Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and Classical Sheffield are pleased to announce the winners of the Stella Jockel Young Composers Competition, part of Classical Sheffield Festival Weekend 2023.
Mason Birch and James Thomas are joint winners of the competition, which was organised by Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus with Classical Sheffield. Mason and James share the £2,500 while Robin Morton wins £1,000. Rachel Fright and Reuben Tozer-Loft are runners-up.
Mason (26), Robin (33) and Reuben (22) were born and raised in Sheffield, and all three went to King Edward VII School. Rachel (34) works in Sheffield and James (24) studied music at the University of Sheffield, where Mason studied engineering. Fourteen scores were sent in, and anonymised before making them available to the panel of judges, to ensure the works would be judged on the merit of the composition alone. Our heartiest congratulations go to these worthy winners!
“It was splendid to see the commitment shown by the fourteen local young composers who submitted their work for the competition” said George Nicholson, Emeritus Professor of Composition at the University of Sheffield, who headed the four-strong panel of judges, “Mason’s piece shows an impressive sense of harmonic movement, while James employed a very convincing and effective structure. Though different, we all agreed they were equally fine, and we were pleased to award first prize to two worthy winners.’
Mason Birch – joint first prize winner
Mason is a 26-year-old self-taught composer who was born and raised in Sheffield. He studied music at King Edward VII School, and graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Mechanical Engineering degree.
Mason’s inspiration for writing music came during his early teens when he came across Gustav Holst’s The Planets by chance. He taught himself the basics of composition in his spare time using The Theory of Harmony by Arnold Schoenberg, which gave him a detailed education in composition as well as a keen interest in philosophy and its relation to art. Mason greatly enjoys composing and entering his work into competitions; he was shortlisted in Benslow Music’s Young Composer’s Competitions of 2019 and 2021.
James Thomas – joint first prize winner
James Thomas is 24 years old and currently lives in Durham. He studied music at the University of Sheffield, graduating with a first-class degree in BMus followed by a distinction for his MA in Composition. He was awarded the Julian Payne First Year Prize and the Julian Payne Postgraduate Scholarship. He is undertaking a PhD in instrumental and vocal composition, generously supported by a University of Sheffield Faculty of Arts and Humanities Scholarship.
As a composer James has worked with professional performers and ensembles including The Ligeti Quartet, The Hermes Experiment, The Orlando Consort, Ensemble 360, Sheffield Chamber Choir and Trio Northumbria. He has studied conducting and has a strong affinity with choral music, having sung in choirs throughout his time at school and university.
Robin Morton – third prize winner
Robin Morton is a 33-year-old freelance singer, composer and conductor based in Staffordshire. Born and raised in Sheffield, he attended King Edward VII School and sang with Sheffield Cathedral before taking up a choral scholarship at Cambridge. In 2018 he gained a Postgraduate Diploma in composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, followed by an MMus and then a Postgraduate Diploma in singing at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Robin has performed with a range of vocal and operatic groups including The Apex Singers, Kantos Chamber Choir, Ex Cathedra, the Buxton International Festival and Via Nova Vocal Ensemble, and has made various recordings and broadcasts.
The competition is funded by a generous legacy left to Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus by ex-member Stella Jockel, a Sheffield teacher and vicar’s wife who died in 2020. Candidates had to compose a short choral work for a mixed choir to sing unaccompanied in at least four parts. The text was commissioned from award-winning poet Katharine Towers, who sings in the alto section of the Chorus. Kathy won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for her first collection The Floating Man and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize for The Remedies.
The two winning works will be sung for the first time by the Chorus and Hallam Choral Society, at the Classical Sheffield Weekend Festival finale on Sunday 19 March 2023 in the City Hall, at a ceremony introduced by BBC’s Trisha Cooper, with prizes presented by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Sioned-Mair Richards. Needless to say, all five winners will be there with their families!
The world premiere will be followed by a performance of Mahler’s magnificent 2nd symphony by the combined forces of Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallam Sinfonia, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and Hallam Choral Society. Conducted by George Morton and featuring acclaimed singers Anna Harvey and Ella Taylor, both from Sheffield, this will bring the 10th anniversary festival to a spectacular close.
To hear the winning pieces – and the wonderful Mahler symphony – buy tickets from Sheffield City Hall or online at https://beta.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk/event/Hallam-Sinfonia-2023
Tickets for the three-day festival vary in price, many are free or just £5. See https://classicalsheffield.org.uk/events/2023/classical-sheffield-weekend-2023
Rachel Fright – runner up
Rachel, aged 34, lives in Stockport and works as a freelance musician in Sheffield and Manchester. She studied music with scholarships to Pembroke College, Oxford and the Royal Northern College of Music, where she was a Junior Fellow in Accompaniment. Following her performance as a Leeds Lieder Young Artist 2018, Rachel was awarded the Hester Dickson Prize to study at Oxenfoord International Summer School with Malcolm Martineau.
Rachel performs regularly across the UK and has been featured on BBC Radio 3. She works for the RNCM School of Vocal Studies and Opera, Live Music Now and Yorkshire Young Musicians, and is accompanist to Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and the Macclesfield Singers. Recent work has included projects with Jackdaws Music Education Trust, Oxford Lieder Festival, Leeds Lieder Festival and Clonter Opera Theatre.
Reuben Tozer-Loft – runner up
Reuben, aged 22, was born and educated in Sheffield, at Meersbrook Bank Primary, Newfield Secondary, and King Edwards Sixth Form. He enjoyed piano and violin lessons from a young age and played in a local youth orchestra. He started composing for piano and for chamber groups and was selected to take part in Ensemble 360’s PowerPlus project in 2015, writing a piece for their wind quintet called Snow.
Reuben studied music at the University of Birmingham, winning the composition prize. He produced a portfolio of chamber music, joined an a cappella group for whom he arranged pop songs and had two choral anthems performed by the choir at St Marks Broomhill. Reuben graduated last year, and currently works as a piano teacher and freelance composer and arranger in Durham and Newcastle. He has been offered a place at the Royal Northern College of Music to study composition.