Young composers share first prize

20 February 2023

Sheffield University students Mason Birch and James Thomas are joint winners of the Stella Jockel Young Composer Competition 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.

James Thomas
Mason Birch

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.

“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.’

Robin Morton

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 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.

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.

Rachel Fright
Reuben Tozer-Loft

The 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

Tickets for the three-day festival vary in price, many are free or just £5. See

Read more about the winners, and the competition, at Stella Jockel Young Composer Competition