Gareth Moorcraft is a composer and pianist from South Wales. He read music at Worcester College, University of Oxford, where he studied composition with Robert Saxton. He was later awarded an AHRC scholarship to study for an MMus degree in composition with Gary Carpenter at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). Gareth is currently working on his PhD with David Sawer and Simon Bainbridge (also at RAM). His ongoing studies are generously supported by the Arts Council of Wales. He is one of the winners of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize.

Gareth Moorcraft's piece Reflections (After Gibbons) features on the Philharmonia Composers' Academy album which is available to download here.


Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

Tricky! I don’t have a top five - it changes too often! Still, some pieces I keep returning to at the moment are:

Steve Martland - Crossing the Border (available on NMC)

Benedict Mason - String Quartet No. 1

Michael Finnissy - The History of Photography in Sound

Niccolò Castiglioni - Inverno In-Ver

Hans Abrahamsen - Schnee


Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

My first performance was part of a composition workshop during my first term at university, so I would have been 18 years old. It was a piece for piano and tape delay performed by a fellow student, who did an excellent job! I remember there was something wrong with the venue’s computer patch controlling the delay, so we had to react to some unexpected timings and looping effects during the performance! The results were actually very interesting - there was a good lesson in this experience, I think!


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I’m afraid not, I have always worked in music one way or another! Then again, perhaps a PhD in music composition is a fairly unusual thing to do.


You're stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

Oh dear! Cage, Stockhausen, Handel (with an instrument each)? Perhaps we could redefine lift music.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new quintet (for piano and winds) for the Presteigne Festival and I’m about to start a new work for the Britten-Pears Brass Performance Course in Aldeburgh. Next year, I’ll also be writing a new work for pianist Tom Poster as part of a residency at MusicFest in Aberystwyth and collaborating with UPROAR, a new contemporary music ensemble in Wales. So I have lots to look forward to!


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

I find the work of dancer/choreographer Jonathan Burrows very interesting. In a piece like The Stop Quartet, he finds a wonderful balance between spontaneity and order; it creates (for me) a mystery or secrecy which I find fascinating. I also enjoy the playful element of his work. I’d love to explore some of these ideas in a new music-dance piece.

I’m also really keen to write for viol consort in future; it’s one of my favourite ensemble sounds. I’d love to learn how to write for these historical instruments and try to find a new way to explore their unique sound.


Born in Sydney, Australia, Lisa Illean graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2015 with the Corbett and Hurlstone prize for outstanding achievement and is currently a Soirée d'Or Scholar on their doctoral programme. Lisa Illean's music has been described as 'exquisitely quiet shadows shaded with microtunings' (The Sydney Morning Herald) and 'a compelling exercise in stillness and quietude' (The Australian). Her ensemble works have been performed by the BBC, Sydney and Melbourne symphony orchestras, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Scordatura, Octandre Ensemble and Explorensemble, among others. She is one of the winners of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize.

Lisa Illean's piece Januaries features on the Philharmonia Composers' Academy album which is available to download here.



Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

There have been moments when a piece or a composer has meaningfully altered how I make sense of sound: this happened the first time I heard Luigi Nono live, and the first time I heard a longer Feldman work live too … the physicality of the sound, the presence of those playing and the collective experience of the audience were all part of this mix.  Some improvised music that I’ve heard in Melbourne or London has also had this effect. But I’m wary of making lists.

I’ve recently been listening to/playing a lot of ‘old’ music; enjoying its mysterious lucidity, and the quietly unfolding sense of drama that a different, eddying approach to time affords.


Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

From the year we began working together, my first piano teacher encouraged me to write down really short pieces I would play myself. I suppose I was seven or eight, so they were super simple, odd things—but also strangely meticulous pieces, given that their harmony was so intuitive and irreverent.  I just loved discovering sounds; and the richness of acoustic sound, with all the grains of detail staining it.  Apart from to my family, only one was ever performed: in a student concert at the opera house in Sydney.  That was a nice moment.


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I worked for a violin luthier/magician for a year between studies…


You’re stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

Probably three great friends… ideally Emma would have her projector in tow, so we could settle in as for a long international flight and watch The Long Goodbye and The Passenger back-to-back.


What are you working on the moment?

My next project is a work for voice and electronics, for (terrific soprano) Juliet Fraser.  I’m making sketches at the moment, and my flat is a jungle-installation of microphones and instruments.


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

I have a good friend who’s a visual artist and I’m really looking forward to when we will make something together. His work is often about the perception of time, which is on the surface quite an unstable thing, but also underpinned by simple, cyclical patterns. Over the years we’ve built up an understanding of one another’s work, and a love of making good food together… we’d probably eat very well!


Born in Seoul, South Korea, Donghoon Shin studied composition at Seoul National University with Sukhi Kang, then with Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His music has been performed and commissioned by prominent orchestras, ensembles and festivals such as London Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Festival d'Automne a Paris, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble Recherche, Tong-young International Music Festival, TIMF Ensemble, Exaudi Ensemble and Plus-Minus ensemble. He is one of the winners of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize.

Donghoon Shin's piece The Hunter's Funeral features on the Philharmonia Composers' Academy album which is available to download here.



Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

Gyorgy Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, George Benjamin, Julian Anderson, Unsuk Chin


Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

My first attempt at writing music was when I was 10. After hearing Schubert’s song Heidenröslein, I composed a terrible imitation and played and sang it in front of my family.


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I worked as a librarian for 2 years in South Korea. It’s really a good place to compose. If there are not many kids in the library.


You're stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

It would be good if I could show my scores to Ligeti and ask for his advice. Of course, I know he is quite notorious with his tough teaching style and I’ve heard many stories from my previous teacher Unsuk Chin who studied with him. However, it would be worth showing my scores to the composer whom I admire the most. Even though he says ‘it’s all rubbish!’ as he did many times to his students.

I’d like to ask Borges how lonely he was in his late years and read something for him.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a 10 minute orchestra piece commissioned by LSO through the Panufnik Scheme last year.


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

Perhaps writing an Synth Guitar Concerto for Pat Metheney or a double concerto for Synth Guitar and Synthesizer for Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays? Why? Because they were my musical hearos when I was a teenager.


British composer Colin Riley's work draws on a range of elements including new technologies, improvisation, song-writing, and large-scale classical form. His work is difficult to categorize, embodying a genuine integration of stylistic approaches.

Colin Riley's album Shenanigans is available on NMC here.


Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

Can I choose ten? If so ... can I direct you to a blog about my 'top ten' from last year, featuring Messiaen, Genesis, Bryars, Sylvian? It relates to Lyric Pieces on my album Shenanigans too.



Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

I won the school carol competition with a very traditional 4-part song called Rejoice and Be Merry. This was at my local comprehensive school aged 13. If I remember correctly, I played the piano accompaniment. Some of the choir (particularly as it required SATB) were members of staff. The biggest thrill of the whole thing was watching my teachers singing my tune.


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I think being a music teacher qualifies for quite an unusual job. If things carry on as they are, it might become extremely unusual.


You're stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

It would be good to ask some deep questions to Arnold Schoenberg. I was, aged 16, a massive fan. He seemed to come from another planet in so many ways for me at that age, and was a huge burst of different air. I could try and explain how music has developed in the last 100 years to him. I'm sure he'd be intrigued.

It would also be interesting to discuss the Lake District and children's literature with Arthur Ransome. I could possibly find out if he really was a spy in Russia during the revolution.

Probably Steve Coogan would also be on my list. Our shared Manchester upbringing and the wonderfully familiar references in his comedy always connnects easily to me. I'd be very happy to hear his impressions all day, but would also be keen to ask if 'Saxondale' might be making a return to our screens at some point in the future. 


What are you working on at the moment?

I'm just completing a 10-movement song cycle called In Place. It's been a long time in conception, involving much research, planning, fundraising and finally composing. The songs explore 'a sense of place' in the British Isles. The wonderful thing is that I'm working with eight superb living writers who have each contributed a piece of text for me to set. These have almost all been unexpected, challenging and utterly brilliant. Robert MacFarlane, Daljit Nagra, Richard Skelton, Autumn Richardson, Paul Farley, Jackie Morris, Selina Nwulu and Nick Papadimitriou make up the writing team and bring a massive range of approaches. The project has been funded by both the Arts Council of England, and the PRS for Music Foundation's 'Beyond Borders Fund'. Sound Festival Scotland has commissioned it and it tours the UK from November through most of next year.


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

Probably a film maker like Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. I'd love to get my teeth into something relatively mainstream, but something hard-hitting and political that would reach a lot of people. It would be such a thrill hearing your music pounded out at the high volume of the cinema too.


NMC founder and Executive Producer, Colin Matthews reflects on the life of much loved composer, Imogen Holst. A reissue of her 'String Chamber Music' album is available to purchase from NMC here.

Imogen Holst – Imo to everyone – was inimitable. I met her for the first time in 1971, at a private showing of the television film of Britten's Owen Wingrave. Most of the audience was a little uncomfortable with what was perceived as a not wholly satisfactory experience ('o what a terrible medium' was Britten's private comment) but Imo listened only to the music, and danced with excitement. Watching this seemingly austere, thoughtful person positively explode with unbounded enthusiasm was something I would become very familiar with.

I saw her subsequently in Aldeburgh, when I was working for Britten, and about a year after our first meeting – early in 1972 – she invited me to Church Walk (her home in Aldeburgh, Suffolk) to ask if I would work on the Thematic Catalogue of her father's music, which she was preparing for publication in his centenary year of 1974. This was the beginning of a collaboration which was to last just over twelve years. We prepared new editions of Holst's music – including The Planets in 1979 – and four volumes of a critical facsimile edition between 1974 and 1983; we initiated recordings – notably the first (and still only) recording of At the Boar's Head; and, anticipating the end of Holst's copyright after 1984*, conceived the Holst Foundation as a charitable trust whose main aim would be the support of living composers.

Her devotion to Britten – so evident from her Aldeburgh diary – meant that for the first four years of our working together she was very concerned that this should not prevent me from being available at any time that Britten needed me. She was very scrupulous to avoid too much contact with Britten herself, not only for the reason – with her ability to compartmentalise her life – that she had decided that this was a time she would devote almost exclusively to her father, but also because, just as in the 1950s, she felt that his work was so important that she could not intrude. I only recall one occasion when I was alone with the two of them, at a meal in the Festival Club, where the atmosphere changed dramatically as they walked in. (I have a fond memory of a lunch with Imo in the Club, where she watched with fascination two elderly Aldeburgh residents carefully negotiating the single step in the middle of the restaurant : "I love coming here", she whispered, "it makes me feel so young!")

The double and triple underlings in her diary, together with the exclamation marks, give just a little indication of what her speaking voice was like. But she had two voices (and personalities to match): one for public occasions and broadcasts (link to her BBC Desert Island Discs interview below), almost excessively careful and precise – this went with the figure who would walk along Aldeburgh High Street with her eyes fixed on the far distance, anxious to avoid anyone who might distract her from more important things. In private she could be both voluble and uninhibited, intense yet relaxed, with a capacity for hoots of laughter when something pleased or amused her, which was very often. The switch from one to the other could be dramatic: when you phoned her, the frail voice saying 'Aldeburgh 2865' sounded like somone at death's door; the moment she knew who it was there would be the drop of an octave or more, and the most welcoming of greetings. I don't believe any recording of her father's voice survives, but I imagine that their manner was very similar.

And, like her father, she had many unexpected interests. After her death I found that she had saved for me a book (all her library was marked with how it should be disposed) about particle physics which she had been recently reading, and had annotated throughout. She would not read things unless they could be useful to her – there wasn't enough time for that – but she retained a wonderfully open mind. Though her opinions were always strong ones, she was never inflexible, and took a particular delight in being persuaded to change her mind. This was the case even where music was concerned, and she was always open to the new: I remember seeing her copy of the Proms Prospectus for 1972 where she had marked the concerts she was most interested in, with one marked as a 'must' – the performance of John Cage's HPSCHD at the Roundhouse.

Imo's musical tastes were very decided, and very much her own. She was notably a pioneer in the revival of 15th and 16th century church music, and the programmes that she regularly devised for the Aldeburgh Festival broke much new ground. By the time I knew her this largely belonged to the past, both because she was taking more of a back seat as artistic director and because she felt that others were continuing the work she had begun. But she had other things to concentrate on: her father's approaching centenary made her conscious that she could do more on his behalf (in spite of having written two books, Gustav Holst in 1938 and The Music of Gustav Holst in 1951). This didn't imply a blinkered view of his music. Quite the opposite: her often disparaging remarks in The Music of Gustav Holst caused controversy, and went largely unretracted. She could never reconcile herself to the pervasive influence of Wagner on her father's early music. With some difficulty I persuaded her to agree to a recording of the large-scale Walt Whitman setting, The Mystic Trumpeter, of 1904 (to my mind an early near-masterpiece) and she did grudgingly allow a few other early works to emerge from obscurity. (Even Holst had labelled some of these as 'Early Horrors'.)

Her perception of the occasional weaknesses in Holst's music was, in many cases, accurate, although perhaps she overreacted because of her love for the late works, which she felt had been neglected. But nothing would have persuaded her to allow the disastrous Phantastes Suite of 1911 to see the light of day (apart from its slow movement, of which she was fond). And she made it quite clear that she did not want Holst's royalties (so much more substantial than they had been in his lifetime**) to be used to record The Perfect Fool. She felt that this opera was dramatically inept, and its revival would do her father's reputation no good.

Her trenchant criticisms were not restricted to her father, and she had scant regard for many English composers whose reputations have since flourished in the age of recording. As for her own music, she could be just as critical of that, and my queries about it were usually gently brushed aside. I was delighted that in the mid 1970s she began to think again about composing (although a glance at the published catalogue of her works will show that at no time, apart from the lead up to 1974, did she stop). I suggested to Faber Music that they publish her 1982 String Quintet in honour of her 75th birthday, and this brought her great pleasure ("I feel like a real composer", she said). There was quite a flowering of music in her last years, and after her death I partially completed a Recorder Concerto that she was writing for the 1984 Cricklade Festival.

At Britten's funeral, in 1976, I rounded a corner of Aldeburgh Church to find Imo bursting with excitement because the bell ringers had just executed a particularly felicitous change. It was not possible to be too mournful at her own funeral, because she would not have wanted it: and would have rejoiced both at the words (from her father’s Hymn of Jesus) that Rosamund Strode chose for her headstone – 'Divine grace is dancing - all things join in the dance' – and at its proximity to Britten's headstone. She was more 'alive' than almost any person I have known, and she remains so. More than 30 years after her death I still approach Imo's Church Walk house and expect to find her inside, making the strong coffee that she always served the moment I stepped in the door.


(c) Colin Matthews

Imogen Holst



* The change in copyright legislation in 1996 meant that Holst's music unexpectedly came back into copyright, which finally expired at the end of 2004.

** In 1968 her (and Britten's) lawyer Isador Caplan set up a company to administer her father's estate, quaintly named 'G & I Holst Ltd'. From this eventually emerged the Holst Foundation, a charity which received the income free of tax and was to become the principal funder of NMC Recordings.


Listen to an archive recording of Imogen Holst's 'Desert Island Discs' presented by Roy Plomley on the BBC Radio 4 website here.



colin award.JPGLast night (13 September) Colin Matthews received the Special Achievement Gramophone Award for his unique contribution to British contemporary music as founder and executive producer of NMC Recordings. Following a wonderful and heartfelt speech from Sir Mark Elder (video & quote extracts below), Colin collected his award and received rapturous applause from the recording industry audience.

Congratulations to our dear Colin!



Extracts from Sir Mark Elder's speech ...mark Elder (c) gramophone_0.jpg

"This is an award for a special achievement – make no bones about it, this is not a lifetime achievement award. This is a life that shows no sign of a diminuendo or a morendo and is still actively going. Everybody knows who it is, it’s Colin. My dear friend and colleague for so many years. One of our most acclaimed composers, a man who can take commissions from any orchestra in the world and as a result be responsible for a catalogue of incredible depth and variety and success. He has, in his very busy life, always been interested in the breadth of his involvement. I’m particularly thinking of his interest in his fellow colleagues, his fellow composers, the generosity Colin shows particularly towards younger composers ...

... Tonight we need to focus on another part, yet another part, of his achievement. 30 years ago nearly, he formed, with Gustav Holst’s daughter Imogen, a remarkable woman, the idea of the Holst Foundation. Now many of you may not be aware of this, Imogen Holst was a visionary and this little plan, these meetings that she and Colin had, turned out to be in the last years of her life. And she wanted the funds to become available, as a result of the success of her father’s music, not to go towards his music but to go towards encouraging other British composers. A wonderful dream, a wonderful aim ... So, 28 years ago Colin formed and launched NMC. NMC, ladies and gentleman – can you believe it? NMC stands for new music cassettes. Now, do you remember cassettes? You know those little things that you put in a machine and they play music? Well, they say they’re coming back, I’m not sure! No wonder it’s now known simply as NMC ...

... Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Thea Musgrave, Judith Weir, Simon Holt, Gerald Barry, Helen Grime, Mark Bowden, Huw Watkins – these are names, just a few of the names, that have contributed towards this extraordinary achievement. Almost 300 titles in the catalogue, ladies and gentleman, which speaks for itself doesn’t it? But nobody must think that NMC feels it’s done it and this is the end, and that we’re celebrating something achieved – far from it. Nobody is sitting on any laurels, they are about to launch a series of new education resources for use in schools. Wonderful idea. How do we get young composers to be interested in writing music – to encourage and develop new composers? But also on a more broader base, to foster the idea that one can interest and inspire younger audiences to absorb new music – the openness of young people is a constant inspiration. 

And Colin, I know, believes absolutely that if Imogen was still alive she would be thrilled at what this label has achieved. And it’s not the only thing Colin has done, it’s merely one part of his extraordinary contribution to our musical life. If Imogen Holst, ladies and gentlemen, would have been thrilled, surely we are too and I beg you raise the rafters for Colin Matthews."


Colin (c) gramophone.jpgColin's full acceptance speech

"Thank you, Mark, for those wonderfully generous words. I’m not sure about cassettes but we have been thinking about vinyl!

This is an extraordinary special recognition of what we’ve been trying to achieve with NMC for now nearly 30 years. As Mark said, a catalogue approaching 300 titles and that represents music of over 300 composers almost exclusively living British composers. NMC has, from the start, been something special – we set it up as a charity. We also are fairly unique in the fact that the entire catalogue is still available – we never delete anything and we’re expanding into Education, as Mark has said. Our digital presence is increasing too. Last year over 11 million minutes of our music was streamed or downloaded, that’s 21 years of listening. We couldn’t do this without the support of our growing circle of NMC Friends – but in particular we owe a debt to our wonderful, our small but wonderful staff, who are so dedicated – and to a very hugely helpful board of trustees. Thank you, Gramophone, for this award. Thank you to PPL and PRS for sponsoring it. Thank you all."


Watch from 27'55 for Sir Mark Elder's full speech celebrating Colin's acheivement at NMC, followed by Colin accepting the award ...


photos 2 & 3 (c) Gramophone Magazine



All entries in chronological order
19 November 2009
15 October 2009
27 April 2000