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PhD in Composition

The PhD in Composition programme is part of the practice-led research activities which take place within the School. Student composers can work across a broad range of creative practice from acoustic composition through to creative work in sonic arts. Students primarily begin by focusing in one of the areas below but during the course of their studies can explore topics from both areas. The School has seven members of staff supervising postgraduate research in composition.

Acoustic Composition

Music scoreBoth graduates of the MA in Composition and qualified applicants from outside Queen’s are eligible to apply for the PhD in Composition, which prepares the student for professional composition through work on a portfolio of original instrumental/vocal projects under the supervision of Professor Piers Hellawell and Dr Simon Mawhinney. The programme places emphasis on the development of professional standards of writing, and seeks to facilitate each composer’s individual direction. The student composer devises a programme of projects over the study period that represents, and takes forward, that student’s compositional concerns; as a counterpart to the works composed the student reflects on these questions and their realisation within written commentaries. As supplementary activity composers are encouraged to take up the exploration of new technologies, and all composers, most especially those on DEL Awards, are expected to take a full part in attending the School’s Seminar Series, in which guest speakers give informal papers to the research community. There are opportunities for composers to present their own work to this forum as they advance.

Student composers are encouraged to bring work in progress to regular workshops with professional players and ensembles visiting the School; in recent years our composers have benefitted from workshop work with artists such as Sarah Watts (bass clarinet), The Lawson Piano Trio, Philip Dukes (viola), The Vanbrugh Quartet, Ian Mitchell (clarinet), the Ulster Orchestra and the Buckle-Casey Piano Duo. The School’s new String Quartet in Residence also now offers unparalleled opportunities to PhD composers. At the same time, students are encouraged to seek professional outlets for their work; our past PhD composers have had workshop and concert performances of their work by, among others, the Arditti Quartet, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/James Macmillan, Concorde Ensemble and the Dublin and Con Tempo String Quartets. Current composer students include the winner of the West Cork Composition Competition (2010) and runner-up in the Jerome Hynes Composition Competition (2010).

Supervision of acoustic composition is by Piers Hellawell and Simon Mawhinney. Both are established professional composers with a wide range of commissioned works in the public domain and on commercial CD; their many collaborations include projects with Schubert Ensemble, Fidelio Trio, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Recherche, Stockholm Kammarbrass, The LSO, Caput Ensemble, The Philharmonia, Håkan Hardenberger, Psappha, Garth Knox, The Hilliard Ensemble and Kolbeinn Bjarnason. Professor Hellawell is a former Gresham Professor of Music in the City of London; his music is published by Peters Edition (London).

Composition in Sonic Arts

Prepared PianoComposition at SARC comprises creative practice which spans across numerous aesthetic, technical and critical disciplines. Key areas of interest include electroacoustic, acousmatic and computer music, mixed instrumental/electronic music, interactive and algorithmic music, computer assisted composition, spatially-focused composition, network music and sound installation. Research in this area addresses questions entailing compositional language itself as well as wider considerations relating to cultural, technical and theoretical implications of creative practice. SARC's collaborative environment is particularly conducive to the exploration of emerging practices involving composers, technologists and performers as well as practitioners from film, dance and visual arts. PhD students work closely with staff in examining the work's technical underpinnings and aesthetic precedents with the aim to enrich each student's practice with a continually expanding artistic and technical knowledge base. 
Musical collaborations with instrumentalists, technologists and other composers at SARC are all strongly encouraged.

Work created at SARC is regularly featured in festivals across the world including SARC curated programmes in Malta, Poland, Germany, Portugal, Mexico, Korea, South Africa, Ireland and the US. Staff have been consistently successful in achieving performances and commissions from leading festivals, broadcasting agencies, orchestras and ensembles while PhD students have gained international recognition through prizes in competitions such as Bourges, Electronic Music Sweden, SPNM, Genesis Prize for Opera, Holland Symfonia Competition and Luigi Russolo Composers Competition.

SARC's regular concert activity and the Sonorities Festival of Contemporary Music provide an important platform for showcasing international work and for nurturing relationships between SARC and visiting artists which have included Karlheinz Stockhausen, Jean-Claude Risset, George Lewis, Francis Dhomont, Jonty Harrison, Anthony Braxton, Ensemble Recherche, and many others.

Staff Involved:

Professor Michael Alcorn 
Dr Simon Mawhinney
Dr Pedro Rebelo
Dr Simon Waters


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