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Maestro Nigel Hess, during his key speech at last year's festival (photo: Peter Mould).

Famous composers descend on Hastings

The second Hastings International Composers Festival is now just days away and there will be an influx into the town of some great musical talent from near and far  to complement the surprising diversity of local talent that we enjoy in this great town. HOT’s Chris Cormack describes the various delights in store.

The music being showcased, whilst contemporary and inspirational, is intended to fit the festival theme of Emotion, but it is not just an opportunity to hear beautiful contemporary music in friendly, unstuffy surroundings; it is also a chance to meet some top composers informally, listen to them speak on topics of current interest and see the creative process at work at open rehearsals of pieces, some of which have never been performed in public before.

Stephen Warbeck.

The festival is especially fortunate to be visited by some of Britain’s top contemporary composers, notably Nigel Hess, festival patron, who needs no introduction, Stephen Warbeck, Oscar winner for his Shakespeare in Love score, whose 2013 Bafta-winning Henry IV Suite for orchestra will be performed,  Patrick Hawes and Howard Blake, most famous for his music Walking in the Air for the Snowman, who will see performed his suite for orchestra of the music from the film A Month In The Country.

Since his successful involvement in the music for the French thriller Polisse, which won the jury prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2011, Stephen Warbeck has been increasingly in demand in continental Europe for film music assignments, but anyway he has a prolific record of compositions in film, TV and radio going back 20 years.

Howard Blake.

After an immensely successful period in his 20s at the peak of the London music scene, Howard Blake retreated to the country to work again at the basic pillars of harmony and counterpoint, slowly refining a technique and language that have little in common with much contemporary academic music. The popularity of his music sometimes leads to comparisons with Mozart, a response to a spontaneous melodic gift underpinned with considerable technical skill. There is also something of his one-time teacher Howard Ferguson’s neo-classical idiom. In the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Composers,  Blake expresses his commitment to his style of music which he describes as “melodic, harmonic, contrapuntal, rhythmic, hopefully inspirational and hopefully non-elitist,” and he has a strong sense of music as a cultural adhesive, rebonding a society fractured by civilisation and its discontents.

Another man to look out for at the festival is Robert Draper, who happens to be based in Battle. The festival is showcasing three world premieres of his:

  • Rondo In A for orchestra, performed by members of the Osaka Concert Orchestra and the Hastings Sinfonia; 
  • Piano Toccata played by Japanese virtuoso pianist Yoshiko Nishimura; and 
  • Even Such Is Time for piano and orchestra, performed by the London Gala Orchestra with the Winchester Consort Singers.

Robert Draper (www.robertdrapercomposer.com).

Draper has written major works for orchestra, piano, string quartet and other genres, after studying as a pianist with Russian concert pianist  Evgenia ‘Génia’ Chudinovich. Rejecting the ‘serialist/modernist writings and aesthetics’ that were introduced to him in the 1980s as part of his music and composition studies at the University of London, Robert regards music as a product of and a window into the soul and is, unapologetically, a tonal composer with his own unique individual style. Although classical in form, the driving force of his music is, he states,  the emotional effect that the music has.

Two other composers with local roots featured are Kenneth Roberts and Louise Denny. Roberts is well known as the conductor of the Sussex Concert Orchestra and music director of Opera South East,  but it is less well known that he has recently spent several spells in

Kenneth Roberts.

New Hampshire, USA, where he directed a new African musical which he was commissioned to write. In 2002 he wrote the music for an award-winning international children’s piece produced in New England and fulfilled a commission for the centenary celebrations of Sir William Walton’s birth. In 2005 he completed a commission to write a ballet based on the novel The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy. In late October, Opera South East will mount a production of Madame Butterfly; perhaps they should follow this with a production of Kenneth Roberts’ own opera, Mister Butterfly, which he wrote in 1994  and was premiered in Hong Kong!

Louise Denny is very popular on the local Hastings music scene. She began to write music at age eight or nine and at 13 first had her music performed in public. Louise was described in the 1988 Royal Tournament as “a leading composer of military marches”, but her musical interests and influences span a wide range, including jazz. Her involvement in military music came about by accident when she wrote the Winged Dagger march as a tribute to the SAS which, in the absence of an SAS band to play it, was left to the directors of music of other bands to play. The festival will feature her Danse des Inconnues for orchestra with Mrs Denny on the accordion.

There are too many brilliant people to mention here from the programme, but among them Hastings welcomes a party of Japanese musicians from the Osaka Concert Orchestra led by composer in residence, Nobuya Monta , whose well regarded works will again be performed this year. Everyone is looking forward to hearing Hastings’ very own newly formed orchestra, the Hastings Sinfonia, play for the first time together with the Japanese musicians.

Finally no description of the festival would be complete without mentioning the charismatic Polo Piatti,  without whose tireless enthusiasm (and army of admirers/helpers) there would be no festival. Polo has chosen some of the best from his own prolific writing to be included. He has also donated a a piece of original music to be first prize in a draw to take place on 7 September. Tickets will be sold at the usual sales outlets and at the venue, including on the day of performance.

Second Hastings International Composers Festival

Friday 6 September, 6pm, and Saturday 7 September, starting 10.30am, at St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF.  

Tickets online and at Imagen Art Gallery 20 Claremont, Hastings TN34 1HA (opposite the public library)  and Tony Bowles Carpets, 11 Ferry Road, Rye TN31 7DJ.

Posted 11:16 Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 In: Performance

2 Comments


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT
  1. Chris Cormack

    Thank you for your pertinent comment. I was afraid of making my article too long. You can click on the link by his name to get more information on Nigel Hess.

    Nigel has composed numerous scores for both American and British television productions, including A Woman of Substance, Vanity Fair, Campion, Testament (Ivor Novello Award for Best TV Theme), Summer’s Lease (Television & Radio Industries Club Award for Best TV Theme), Maigret, Dangerfield, Just William, Wycliffe (Royal Television Society Nomination for Best TV Theme), Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (Ivor Novello Award for Best TV Theme and Royal Television Society Nomination for Best TV Theme), Ballykissangel and New Tricks. His score for the feature film Ladies in Lavender, starring Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, received a Classical Brits Nomination for Best Soundtrack Composer, and was performed by violinist Joshua Bell with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Ladies in Lavender was recently voted number 9 in a Classic FM poll of all-time favourite movie scores, and has been in their Hall of Fame since its release.

    While Nigel was House Composer for the Royal Shakespeare Company he contributed twenty scores for RSC productions, and highlights from his Shakespeare scores have been recorded and performed by the RPO in concert as The Food of Love, hosted by Dame Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart. Nigel was awarded the New York Drama Desk Award for ‘Outstanding Music in a Play’ for the productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway. His most recent theatre scores have been for Shakespeare’s Globe, London, and have included The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet and Henry VIII.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 @ 11:48

  2. Rod Smith

    To quote your article “notably Nigel Hess, festival patron, who needs no introduction”.

    Not all of us are familiar with these composers, or know everyone here. I would like an introduction

    Comment by Rod Smith — Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 @ 11:33

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