The London Symphony Orchestra doesn’t rest on its laurels. A century of world-class music making has earned it a global reputation for performances of the core classics. But the orchestra also has a commitment to new works and emerging composers, showcasing the music of today and nurturing the music of tomorrow. Over the last decade, it has established several composer schemes, and a weekend of events at the Barbican Centre in March will give audiences a chance to hear the work in action. LSO Futures is a series of workshops and concerts, presenting new music as it is being created, as well as premieres of commissioned works by former participants.

The orchestra’s young composer schemes were founded in tribute to Sir Andrzej Panufnik, who had a long and productive relationship with the orchestra, as both composer and conductor. The composer’s widow, Lady Camilla Panufnik, explains “When my late husband Andrzej Panufnik visited a leading music conservatoire and heard talented composition students’ works performed by a very hesitant student orchestra, he questioned how these composers were ever going to learn how to compose for the brilliant musicians in the great orchestras of the world? When I was asked to suggest an original music project for the Helen Hamlyn Trust, this need came into my mind.” 

The Panufnik Composers Scheme began in 2005, and has been supported throughout by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, and championed by Lady Camilla Panufnik. Claire Mattison, the orchestra’s Artist Development Associate Projects Manager, says “Camilla is a real advocate and supporter of the scheme. She really enjoys getting to know the composers and their work.” The scheme also has the invaluable support of composer Colin Matthews and conductor François-Xavier Roth, who together lead the workshops each year. This year’s scheme culminates on Friday 11 March with a day-long workshop of new orchestral pieces by eight young composers (admission is free), followed on Sunday 13 March by a concert featuring the world première of Sleep and Unremembrance, commissioned from Panufnik alumna Elizabeth Ogonek.

As well as supporting the young composers, the scheme also has many benefits for the orchestra itself, as Claire Mattison explains. “The LSO relish working with the emerging composers, many of whom are now established. It is gratifying to see composers going on to achieve success, such as Anna Meredith and Raymond Yiu at the Proms, and Elizabeth Ogonek, now composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra loves to share their knowledge, and they love playing, and hearing, new works. The players work closely with the composers throughout the year resulting in a truly collaborative experience. And the pieces are often musically challenging, which the players also enjoy.”

LSO Futures also includes a second scheme, LSO Soundhub, promoting more experimental works for smaller ensembles. Soundhub is based at LSO St Luke’s, the converted Anglican church close to the Barbican that now functions as the orchestra’s rehearsal space, education centre and adaptable performance venue. A performance there on Sunday 13 March (at 4pm, before the orchestral concert) will unveil a new work by Soundhub member Darren Bloom, who has taken full advantage of the flexibility offered to create a multimedia piece, Dr. Glaser’s Experiment, involving animation, innovative spatial arrangements and lighting effects. The composer explains, “Dr. Glaser’s Experiment is named after Dr. Donald A. Glaser, the Nobel Prize winning particle physicist and inventor of the bubble chamber device – a precursor to today’s particle accelerators. Beyond trying to musically illustrate the strikingly beautiful and enigmatic images created by particle collisions in the bubble chambers, I really wanted to celebrate the curious scientific mind. As the piece passes the climax, the harmony undergoes a radical transformation, into a microtonal spectral language that for me represents physicists ‘seeing inside the invisible’ by hearing the inside of a sound.”

‘Radical ideas, and all made possible by the support and resources offered by the scheme and its funders The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Hinrichsen Foundation. “As an ‘emerging’ composer, one doesn’t often get a lot of time to work on projects and simultaneously explore ideas, so Soundhub, with its composer-led organisation, is wonderfully luxurious.” Bloom has found the players’ enthusiasm for new works particularly helpful. “The individuals are incredibly generous if they see that you care about doing your job well. Case in point: the principal harpist got in touch with me the other day to let me know that there was a section in the piece that was quite impractical and wouldn’t get the most out of the instrument. Instead of leaving it at that, he examined the score and relationship between the harp, piano and percussion and made a suggestion that solved the problem without compromising my ideas in the slightest.”

The LSO is also committed to sharing the new works with the broadest possible audience. In 2013, the orchestra’s own label, LSO Live, released The Panufnik Legacies, a CD of works created through the Panufnik Composers Scheme, and a second volume is scheduled for release in April. The orchestra also regularly commissions five- and ten-minute works from past participants for performance in the main LSO season. Digital media plays an important part in the project’s outreach, for example, a promotional video for Darren Bloom’s new work is available on YouTube. And Soundhub has a weekly radio hour on ResonanceFM. “We take turns hosting and programming it and often appear as guests,” says Darren, “that’s a lot of fun!”

But most important are the live performances, and the March events offer an excellent opportunity to hear these fresh new works for the first time. As well as the open workshop, the orchestra has planned two full concerts to present the newly commissioned works. Dr. Glaser’s Experiment will appear with chamber symphonies by Schoenberg and Thomas Adès, while Sleep and Unremembrance will be programmed with two modern classics, Ligeti’s Atmosphères and the Berio Sinfonia. The weekend is also framed, on the Wednesdays 9 and 16 March, by two concerts conducted by Thomas Adès himself. A wide-ranging celebration of new music by emerging composers and established names. Don’t miss it!