School of Music head wins British Composer Award


Professor Martin Iddon, who leads the School of Music, won the Chamber category in the British Composer Awards for his composition, Danaë.

The awards were created by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) to promote the art of composition, recognise the creative talent of composers and sound artists, and to bring their music to a wider audience.

Before joining the University, Professor Iddon ran music projects in schools for children with no previous experience in music making. He started to wonder how someone would play an instrument if they had never seen it before. This brainwave inspired Danaë where a string trio (violin, viola, cello) use the two bows found in the instruments’ cases, one in each hand, and play with no hands touching the actual instrument.

Professor Iddon said: “Rather than playing the sounds that you have to work hard to make, you’re making the sounds that the instruments almost want to make.”

The trio of professional musicians are told to forget the way they play their instruments and have to learn something completely different from what they have known. The restrictions of not holding the instrument is a sight very rarely seen that Professor Iddon doesn’t want people to miss.

He continued: “A lot of the music I’m drawn to is very slow, very quiet and very long. It seems to ask you to close your eyes and just listen. But I’m always really troubled by the idea that the music might ask you to ignore the real human bodies on stage.”

“The piece is physically demanding. I want people to see the tension in the performers as they play in this style.”

Danaë was described by the judges as a “complex, muscular physical theatre as well as sound – an interesting musical ‘event’.”

This was Professor Iddon’s first nomination and win for a British Composer Award. 

Danaë was shortlisted for the award by a panel of musicians and promoters. Professor Iddon said it was great to hear his work being appreciated, especially at such a professional level.

"You can be composing for years, but you still don’t necessarily know how good a piece is until people actually start listening to it,” he added.

British Composer Awards Artistic Directors, Julia Haferkorn and Ed McKeon, said: “This year’s awards show that British music is alive and thinking, singing and imagining new expressive possibilities. There’s a spring in its step and dreams on the tip of its tongue. The winning pieces reflect the incredible originality and diversity of our new music, making the Awards a terrific showcase of music for all open-eared listeners.” 

The awards were presented on Tuesday evening at London's Goldsmith's Hall. BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the event as part of its Hear and Now programme, from 10pm on Saturday 6 December.

Examples of Professor Iddon's work can be heard on his SoundCloud page.