blog: a diary from a composer by Nathan James Dearden

Being part of a community is special. Whether that is a community of composers, a community of singers, we are a community of individuals with one goal; to create music. And what a community to be welcomed into.

22 September 2018 During the launch for the Adopt a Composer scheme, I entered the room and ambled to an empty chair with a much-needed coffee and started to chat to the people next to me. Small world. The three of us were from South Wales. We had mutual friends (unfortunately justifying the stereotype that all the Welsh know one another). We have worked with many of the same musicians. The two people were Jemma Hughes and Jonathan Rogers, Music Secretary and Music Director of the Swansea Philharmonic Choir. And after the announcement was made, we were to work with one another over the coming year.

25 October 2018 First journey to Swansea. Not for my own music, but to rehearse alongside the choir. And what a choir they are! Warm welcomes. Hugs and smiles all-round.100 people packed into Gorse Mission Hall in Cwmbwrla, Swansea.

There’s nothing quite like the chatter and laughter of 100 people in one space, going over their week with their friends sitting next to them, pawing through scores, preparing their space. There’s something innately musical about that.

Conductor’s foot hits the podium and attention turns to the front. And what are we rehearsing? Benjamin Britten’s 'War Requiem'. Brought out the inner baritone for the evening next to the choir’s Chairman, Adrian Williams, and I was overwhelmed by their sound. Full-bodied. United.

Teachers, NHS staff, students, retired council workers, public sector, private sector, the list goes on. All together for one evening, making music.

22 November 2018 Around 8:45am and I was getting ready for work. Phone rings. Rhys Williams from BBC Wales. Asking whether I could share some words on my work with the Swansea Philharmonic Choir as part of Making Music UK’s Adopt a Composer project. Long story short, one of the most surreal days I have had. By 3pm, I found myself in the BBC Newsroom at Broadcasting House talking down a lens for BBC Wales, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

More information about the broadcast can be found here.

10 January 2019 To my amazement, delayed trains and a 5-hour trip did not mar my enthusiasm. I was ready. A catalogue of vocal exercises and an older piece of mine in hand, tonight I worked with the Swansea Philharmonic Choir.

Clapping, counting and canons. We worked together on clarity of sound, collective sound and allowing our own individual voices to be heard in this mass of sound.

Waves of solo lines. Chorales. Clouds of harmony. It was fun getting to know one another in such a creative setting. As I have been able to get to know some (not all yet as there’s so many of them) by singing with them, I thought bringing an older work of mine along would be a nice way of the choir to get to know me and my music. In just 35-minutes, the choir got to grips with my work te lucis ante terminum. Beautifully read and each singer threw themselves into this new world. Opening up conversations about the months ahead and what music we would like to make with each other.

Here’s to the next workshop.

This blog was written as part of Making Music UK's Adopt-a-Composer Scheme.

2018. a snapshot. by Nathan James Dearden

2018 has been very kind to me.

Thank you to all my friends, family and followers who have supported, loved and inspired me. My music has reached further than ever before and that's all thanks to you. As a quick whilstle-stop tour through the year I thought I would share some of the highlights...

January 2018


MARCH 2018

may 2018

June 2018

july 2018

august 2018

september 2018

october 2018

November 2018

december 2018

Here's to a successful 2019 to one and all!


blog: From Satie to Llwyncelyn / Changing Focus (CoDI Chamber) by Nathan James Dearden

The beautiful aspect of such a residency is the time allowed to develop ideas, explore new territory and the freedom to shift focus.

I knew I wanted to explore alternative musical formats and how we could marry them with live sound (i.e. found recordings or audio-visual elements) for this project. But what recording? The seed for this new work with the amazing Berkeley Ensemble sprouted whist visiting the Tate Modern's exhibition in summer 2018, Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33. Otto Dix to George Grosz. Cold veracity and unsettling imagery.

One work that caught my attention was Satie (The Prelude) of 1925 by Prosper de Troyer (1880 - 1961). A huge painting of composer Erik Satie conducting kabarett and highlighted with a golden halo from a near musician. Glorifying the modernist-maestro status. However aside from its vibrancy and innate musicality, I wanted to create a partner piece for Satie. Erik. A work of music bred directly from Satie that would accompany found video recordings of the composer. An exploration of kabarett, through silent film and a contemporary realisation of the music within.


(All good stories, have a 'but')

The copyright permissions on silent film from this period come with a hefty price (both figuratively and literally). Therefore the focus had to shift. erik (proposed name for the piece) has to be shelved. For now.

And where do I turn? To Cardiganshire? Having listened to National Museum Wales' Folk Song Collection every since studying at Cardiff University some years ago, I fell in love with a 1961 recording of 'Y caseg ddu' (The Black Mare) - a song filled with dark humour and a bittersweet reality of hardship and poverty at the core. However the recording (SFNHM Tape 428. Collected 16.11.61 from Bertie Stephens (hound breeder, etc., b. 1900), Llwyncelyn, Llangeitho, Cardiganshire.) has such a wonderfully visceral quality, with Bertie Stephens providing his own percussion by beating on the table next to him. This is a recording that I could not turn my back on. How could I not do something with this?

And here I am. After two exciting workshops surrounded by talented composers and superb, open-minded musicians, we know have a starting point having introduced CoDI to Bertie Stephens. Starting this project from a very pure place, just using his voice. And little by little going from his world to my world, which is much more 'cacophonous' and has a more urban sensibility.

I am looking forward to getting to know Bertie more over the coming months.

Nathan 'adopted' into Making Music UK / Sound and Music's Adopt-a-Composer 2018 Scheme by Nathan James Dearden

Nathan has been selected onto the Making Music UK's Adopt-a-Composer scheme. As part of this acclaimed programme, Nathan has the opportunity to closely collaborate with the Swansea Philharmonic Choir towards a new 10-minute work to be premiered in 2019 and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

What is the Adopt-a-Composer scheme?

The Adopt a Composer scheme pairs leisure time choirs, orchestras and ensembles with a composer for a year culminating in a première performance and a broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The composer has the opportunity to get to know a performing group and write a piece especially for them to première, while the group has the chance to contribute to the creation of a new work by some of the UK’s most promising composers. Pieces that are composed are usually around ten minutes long (as a very rough approximation) and are usually written to work around your existing repertoire and schedule.

The project is run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music, in association with BBC Radio 3, and funded by the PRS Foundation, Philip and Dorothy Green Trust and Creative Scotland.

Nathan selected for Tŷ Cerdd's CoDI CHAMBER Programme by Nathan James Dearden

Nathan has been selected alongside thirteen Welsh and Wales-based composers to participate in Tŷ Cerdd’s new initiative, which was launched in early June. CoDI Composer Pathways is a multi-faceted programme, aiming to create a community of Welsh composers, promote shared learning and collaboration, and provide creative opportunities.


Six composers have been selected to develop their writing for chamber ensemble over a series of intensive Sunday workshops with tuition and development work given by Lynne Plowman. These include a session on ‘rehearsing and conducting your work with ensemble’ by Wales-based New Music conductor Michael Rafferty. Student’s pieces will be workshopped by the Berkeley Ensemble which will make a studio recording of each and give their premieres at the project’s final concert at Cardiff University. The recordings may be released by Tŷ Cerdd Records and (where composers’ publishing rights/deals allow) also published by Tŷ Cerdd.

The artists’ call was made in June, offering paid creative development opportunities for up to 14 composers. 65 applications were received.

Nathan selected for International contemporary music festival, CROSSROADS by Nathan James Dearden

Nathan is one of fifteen composers from across the world who has been selected to be featured at the 2018 CROSSROADS International Contemporary Music Festival.

15 selected composers have been invited to compose for and participate in the Crossroads Festival and its events, held at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg on 6-8th of December, 2018. Nathan has been paired to write a new oboe quartet for the Hebrides Ensemble, an ensemble which has established itself as one of the foremost chamber music collectives based in the UK.


CROSSROADS aims to promote international cooperation between composition, and contemporary music performance students from different countries. Its main goal is to create an opportunity for young artists to learn from each other, to get to know different cultures and to build international relationships.

This year the Festival is interconnected with the 60th Anniversary of the Studio for Electronic Music of Mozarteum University of Salzburg. This connection has set the focus of the Festival to be electro-acoustic and electronic music. The program will feature composers as Javier Torres Maldonado, Francois Bayle, Barry Truax, Jean-Luc Hervé, Curtis Roads and Elian Radigue, performed by ensembles Dedalus, Hand Werk, Enssle-Lamprecht, Hebrides Ensemble, Platypus and NAMES. CROSSROADS also aims strongly for contemporary music education: four lectures will be held about various issues on composing and working with ensembles.

interview: with Matt London of Tenor Saxophone Index by Nathan James Dearden

Gilly Blair, Nathan Mertens, João Pedro Silva and Luis Ribeiro will premiere 'johannes: canons and transitions' as part of the Tenor Saxophone Collective's extended WSC recital. (Saturday 14 July 2018 | 14:00 Theatre & TD Big Hall Zagreb World Saxophone Congress).

Ahead of this, here is an interview with composer, performer and Artistic Director of the Tenor Saxophone Collective, Matt London:

[ML] Nathan thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Shall we start by talking a bit about your work and career so far? You studied voice and composition at Cardiff University under a number of people including composer Arlene Sierra and Robert Fokkens before moving on to Royal Holloway, University of London to focus on composition as a researcher. Tell us more about what you do, and what you’re trying to achieve overall as an artist.

[NJD] As you mention, I am currently based primarily at Royal Holloway and have totally jumped on-board with all the opportunities thrown my way alongside my research. Working as the College’s Performance Manager, curating their concert series and coordinating all the practical music-making activities, to teaching bit of undergraduate composition and conducting all the new music ensembles (New Voices Consort and New Music Collective). I love the huge breadth of activity you can be part of as a musician and ultimately bringing people together to create good music.

I see all of this perhaps more practical music-making as part-and-parcel of my work as a composer. It’s all linked for me. Especially as I am obsessed with how music can bring seemingly disparate groups of people together in the aim of a mutually beneficial outcome. Perhaps as a composer I see myself as a facilitator. I create the framework (the notes on the page) in which people can step into (the performer/listener). If the margins that I have created are correct or the best fit possible, then hopefully the outcome will be mutually beneficial, and people begin to get on-board with what the music is trying to say.

[ML] Your piece ‘johannes: canons and transitions’ for four tenor saxophones will be one of the chamber works we look forward to premiering in Zagreb on July 14th! What can you tell us about the piece in terms of influences, concept, the inception of the piece etc?

[NJD] I was thinking of this after finishing the work (in that usual ‘post-mortem’ stage that we have as composers) and actually there are lots of interests and even ‘subtext’ hidden within this short chamber work.

johannes stemmed from an older work of mine, dort in den weiden steht ein haus, written for four bassoons (I get a kick from groupings of similar or the same instruments). This takes short fragments from Brahms’ lied of the same title (WoO 33, No. 31) as a sort of reimagining rather than devout homage. This sort of ‘transitional’, scalic passages found in this particular Brahms (arguably in much of the music of the nineteenth century) fascinated me - for better or for worse. johannes allowed me to really exploit this overtly romanticized obsession with scalic transitions, as a sort of idée fixe of my own. johannes perhaps takes this concept ‘ad nauseum’ as a way of building a tension and need for any such resolution.

[ML] Now am I right in thinking that you played saxophone in a former life? Has this had any effect on the way you approached writing for saxophone today? I am curious as a lot of the repertoire is often written by player composers within the classical saxophone community which often follow a set traditions and conventions with the repertoire almost an idiom of its own. As a musician outside the saxophone community I wonder how you see it?

[NJD] Oo, this is a really interesting question.

I did play classical alto saxophone in a ‘former life’ which resulted in me working towards my diploma, but then I turned 18… Unsure what that has to do with anything, but I remember my commitments as a singer picking up. The guilt alone makes me want to pick up my sax again (!)

I think my writing for this line-up and my existing knowledge of the saxophone would surely have some subconscious implications, but then in hindsight much of the music stems from the Brahms’ piano writing so perhaps less so than when I wrote its partner work for four bassoons (which at the time I had no idea of the capabilities or nuances of the bassoon). I like this element of it though. Despite primarily being a singer, I often do not feel comfortable writing vocal music. There is an element of knowing too much or having a clearer understanding of the baggage of existing repertoire. I know many established composer-pianists who hate writing for piano, as they feel they’ll be judged just as much as a performer if their works pans. The unknown can sometimes be refreshing and create some interesting results. Not always of course, but there might always be that occasion where you hit on something special.

[ML] Personally what I like about your music it’s natural lyricism and subtle development akin to choral / liturgical music, so I am really excited to bring your music to the classical saxophone community at the congress in July!

[NJD] Aw, that’s really sweet of you! I am super stoked for hear it.

[ML] Before we finish up, is there anything you’d like to plug?

[NJD] This is my last premiere before setting off on a bunch of new projects, so nothing iminent to plug. Need to get a shuffle-on with a new song cycle collaboration with composer-pianist, Michael Finnissy, who I have become quite close to over the past 4 years or so. We are looking at diary entries and poems written specifically by queer authors from the First World War, and hope to take our findings and musical offerings on tour before the year is out. I suppose just watch this space.

'franz': LPO Premiere in the presence of royalty by Nathan James Dearden

Commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for their 2018 Summer Gala, franz recieved its world premiere last night at the City of London's Guildhall, in the presence of HRH The Duke of Kent KG.

This new set of fanfares for brass ensemble recieved their first performance (conducted by the composer) in the Old Library and Great Hall at the City of London's Guildhall, with around 300 special guests, sponsors and donors of the orchestra in attendance. Special gratitude goes to Paul Beniston (trumpet i), Anne McAneney (trumpet ii), Cameron Johnson (trumpet iii), David Pyatt (horn), Mark Templeton (trombone) and Lee Tsarmaklis (tuba) for their performance and invaluable input.

The LPO's annual Summer Gala this year celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the orchestra's Education & Community Programme, one of the first orchestra's in the UK to place their education and outreach work front-and-centre of their output. In honour of this, all elements of the orchestra's outreach-based activities were represented, from the Young Artist's Scheme to Foyles Future First programme, 100 Hours initiative to the Open Ear Orchestra, plus not least the the highly-acclaimed Young Composer's programme which Nathan was selected for in their 2016-17 cohort.

For three decades the London Philharmonic Orchestra has taken itself off the concert platform and into the community, driven by the desire to share the power and wonder of orchestral music with everyone. On this Gala evening Vladimir Jurowski, the Orchestra’s Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor, will conduct special guest artists in a spectacular performance that also showcases some of the inspirational educational work that goes on day to day, week to week.

For more information about the Gala itself or the work of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, please CLICK HERE

interview: Meet The Artist with the cross-eyed pianist / meet Nathan James dearden by Nathan James Dearden

Composer Nathan James Dearden featured composer in Meet The Artist Blog Series with pianist, writer, concert reviewer, blogger and music lover, Frances Wilson.

Established in 2010, The Cross-Eyed Pianist has become “an important voice in the piano world” (Peter Donohoe, international concert pianist) and enjoys a wide global readership with over 20,000 visitors to the site per month. Regularly updated with varied content and the popular Meet the Artist interview series, The Cross-Eyed Pianist is one of the UK’s leading blogs on classical music.

“It is the convivial nature of music which excites me. People coming together for one common cause: to create music.” - njd.

Please CLICK HERE or on the title to view full interview with Fran Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist.

'it was snowing butterflies' hits the shelves by Nathan James Dearden

it was snowing butterflies for solo harp, published by PoppyHarp Publishing Ltd., has now reached PoppyHarp's Warwick Store.

To purchase your copy or to preview online, please CLICK HERE.