Meet the Composers' Academy: Nneka Cummins
20th October 2023Features 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. Nneka Cummins' piece 3 Planets explores the distinct characteristics of three celestial bodies. Throughout the compositional process Nneka experimented with the infinite timbral possibilities of different instrumental combinations to create this trio of sonic realms. Listen to audio excerpts and find out more about their creative process in the article below.
I decided early on in the process that 3 Planets would feature sampled sounds that would be integrated within the ensemble.
This is an extract of the sampler which I built before I had made significant progress on the instrumental writing. I grouped the pitches in approximate ascending order so that they would be easier for a performer to navigate. I used one set of samples for all three movements so that there was a degree of consistency between them but I preserved more distinctive sounds for particular movements, to help distinguish between each sonic world.
The consequence of using a sampler alongside extensive extended instrumental techniques was that it was challenging to fully know the complexity of the sound combinations that I was creating during the writing process.
I was fortunate in that the Philharmonia Composers' Academy gave me the opportunity to test different instrumental techniques so I could hear their quality, dynamics, and could check their reliability. Nevertheless, I spent considerable time creating mock-ups to map against the orchestral part so that I had better visibility of certain aspects of the sonic landscape.
For the majority of the writing stage however, I worked with scoring software that couldn’t represent my underlying writing. Compare the Sibelius audio export below with the same section of music from the finished recording:
At the workshop stage, I gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between different elements within the piece. 3 Planets felt underdeveloped for a long time … until suddenly it wasn’t. At times, composing this piece was a personal test of creative faith, but it certainly was a joy and privilege to work with Philharmonia Orchestra to test and perform these ideas.
Philharmonia Composers' Academy Volume 6 will be released on 27 October. Pre-save on streaming platforms here.
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Composers' Academy Vol 6
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.More info