ERSO’s fab five – meet Caitlin

We caught up with Caitlin Harrison, one of our “fab five” composers who are finalists in the ERSO emerging composers’ competition: “A Fanfare for Ernest Read”.
We’re so excited to work on Caitlin’s excellent fanfare in our workshop final on March 15th.
caitlin pic
Caitlin Harrison

Caitlin Harrison began her studies in composition at Birmingham Junior Conservatoire before completing her undergraduate degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance with Stephen Montague and Deirdre Gribbin. She participated in an Erasmus exchange to the Grażyna and Kiejstut Bacewicz Academy of Music in Łódź, Poland, where she studied with Zygmunt Krauze.

Caitlin is an ambitious composer who enjoys new and innovative projects. Her work includes blindfolding performers, filming in an old Jewish ghetto and recording dancers in a swimming pool. Her violin concerto for chamber orchestra was premiered by Ben Richardson and conducted by Jonathan Mann in June 2018 along with her art film ‘Noise’. Recent commissions include works for St Wulfram’s Church Choir (Grantham), Exeter College Chapel Choir (Oxford) and Ensemble ISIS. Caitlin is currently studying for an MPhil in composition at the University of Oxford under Robert Saxton.

ERSO’s fab five – meet Jared

We caught up with Jared Destro, the first our our “fab five” composers who are finalists in the ERSO emerging composers’ competition: “A Fanfare for Ernest Read”.
We’re so excited to work on Jared’s excellent fanfare in our workshop final on March 15th.
jared pic
Jared Destro

“Not being from a musical family, my initiation into music was in many ways random and unexpected. I began my musical career when I was thirteen, starting first as a piano improviser, then as a composer. Now twenty-one, I continue to develop these skills as a Master’s student of composition at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

While very different from my home of Buffalo, NY (USA), I have fully immersed myself in a wide variety of projects in my first year of postgraduate studies. Perhaps one of my personally most-anticipated projects includes a performance of my orchestral work Harvest Festival, Op. 32a scheduled for the June 24th, 2020 at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff by the RWCMD Symphony Orchestra under conductor David Jones.

My goal is to continue to write for as many occasions as I can possibly find, and to be a composer-in-residence for an organization is my ultimate aim. Additionally, I hope to one day help others in their compositional pursuits, offering my teachings and advice as a tutor/lecturer.”


Shortlist composers announced

We’re very excited to be able to announce a shortlist of composers for ERSO’s composers’ competition.

emma-ruth richards pic
Emma-Ruth Richards

Emerging composers were asked to submit an inspiring, contemporary classical Fanfare to help us celebrate ERSO’s 90th birthday.  We were thrilled by the number of impressive submissions and the huge amount of talent that was demonstrated and we were delighted to have acclaimed British composer Emma-Ruth Richards as part of our panel assessing the entries.


Selecting only a few composers to move onto the final stage was a really tough choice, but in the end we narrowed it down to five really talented composers who have been invited to the workshop final on March 15th.

The five finalists are:

  • Jared Destro
  • Alexander Papp
  • Andreas Swerdlow
  • Sarah Cattley
  • Caitlin Harrison

Watch this space for more information about the fantastic five!

ERSO emerging composers competition flyer-page-001

A soaring success despite the storm!

Despite the efforts of the storm to deter both players and audience, last night’s Brahms and Debussy concert really was a soaring success!

The day didn’t start so well – our soloist looked likely to be stranded in Birmingham.  And then our lovely bass trombone, Malcolm, was knocked over by the wind and wasn’t able to play.  We ended up fielding a stand-in player (huge thanks to David Barnard who is a Trustee for the Ernest Read Trust) wearing leader John’s spare shirt and playing what can only be described as a fairly rudimentary instrument sourced by Brass Leader Grady, who travelled across London for most of the afternoon and almost didn’t get back in time due to tube problems!

Come concert time and all of this was forgotten.  Soloist Chu Yu Yang gave a lyrical and immensley accomplished performance of the Lark Ascending – orchestra and audience alike were hugely impressed by his gorgeous tone.  Conductor Chris illuminated La Mer to our audience using some well chosen musical examples followed by the full work and the evening ended with a stirring performance of Brahms’ 1st Symphony.

A real case of all’s well that ends well!

joe and chris 1
Soloist Chu Yu Yang and conductor Chris Stark 
joe smiling at the end
Happy with a job extremely well done!
Trombones with the much appreciated stand-in David Barnard on bass trombone



The initial reaction to La Mer wasn’t positive which is hard to imagine nowadays and it’s  premiere perplexed its audience and the critics, who were not kind in their reviews: “crafty“, “incomprehensible and lacking in grandeur“, “sharp sonority and often unpleasant“…

Luckily today we all recognise what a work of genius it really is.

To find out more, here’s a sneak peak at the programme notes for our Brahms and Debussy concert.

La Mer, Three Symphonic Sketches

la mer 2Claude Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, to an impoverished, and not at all musical, family. However, his obvious gift at the piano won him a place at the age of ten to France’s leading music college, the Conservatoire de Paris. There, his instructors disapproved of his delight in ‘forbidden’ harmonies while his fellow students found his innovative compositions and mesmerizing piano improvisations strange. Despite this, at age 22, he won France’s most prestigious musical award, the Prix de Rome. The prize included a four-year residence in Rome to further his musical studies. However, he found life there irksome and left after only two years.

Back in Paris he led a bohemian life, enjoying the café society but struggling financially while pursuing his experimental approach to composition. It was not until 1902, aged nearly 40, that Debussy achieved international fame with his only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande.

Debussy died in Paris of colon cancer when he was just 55 years old. Often described as the first Impressionist composer, he disliked the term. In his words, “I love music passionately. And because I love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth, an open-air art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art.”

La Mer is the closest piece to a symphony that Debussy wrote. Its original reception was rather mixed – during rehearsals the violinists tied handkerchiefs to the tips of their bows in protest. But it is hard to know whether the hostile reaction was to the novel and challenging music or to the scandal that had preceded it. While his wife of four years, fashion model Lily Texier, was away visiting her father, Debussy had secretly holidayed with Emma Bardac, wife of a Parisian banker and a gifted singer. When he subsequently wrote to his wife informing her that the marriage was over, Lily shot herself. Miraculously she survived, with the bullet remaining lodged in a vertebra under her left breast for the rest of her life. In the ensuing public outrage, Emma’s family disowned her and they both lost a good many friends. Debussy and Emma, now pregnant, escaped to England, where La Mer was completed in 1905.

“You may not know that I was destined for a sailor’s life and that it was only quite by chance that fate led me in another direction. But I have always held a passionate love for the sea,” Debussy wrote. Although his father was a sailor, the composer was hardly a seafarer. His personal knowledge of the sea appears to have been derived from three Channel crossings, childhood summers at Cannes and an unfortunate storm-tossed voyage in a fishing boat along the coast of Brittany. By his own admission he preferred to draw his inspiration from the seascapes available in painting and literature.  On the cover of the manuscript he placed the drawing titled “Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai.

The first movement, begins very quietly, with slow, mysterious murmuring as if peering into the very depths of the dark, mysterious sea. As the sea awakens, the motion quickens. We hear a leisurely call from the muted horns. A mosaic of melodic fragments develops into an impressive climax. After subsiding, a new melodic idea, a noble chorale-like passage, appears and slowly grows into a majestic picture of the sea under the blazing noonday sun.

The next movement is lighter and faster, full of sparkle and animation. The music conjures up pictures of rocking waves, unexpected shifts of current, the iridescent glint of sunlight on the surface of the water and the mysterious depths beneath.

The final seascape opens restless, grey and stormy, the music suggesting the mighty surging and swelling of the water. Melodic fragments from the first movement return. The activity subsides, and out of the mists comes a haunting, distant call high in the woodwinds. The music again gathers energy. Finally, we hear once more the chorale from the first sketch, and La Mer concludes with the sea in stormy triumph.

ERSO’s got Talent!!

ernest read at queenswood
Ernest Read with young musicians at Queenswood School

ERSO was founded in 1931 by Ernest Read,  a celebrated pioneer in the development of music education and youth orchestras during the first half of the 20th century.

Our work with children and the ERSO Talent Programme are at the heart of what we do and follow directly from Ernest Read’s legacy.

The ERSO Talent Programme was created to bring together all of ERSO’s work with emerging professional musicians.  We’re so thrilled to work with talented young musicians at the start of their careers and are excited about our 2020 annual ERSO Soloist of the Year competition and ERSO emerging composers’ competition.


Calling young composers!

Would you like to have two of your pieces performed and recorded here by the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra?

DUkes hall

The Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music

emma-ruth richards pic
Emma-Ruth Richards

And be advised by acclaimed British composer Emma-Ruth Richards?

Composers aged 16  – 30 years old who are UK based are invited to submit a contemporary classical Fanfare for full symphony orchestra. 

The composer of the winning Fanfare will be awarded a prize of £250.  They will also receive a commission of £1,000 to create a piece for soloist and orchestra for the winner of the ERSO Soloist of the Year 2020 competition.

The winning Fanfare and the soloist piece be central pieces at ERSO’s 90th Birthday Gala concert on 28 February 2021.  The concert will be recorded and the winner will be given copies of the recording of both pieces.

Entry to the competition is free and applications close on 15th January 2020

To find out more about the competition go to: ERSO emerging composers’ competition: “A Fanfare for Ernest Read”

We are very grateful to the Ernest Read Trust and the RVW Trust for their generous support for this competition for emerging composers.RVWT PNG BLACK logo - SEP 2019.png

Violinists – fancy your chances?

joe 5We’re so excited to work with hugely talented young music student Joe (Chu-Yu) Yang in our Brahms and Debussy concert in Feb 2020.   We met Joe in the 2019 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition and were hugely impressed by his performance as a Finalist.

If you are an ambitious soloist like Joe check out our ERSO Soloist of the Year 2020.   The winner will be our June soloist AND have a solo piece commissioned for them by the winner of our composers’ competition.   To be eligible you’ll need to take part in our Feb or March concerts – see dates:

As Joe’s story proves, the Finalists have a very good chance of being engaged as soloists in other concerts too.  And of the 8 Finalists from 2018 and 2019 HALF of the musicians were violinists!

We can’t wait …

At ERSO we’re excited like a child before Christmas – we can’t wait to review all of the amazing submissions for our ERSO emerging composers’ competition

Did you know that it’s not such a new idea for ERSO to be getting involved with composers?  John Rutter’s Partita for Orchestra (his first orchestral work!) was commissioned by the Ernest Read Music Association to celebrate the 50th anniversary concert of the London Junior Orchestra (later known as the Ernest Read Youth Orchestra). Rutter dedicated his work to Ernest’s wife Helen.

April 1976 saw the first performance at the 50th anniversary concert at the Festival Hall.  The concert was attended by royalty  – Princess Alexandra (the Queen’s cousin and ERMA’s patron) was present!

princess alexandra