DEVELOP YOUR INDIVIDUAL STYLE AND MUSICAL PERSONALITY WITH A RICH SCHEDULE OF PROJECT-BASED WORK

Our collaborative degree courses offer opportunities for performance and recording in a wide range of contexts.

'I chose the Academy for its unrivalled opportunities, including weekly one-to-one composition lessons with such respected composers as David Sawer, Edmund Finnis and Gary Carpenter'
Postgraduate student

Our undergraduate course is shaped to give you a strong foundation in compositional technique, whether your interests lie in writing for concert, media and film, staged productions or electronic music.

At postgraduate level, our demanding courses comprise a full schedule of project work, including workshops, performances and recordings of student compositions. Over the past year, the Composition Department has staged at least 20 concerts of new works, both inside and outside the Academy.

Courses are taught by dedicated teachers and active composers who are engaged in a broad range of compositional activities.

AUDITION AND COURSE INFORMATION

Go to the Composition page in the Coursefinder to find up to date audition information for your level of study.

Composition & Contemporary Music

Open Days

We launched our first-ever Virtual Open Days in September 2020. Check out all our content here: ram.ac.uk/opendays

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Graduated 1958
Composition

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Graduated 1958

Composition

Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1960, he travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow, where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.

The decade from 1977 to 1986 was dominated by his lyric tragedy, The Mask of Orpheus, and by the series of ensemble scores: Secret Theatre, Silbury Air, Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and …agm….

Important large-scale compositions include his operas The Minotaur, Gawain, The Second Mrs Kong and The Last Supper; concertos Panic, Antiphonies and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; as well as orchestral scores Earth Dances, Exody and The Shadow of Night. Other major works include Theseus Game, Neruda Madrigales, Angel Fighter and In Broken Images.

In 2014, Harrison Birtwistle composed Responses: Sweet Disorder and the Carefully Careless, a concerto for piano and orchestra for his 80th birthday year, which was co-commissioned by Musica Viva Munich, Casa da Música Porto, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Other notable highlights include The Cure for the Aldeburgh Festival and Royal Opera House; 5 Lessons in a Frame for London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Musikfabrik; and Deep Time, which was commissioned by the Staatskapelle Berlin and the BBC, and received its UK premiere at the 2017 Proms.

Recent works include Intrada for piano and percussion, a duo for Colin Currie and Nicolas Hodges; Keyboard Engine: A Construction for Two Pianos, commissioned for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich; and Duet for Eight Strings for The Nash Ensemble.

Birtwistle has received many honours including the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Wihuri Sibelius Prize, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a British knighthood. He was made Companion of Honour in 2001.

Photo by Philip Gatward

Meet
our alunni

Laura Bowler

Laura Bowler

Graduated 2015
Composition

Laura Bowler

Graduated 2015

Composition

Laura Bowler, described as ‘a triple-threat composer-performer-provocatrice’ (The Arts Desk), is a composer, vocalist and artistic director specialising in theatre, multi-disciplinary work and opera. She has been commissioned across the globe by ensembles and orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, ROH2, Opera Holland Park, The Opera Group, Manchester Camerata, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Quatuor Bozzini, Ensemble Phace, Ensemble Linea and Omega Ensemble, among others. Recent projects include a music theatre work, FFF, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF); Feminine Hygiene, a multimedia work commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and Sounds From The Other City festival; A Damned Mob of Scribbling Women, a 20-minute music theatre song cycle for vocalist Lucy Goddard, which was recently nominated for a British Composer Award; and Antarctica, a 50-minute multimedia work co-commissioned by Manchester Camerata and BBC Radio 3.

Bowler has performed and premiered works internationally as a vocalist including Louis Aguirre’s The Way the Dead Love and Jennifer Walshe’s boxing opera, Training is the Opposite. She is also the vocalist in contemporary music ensemble Ensemble Lydenskab based in Aarhus, Denmark, and has recently formed a duo with Red Note Ensemble’s flautist, Ruth Morley.

Upcoming projects include a music theatre work based on Rumpelstiltskin for Riot Ensemble with librettist Alasdair Middleton; a new multimedia work for multidisciplinary group Decoder Ensemble for HCMF 2020; a multimedia work for composer/pianist Zubin Kanga; and smaller-scale works for vocalist Alwynne Pritchard and nyckelharpist Robert Bentall, and a solo percussion work for London Sinfonietta.

Bowler completed her BMus (Hons) at the Royal Northern College of Music and Sibelius Academy, Finland, followed by her MMus and PhD at the Royal Academy of Music. She also studied for an MA in Theatre Directing at RADA. Bowler is a lecturer in Composition at Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Royal Northern College of Music.

Elena Langer

Elena Langer

Graduated 2010
Composition

Elena Langer

Graduated 2010

Composition

Elena Langer’s colourful, dramatic music has become increasingly familiar to audiences through her pieces operatic, vocal and orchestral. Her 2016 hit for Welsh National Opera, Figaro gets a Divorce, was described in The Telegraph as ‘that rare thing: a modern opera that exerts an immediate emotional impact’. Her Welsh National Opera follow-up, the 2018 vaudeville Rhondda Rips It Up!, was wildly popular with audiences across the UK, The Times calling it ‘bursting with irreverent joy’.

Langer studied piano and composition at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory and in 1999 moved to London, continuing her studies at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. She began writing operas while Composer-in-Residence at the Almeida Theatre and her works have been performed at Opernhaus Zürich, Carnegie Hall, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opera National du Rhin, Welsh National Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre. She has released a CD of vocal and chamber pieces, Landscape with Three People.

Figaro gets a Divorce, with a libretto by David Pountney, premiered at Welsh National Opera in February 2016 and subsequently toured around the UK. In 2017, it was performed at the Teatr Wielki in Poznań and at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

In March 2019, Boston Symphony Chamber Players performed Langer’s orchestral piece Five Reflections on Water. The Seattle Symphony performed a new orchestral suite from Figaro gets a Divorce in January 2020 and the suite received its UK première in Glasgow in February 2020, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Elena’s song cycle It’s Not You, It’s Me, based on the poems of Glyn Maxwell, was performed at Wigmore Hall in October 2019.

Langer is currently working on an opera based on Nikolai Erdman’s play, The Suicide, to be performed at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre in 2022.

Photo by Anastasia Tikhonova

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas

Graduated 1989
Composition

Augusta Read Thomas

Graduated 1989

Composition

Augusta Read Thomas was born in 1964 and has been described by The New Yorker as ‘a true virtuoso composer’. In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote: ‘Augusta Read Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.’

Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood, Jacob Druckman at Yale University, Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University and at the Royal Academy of Music. She was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College. Championed by such luminaries as Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and Oliver Knussen, among others, she rose early to the top of her profession and won the coveted Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.

Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer in Residence with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 to 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas played a central part in establishing the thriving MusicNOW series commissioning living composers.

An influential teacher at Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festival and School, Thomas is only the 16th person to be designated University Professor at the University of Chicago, where she founded the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. As part of the Center, she also founded a Postdoctoral Fellowship for Music Composition and formed a world-class sinfonietta-sized Ensemble. Thomas also envisioned and spearheaded Ear Taxi Festival, a six-day new-music festival in October 2016 celebrating the booming classical contemporary music scene in Chicago.

Thomas’s discography includes 88 commercially recorded CDs and her opera, Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun, received its world premiere in October 2019 at the Santa Fe Opera. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Photo by Anthony Barlich

Philip Venables

Philip Venables

Graduated 2013
Composition

Philip Venables

Graduated 2013

Composition

Philip Venables has been described as a ‘composer of ferocious dramatic instincts’ by The New Yorker and as ‘one of the finest composers around’ by the Guardian. His output covers opera, musical theatre, multimedia concert works, chamber music and song, in an eclectic range of styles and influences, with themes often concerning social politics, violence, gender and storytelling.

Venables's most recent opera, Denis & Katya, with director/dramatist Ted Huffman, won the 2019 Fedora Generali Prize for Opera. Critics have called it ‘an intimate, haunting triumph’ (The New York Times) and ‘a monumental, dramatically shattering event’ (Parterre Box).

Venables's first opera, 4.48 Psychosis, was the first-ever permitted adaptation of any of playwright Sarah Kane's work. It won the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera, the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Large-Scale Composition and the 2017 British Composer Award for Best Stage Work, and was nominated for an Olivier Award and Sky Arts South Bank Award.

Venables collaborates extensively in cross-media work, including with artist Douglas Gordon on Bound to Hurt; with drag/performance artist David Hoyle on Illusions, The Gender Agenda and a sound installation on Canal Street at Manchester International Festival; and with violinist Pekka Kuusisto on Venables plays Bartók. His debut album, Below the Belt, was released in 2018 to great acclaim: ‘music of forensic clarity and visceral force – but also great tenderness and generosity’ (BBC Music Magazine).

Venables was a MacDowell Fellow with director Ted Huffman in 2017 and participated in the Opera Creation Workshop at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2019. He studied at Cambridge University and then with Philip Cashian and David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music, which elected him Associate in 2016 for his significant contribution to composition. Venables completed his doctorate in 2016 while Doctoral Composer in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Julian Philips and James Weeks and the Royal Opera House.

Photo by Harald Hoffman

Find out more about the career paths of some of our former students

Meet our alumni

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Graduated 1958
Composition

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Graduated 1958

Composition

Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1960, he travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow, where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.

The decade from 1977 to 1986 was dominated by his lyric tragedy, The Mask of Orpheus, and by the series of ensemble scores: Secret Theatre, Silbury Air, Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and …agm….

Important large-scale compositions include his operas The Minotaur, Gawain, The Second Mrs Kong and The Last Supper; concertos Panic, Antiphonies and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; as well as orchestral scores Earth Dances, Exody and The Shadow of Night. Other major works include Theseus Game, Neruda Madrigales, Angel Fighter and In Broken Images.

In 2014, Harrison Birtwistle composed Responses: Sweet Disorder and the Carefully Careless, a concerto for piano and orchestra for his 80th birthday year, which was co-commissioned by Musica Viva Munich, Casa da Música Porto, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Other notable highlights include The Cure for the Aldeburgh Festival and Royal Opera House; 5 Lessons in a Frame for London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Musikfabrik; and Deep Time, which was commissioned by the Staatskapelle Berlin and the BBC, and received its UK premiere at the 2017 Proms.

Recent works include Intrada for piano and percussion, a duo for Colin Currie and Nicolas Hodges; Keyboard Engine: A Construction for Two Pianos, commissioned for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich; and Duet for Eight Strings for The Nash Ensemble.

Birtwistle has received many honours including the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Wihuri Sibelius Prize, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a British knighthood. He was made Companion of Honour in 2001.

Photo by Philip Gatward

Laura Bowler

Laura Bowler

Graduated 2015
Composition

Laura Bowler

Graduated 2015

Composition

Laura Bowler, described as ‘a triple-threat composer-performer-provocatrice’ (The Arts Desk), is a composer, vocalist and artistic director specialising in theatre, multi-disciplinary work and opera. She has been commissioned across the globe by ensembles and orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, ROH2, Opera Holland Park, The Opera Group, Manchester Camerata, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Quatuor Bozzini, Ensemble Phace, Ensemble Linea and Omega Ensemble, among others. Recent projects include a music theatre work, FFF, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF); Feminine Hygiene, a multimedia work commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and Sounds From The Other City festival; A Damned Mob of Scribbling Women, a 20-minute music theatre song cycle for vocalist Lucy Goddard, which was recently nominated for a British Composer Award; and Antarctica, a 50-minute multimedia work co-commissioned by Manchester Camerata and BBC Radio 3.

Bowler has performed and premiered works internationally as a vocalist including Louis Aguirre’s The Way the Dead Love and Jennifer Walshe’s boxing opera, Training is the Opposite. She is also the vocalist in contemporary music ensemble Ensemble Lydenskab based in Aarhus, Denmark, and has recently formed a duo with Red Note Ensemble’s flautist, Ruth Morley.

Upcoming projects include a music theatre work based on Rumpelstiltskin for Riot Ensemble with librettist Alasdair Middleton; a new multimedia work for multidisciplinary group Decoder Ensemble for HCMF 2020; a multimedia work for composer/pianist Zubin Kanga; and smaller-scale works for vocalist Alwynne Pritchard and nyckelharpist Robert Bentall, and a solo percussion work for London Sinfonietta.

Bowler completed her BMus (Hons) at the Royal Northern College of Music and Sibelius Academy, Finland, followed by her MMus and PhD at the Royal Academy of Music. She also studied for an MA in Theatre Directing at RADA. Bowler is a lecturer in Composition at Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Royal Northern College of Music.

Elena Langer

Elena Langer

Graduated 2010
Composition

Elena Langer

Graduated 2010

Composition

Elena Langer’s colourful, dramatic music has become increasingly familiar to audiences through her pieces operatic, vocal and orchestral. Her 2016 hit for Welsh National Opera, Figaro gets a Divorce, was described in The Telegraph as ‘that rare thing: a modern opera that exerts an immediate emotional impact’. Her Welsh National Opera follow-up, the 2018 vaudeville Rhondda Rips It Up!, was wildly popular with audiences across the UK, The Times calling it ‘bursting with irreverent joy’.

Langer studied piano and composition at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory and in 1999 moved to London, continuing her studies at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. She began writing operas while Composer-in-Residence at the Almeida Theatre and her works have been performed at Opernhaus Zürich, Carnegie Hall, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opera National du Rhin, Welsh National Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre. She has released a CD of vocal and chamber pieces, Landscape with Three People.

Figaro gets a Divorce, with a libretto by David Pountney, premiered at Welsh National Opera in February 2016 and subsequently toured around the UK. In 2017, it was performed at the Teatr Wielki in Poznań and at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

In March 2019, Boston Symphony Chamber Players performed Langer’s orchestral piece Five Reflections on Water. The Seattle Symphony performed a new orchestral suite from Figaro gets a Divorce in January 2020 and the suite received its UK première in Glasgow in February 2020, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Elena’s song cycle It’s Not You, It’s Me, based on the poems of Glyn Maxwell, was performed at Wigmore Hall in October 2019.

Langer is currently working on an opera based on Nikolai Erdman’s play, The Suicide, to be performed at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre in 2022.

Photo by Anastasia Tikhonova

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas

Graduated 1989
Composition

Augusta Read Thomas

Graduated 1989

Composition

Augusta Read Thomas was born in 1964 and has been described by The New Yorker as ‘a true virtuoso composer’. In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote: ‘Augusta Read Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.’

Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood, Jacob Druckman at Yale University, Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University and at the Royal Academy of Music. She was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College. Championed by such luminaries as Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and Oliver Knussen, among others, she rose early to the top of her profession and won the coveted Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.

Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer in Residence with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 to 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas played a central part in establishing the thriving MusicNOW series commissioning living composers.

An influential teacher at Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festival and School, Thomas is only the 16th person to be designated University Professor at the University of Chicago, where she founded the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. As part of the Center, she also founded a Postdoctoral Fellowship for Music Composition and formed a world-class sinfonietta-sized Ensemble. Thomas also envisioned and spearheaded Ear Taxi Festival, a six-day new-music festival in October 2016 celebrating the booming classical contemporary music scene in Chicago.

Thomas’s discography includes 88 commercially recorded CDs and her opera, Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun, received its world premiere in October 2019 at the Santa Fe Opera. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Photo by Anthony Barlich

Philip Venables

Philip Venables

Graduated 2013
Composition

Philip Venables

Graduated 2013

Composition

Philip Venables has been described as a ‘composer of ferocious dramatic instincts’ by The New Yorker and as ‘one of the finest composers around’ by the Guardian. His output covers opera, musical theatre, multimedia concert works, chamber music and song, in an eclectic range of styles and influences, with themes often concerning social politics, violence, gender and storytelling.

Venables's most recent opera, Denis & Katya, with director/dramatist Ted Huffman, won the 2019 Fedora Generali Prize for Opera. Critics have called it ‘an intimate, haunting triumph’ (The New York Times) and ‘a monumental, dramatically shattering event’ (Parterre Box).

Venables's first opera, 4.48 Psychosis, was the first-ever permitted adaptation of any of playwright Sarah Kane's work. It won the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera, the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Large-Scale Composition and the 2017 British Composer Award for Best Stage Work, and was nominated for an Olivier Award and Sky Arts South Bank Award.

Venables collaborates extensively in cross-media work, including with artist Douglas Gordon on Bound to Hurt; with drag/performance artist David Hoyle on Illusions, The Gender Agenda and a sound installation on Canal Street at Manchester International Festival; and with violinist Pekka Kuusisto on Venables plays Bartók. His debut album, Below the Belt, was released in 2018 to great acclaim: ‘music of forensic clarity and visceral force – but also great tenderness and generosity’ (BBC Music Magazine).

Venables was a MacDowell Fellow with director Ted Huffman in 2017 and participated in the Opera Creation Workshop at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2019. He studied at Cambridge University and then with Philip Cashian and David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music, which elected him Associate in 2016 for his significant contribution to composition. Venables completed his doctorate in 2016 while Doctoral Composer in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Julian Philips and James Weeks and the Royal Opera House.

Photo by Harald Hoffman