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Henfrey Prize, Oxford

As psychologists have been observing, our lockdown-wearied brains will thank us for visiting somewhere we haven’t seen before, and so it was when I reached the fabulous 1960s campus of St Catherine’s College Oxford, in a riverside corner of the city which must be quiet even when the rest of the city is groaning with tourists. (Which it isn’t yet, so take your chance to go and see peaceful Oxford while you can.)

I was here to join the remarkable musicians of Trio Atem in a quite lengthy rehearsal workshop as part of the Henfrey Composition Prize. When I say “quite lengthy” I mean this in an appreciative and grateful way. Every minute spent hearing and discussing four intense and carefully conceived works by talented Oxford students was like mental champagne after so many months stuck behing the computer and Zoom screen.

This event was midway in the Prize’s year-long course. Following a selection process for the composers which began last summer, there was a preparatory workshop in October about techniques given by Trio Atem; and following this week’s rehearsal there will be the opportunity to make score revisions before a final concert and recording in June. How rare it is in such enterprises not to be anxiously chasing the clock, or saying “that’ll have to do”. For which, many thanks to the founder of the Prize, Tony Henfrey, present during this session.





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