The Fraser-Jackson Project

Final year composer, Camilla Aldridge, tells us about the experience of working on a recent composition project with soprano Juliet Fraser and clarinetist Tom Jackson:


On Friday 4th December, an audience gathered in Turner Sims to watch Juliet Fraser and Tom Jackson perform works by finalist composers in a concert of new music that came to be called ‘The Fraser-Jackson Project’. This, being the first ever concert consisting of entirely third year compositional material composed for a specific duo, was both a novel and exciting event. The composers, eight of us in total, wrote pieces for Soprano and either Clarinet or Bass Clarinet.

The process began at the beginning of the year, in that the focus for Composition lectures and tutorials was centred on writing for duo, and word setting. I was particularly inspired by Richard Ayres ‘No.42 (In the Alps)’, which featured a highly virtuosic and challenging treatment of the voice, whilst also being really taken with Schoenberg’s highly evocative ‘Herzgewächse’. It was amazing to see the diversity with which the voice was treated in the 20th and 21st century; something that is truly seen microcosmically in the works submitted for the project.

‘It was amazing to hear all of our pieces performed live by such talented musicians. It’s always hard to envision what a piece will sound like and by having our compositions performed, not only was I about to establish what I’d like to change about my piece but I was able to see my friends work come to life too.’

– Charlotte Hall. composer participant in the project.

After having approximately one month to work on and compose the bulk of our pieces, we, as a group, had the fantastic opportunity to workshop them with Juliet in an informal setting. Juliet devoted an afternoon of her time in order to work through each of our pieces; providing valuable information about writing for soprano and suggesting changes where needed. Her intimate knowledge of her own voice and of idiomatic contemporary writing for soprano, and her sensitivity and care taken in helping each of us were invaluable! The ability that we have to workshop our pieces with professional performers is so crucial to the development of our understanding of how to work with performers and also our voices as composers.

‘The benefits for young composers having their pieces both played and critiqued by professional musicians is an extremely valuable experience. The music department at the University of Southampton has been fundamental in ensuring that we get the experience we need as composers.’                        

-Harry Matthews, composer participant in the project.

In the weeks that followed, we then had the opportunity to change and tweak our pieces accordingly, before submitting scores. Prior to the concert, we had the opportunity to rehearse with Juliet and Tom, as a way to clear up any ambiguities in the scores and to communicate to them some of our intentions for how we wanted certain aspects to sound.

Fraser-Jackson in concert

The delivery of our pieces, even when not considering the short rehearsal period supplied before the concert, was really amazing. It is such a privilege to have been able to work with such talented, insightful musicians, and such lovely people. Taking part in the Fraser-Jackson project, for me, has raised questions in myself about the importance of clarity of communication in a score, and also about the efficacy of different effects in a concert setting. This was an experience I was truly glad to be part of, and I am thrilled with the way my piece turned out in the hands of both Juliet Fraser and Tom Jackson.