Christopher Morley catches up with the career of fledgling composer and Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Charlotte Bray.
For someone who decided to devote herself to composition only less than four years ago, Charlotte Bray already has some notable successes under her belt.
Although she began her musical life studying the cello, and soon afterwards, the flute, she is now focused on her composition studies with Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Royal College of Music in London.
Born in High Wycombe in 1982, she played with the Buckinghamshire Youth Orchestra, and went on to study cello at Birmingham Conservatoire.
"But I decided to concentrate on composition instead, with Joe Cutler as my tutor," she tells me.
Charlotte's other composition teachers in Birmingham were Howard Skempton, Edwin Roxburgh, Andrew Downes and John Webb. She graduated with first-class honours last summer.
"I wholly enjoyed my time studying there," she continues. "The Conservatoire has a lot to offer composition students, and the contemporary music scene in Birmingham is very exciting."
Among the numerous awards Charlotte Bray has won are the Vaughan Williams Scholarship, Birmingham Conservatoire's Composers Prize and Composers Orchestral Prize, and the Philip Bates Prize for Young Composers (second place and the audience vote). Now she is enjoying her studies with Mark-Anthony Turnage.
"It is a truly wonderful opportunity to study with Mark, who is a fantastic teacher and great inspiration to me."
Her studies are supported with help from various musical trusts, and she is the holder of an RCM Scholarship.
She is also actively involved in school music projects in London, and is planning a career encompassing composition, teaching and educational work.
"I came to composition relatively late, around three-and-a-half years ago. It's been a very exciting, non-stop journey since then."
Among her latest compositions is Cityscape for chamber orchestra, written for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and scheduled for performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on June 1, and she tells me of some other recent works.
"Off The Rails was written last July, as the result of a commission by the young pianist Nicola Eimer for a solo recital at the Cheltenham Festival. Judith Templeman, a violinist with the CBSO and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, commissioned me to write a piece for violin and piano in January 2006. I called it Caught Between, and it was premiered at The Barber Institute.
"Working closely with a performer, as I did with Nicola and Judith, is an aspect of composition from which I gain huge inspiration. I also enjoy writing for film, and I'm currently writing a score for Footsteps, a film directed by Nicolas Dawkes."
Compositional influences for Bray include Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Ligeti and Takemitsu, and she also acknowledges jazz performers such as the Esbjorn Svensson Trio and Brad Mehldau.
On Saturday her oboe quartet Another Conversation is premiered at a Birmingham Chamber Music Society concert featuring the Richard Weigall Oboe Quartet at the Adrian Boult Hall. This was the winning work in a competition sponsored jointly by the BCMS and Drucker's Viennese Patisserie, originally open only to Birmingham Conservatoire students but, from this year, Birmingham University as well. Bray's piece was selected by Birmingham's most eminent composer, John Joubert, and Weigall himself, one-time principal oboe with the CBSO.
Liz Johnson, herself an ex-Conservatoire composition student and now a tutor in composition there, describes Charlotte Bray as "a fine composer with a lightness of touch combined with intellectual rigour – definitely a name to watch."
Saturday's programme, which also includes Britten's early Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings, Beethoven's E-flat String Trio and Mozart's sublime Oboe Quartet, launches what promises to be a busy seven days of chamber music in the Adrian Boult Hall and other venues within Birmingham Conservatoire.
A week of events centring on Elgar chamber music begins on Monday, as John Humphreys, deputy head of keyboard studies and head of chamber music at the Conservatoire, explains.
"This is an annual event, and we have tried to link the chamber music week to important anniversaries – last year Mozart and Shostakovich, this year Elgar and Stravinsky (we could have included Grieg but for programme planning). It came about as a result of discussions within the Conservatoire along the lines of a need to provide a focal point for the year's chamber activities."
Humphreys continues by telling me about the Elgar input.
"We are programming all of Elgar's most important chamber works – the Piano Quintet, String Quartet and Violin Sonata, plus some part songs and the Severn Suite for brass ensemble.
"The week will begin with an important lecture by Philip Lancaster on Elgar's chamber music (Monday February 26 at 11.30am – admission free) and will also include a showing of Ken Russell's BBC film about Elgar made in 1962 (Tuesday February 27 at 6pm).
"An innovative move this year is to arrange a coach trip to Elgar's birthplace in Lower Broadheath, just outside Worcester, on Friday, March 2."
How about Stravinsky?
"He and Elgar make very strange bed-fellows. We are performing The Soldier's Tale, the Wind Octet, Pieces for String Quartet, the arrangement of Petrushka for piano duo, and the Sonata for Two Pianos – and also some songs in the evening on Wednesday February 28 at 7.30pm. There are concerts every day, at lunchtime, early evening (6pm) and evening. The lunchtime concerts are free.
"The Birmingham Conservatoire Junior School is also contributing to the week with a 6pm concert on Monday.
"Each year we act as hosts to distinguished visiting string quartets who give a recital and teach during the week. This year the Chilingirian String Quartet is visiting us with a recital of Grieg (making his only anniversary appearance), Shostakovich and Beethoven (Monday at 7.30pm). The Sylvia Cleaver Chamber music Prize will be hotly competed for on Thursday at 7pm.
"There will also be an opportunity to hear Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Wind, K.452 and Bartok's Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano."