What I learnt at the Charlotte New Music Festival

Composer Lewis Ingham checks in from America



This is the second blog about Lewis Ingham’s American journey, in which the composer writes about his experience in the Charlotte New Music Festival. Last month he shared his expectations at the start of his trip, and here he checks in with us as the festival wraps up.


I was standing at the baggage claim in Charlotte Douglas International Airport when I overheard two people talking about microtonality and American composer Harry Partch. Being acutely aware that this is not the average conversation topic you’ll hear in an airport, I listened on.

The United States is a massive place filled with all kinds of interesting people. But, with the Charlotte New Music Festival starting on the following day, I figured there was every possibility that I was eavesdropping on two composers who were likely to be participating in the festival with me. I decided to approach these musically conversing figures, and soon found my intuition to be right. For me, the festival began right then and there.

I have now finished the second week of the Charlotte New Music Festival, and had quickly become locked into the solid routine of the festival’s composition workshop: a typical day begins with a two-hour composition colloquium where four participant composers present their works, prompting a group discussion that is both supportive and critical – constructively, of course. Following a quick lunch break, and a good kick of caffeine, we are treated to a presentation by some of the festival’s resident composers and ensembles who offer knowledge of their craft and profession. The rest of the afternoon offers a combination of career workshops, composition lessons, and ensemble rehearsals; before a concert of new music, featuring works by us composers, rounds out the day.

The majority of the participating composers stay in the university’s dorms, which has fostered a nice little community allowing everyone to get to know each other personally and creatively. Although living here, the sprawling Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina had only just become traversable for me and I’m always glad to have a few new friends close by to lead the way.

There is a great diversity within the music of all the participating composers, which has led to very interesting group discussions and some very engaging performances at the daily concerts. These concerts have included killer performances by Duo Zonda and Loadbang. The virtuosic flutists of Duo Zonda tackled a multitude of extended techniques in each piece with ferocious precision, completely captivating a packed house. New York ensemble Loadbang – who develop some incredible repertoire for the unique instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and baritone voice – displayed remarkable versatility with their instruments across a challenging and contrasting program of commissioned works.

On top of these full-on days and late nights, the first week of the festival required each composer to compose a miniature for a configuration of string quartet which will be performed by the talented Beo String Quartet on the final evening of the festival. I landed the interesting combination of two violins and viola for my miniature, and I’m really looking forward to hearing Beo perform it. I’ve also just had the premiere of my new work for mixed sextet From Distance by Out of Bounds Ensemble, and enjoyed having the opportunity to work with musicians from the local area who feature in this ensemble.

As the final days of the festival approached, I can only say that the experience has been full-on and incredibly worthwhile. It’ll be strange to go from being a member of a 30-strong composition cohort to a solo traveller once more. However, there’s still so much more to be experienced in America and I can’t wait to be swallowed by the New York skyline on the next part of my adventure.


Lewis’ participation in the 2017 Charlotte New Music Festival is generously supported by the Barbara Bishop Hewitt Scholarship and the State Government of Victoria through a Creative Victoria Music Works Quick Response Grant.


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