During 2021 I was a judge on no less than nine composition competitions. They ranged from some charming songs by primary schoolchildren about fungi to a ferocious set of 35 full orchestra scores by young composers from Hong Kong. Reading new scores is usually hard work, and additionally these days there are a plethora of new internet platforms for the unwary juror to juggle with. In pre-internet days, competition judging could be a sociable event, peering into jiffy bags of scores with your jury colleagues in the room alongside you. But nowadays it's obviously simpler that pdfs of scores are pinged off electronically to the judges, and (not even Covid-related) it's getting rare to have an in-person meeting at all.
Hats off, therefore, to a new composition prize, the Tippett Medal, organised and awarded by the Royal Musical Association. Entries have to have been performed in the previous year, tricky in the last couple of years; but otherwise this one of those rare competitions which has no limit on the age or nationality of entrants, and no entrance fee. Michael Tippett himself would have approved of this generous view.
Also very correctly, the names of the composers were anonymised when the jury members read them. So (54 scores later) it was a particular pleasure to learn that the outstanding winner, an abbreviated 50-minute version of King Lear for two singers and ensemble, had been written by a mightily important university composer, John Casken. I hope that this recognition will bring about many more productions of his new work, The Shackled King.
Equally satisfying was the emergence of Canon X, a stunning oboe/electronics duo as the 'Highly commended" second prize. The composer was Cameron McArthur, someone I hadn't (yet) heard of, who is still a York University student. Finding really creative, adventurous music at the end of the search makes all the jury-member's squinting and scrolling worthwhile.