Meet the Composers' Academy: Jamie Man ⽂珮玲

19th October 2023

Articles NMC Recordings

Each year the Philharmonia Orchestra's Composers' Academy offers a group of talented emerging composers the opportunity to write an original chamber work for an ensemble of Philharmonia players, which is then recorded for release by NMC. For her piece Orphans of the Cosmos, composer Jamie Man ⽂珮玲 found inpiration in text by art critic and novelist John Berger, as well as the acoustic properties of the instruments for which she was writing. Find out more in Jamie's article below.

In the dream it was too dark to see his face but I knew it was John Berger. He snatched the last cigarillo from my hand and smoked it. A few months later, after I’d finished writing the first draft of Orphans of the Cosmos, I remembered an excerpt from his last publication Confabulations and realised why a part of me might have been holding onto him:

I propose a conspiracy of orphans. We exchange winks. We reject hierarchies. All hierarchies. We take the shit of the world for granted and we exchange stories about how we nevertheless get by. We are impertinent. More than half the stars in the universe are orphan-stars belonging to no constellation. And they give off more light than all the constellation stars.

John Berger

Classical music has a uniquely fetishistic relationship with the dead so it seemed apt that the sentiment of my piece had already been articulated perfectly in words by a dead person. Question: Who are the orphans?

In my imagination the orphans are revolutionaries. They are those who know subjectivity is not bound to the political fiction of race, sexuality is not bound to the political fiction of gender, self-determination is possible despite the political fiction of national borders, wealth is as fragile as the political fiction of money, unconditional love is bigger than the institution of the family, functional diversity is not a lack, genocide is never okay, no order of power remains forever and they are mobilising. Among the orphans are those who have been systematically dehumanised, censored, silenced and cast into the shadows by the old epistemology which has naturalised privileging one way of being over all others. Despite counter-revolutionary forces, we are now living in a time of unstoppable revolutionary transformation.


Revolutions always act at the borders of impossibility; to make possible what at first seemed impossible. The original musical investigation for Orphans of the Cosmos was to create sound that would seem impossible to have been made with such a small force of purely acoustic instruments. I don’t know why. It seemed interesting at the time. The room is the most important instrument in the piece. The Royal Festival Hall organ; a built-in respiratory system tuned to the body of the concert hall plays drones which extend down into the depths of infrasound beyond the audible frequency spectrum. This is mixed with beat frequencies and other auditory illusions created by the instrumental ensemble. The music in its complete form is scored for sound, light and darkness


Through every piece I make I discover new questions and alternative ways of thinking. That’s the point of making, isn’t it? The 666 seconds of Orphans of the Cosmos has been no different. Perhaps this piece may be received as an invitation: to join the conspiracy of orphans, to step into darkness because it is the only way to see the stars, and to embrace the transformative power of revolution.

Philharmonia Composers' Academy Volume 6 will be released on 27 October. Pre-save on streaming platforms here.

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Volume 6 of NMC's partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra features three new works by rising-star composers Arthur Keegan (he/him), Jamie Man ⽂珮玲 (she/her), and Nneka Cummins (they/them), participants in the Philharmonia’s 2022-23 Composers’ Academy programme.

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