

  • Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra
  • Musica Sacra
  • Melodia Women’s Choir
  • Santa Fe Desert Chorale
  • The New York Philharmonic
  • Orchestra of the Swan
  • The Maryland Symphony Orchestra
  • The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra
  • The New York Youth Symphony
  • The Janacek Philharmonic


Stratford Box Office
Book tickets via the ArtsHouse Box Office on 01789 207100 or online at

Birmingham Box Office
Book tickets via the THSH Box Office on 0121 345 0600 or online at