Composing prodigy Alex Prior’s concerto scored in Sibelius

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Alex Prior and friends
Alex Prior and the Velesslavitsa soloists

Alexander Prior is a 16-year old British composer and conductor who has been studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia for the past four years. A quite remarkable prodigy, he was featured in a Channel 4 documentary series earlier this year called The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies.

Alex uses Sibelius, and has prepared many of his large-scale works in the software. After the jump, read about how the score for his concerto for piano, two violins and cello, Velesslavitsa, was put together.

Ian Phillips-Kerr, of Music Works music production, picks up the tale.

“Adrienne Solley from RDF TV called me in March 2009 asking if I could print and bind the scores and parts of a Concerto by Alexander Prior,” he says. “She explained that Channel 4 had commissioned RDF to make a series of three programmes about the young English composer Alexander Prior and his global search for young musical prodigies. RDF commissioned Alex to write a concerto for full orchestra and the chosen soloists for performance at the Sage Gateshead with the Northern Sinfonia and Alex conducting.”

This concerto became Velesslavitsa, written for Zhang Xiaoming (piano), Natalie Portman and Michael Province (violin) and Nathan Chan (cello).

“The concert featured each soloist playing a movement from a concerto, with Alex conducting, then after the interval came his Velesslavitsa with all of the soloists,” says Ian.

Ian received the score and parts prepared by Alex from the TV production team, and recommended that they all needed editing before printing. “This is no criticism of Alex,” he says, “Composers should be composing – not editing and cueing.”

Of course, this illustrates once more the fact that tools like Sibelius cannot be a substitute for the practical experience of a professional music editor, and Ian says that his workflow has been more or less the same for years – although Sibelius 6 has helped him in several areas.

“The first stage is to move text and dynamics to avoid collisions,” says Ian. “Thank you for Sibelius 6, which does this collision avoidance for us! Then I look for any possible oversights, space the systems properly, and add cues to the parts. If a point needs raising I write it into the score in big red text.”

Ian and Alex exchanged many emails as they worked together to finalise the details of the score. After several cycles, Ian felt the scores and parts were ready for Alex and the players. “I printed and bound them and sent them off to China the USA, and delivered the orchestral parts to the orchestra.”

The performance itself was a great success, and was documented as part of the Channel 4 series. Velesslavitsa will be receiving a further outing, with Alex conducting and all of the original soloists reprising their performances, at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 April 2010.

Ian says that he has tried other music notation software, but now relies solely on Sibelius for his work. What does he like best about Sibelius?

“The speed with which Sibelius works, the ease of cueing in the parts, the ability to change things in the score and have this transmitted automatically to the part, the use of filters in removing music on staves that have more than one player, the quality of the final print-out… I could go on and on.”

Ian says that Alex is very accomplished and fully focused on his studies as a composer and conductor, even to the point of not being at all interested in the kinds of music that most people his age would be familiar with.

“During a telephone call discussing the concerto I mentioned to Alex that my band The Fins were working on I Predict a Riot by Kaiser Chiefs and Sex on Fire by the Kings of Leon,” he says. “I was met with complete silence – he obviously didn’t have a clue who they were. I told him I would make it my mission to get him clued up on contemporary culture and have sent him some recordings. No response so far!”

For Alex, there is only the next big work, the next big concert. He has just finished his fourth symphony, entitled Gogol, for mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, boy’s choir, chorus and orchestra. This was commissioned by Petraconcert and The Cultural Committee of St. Petersburg. And Ian will continue to work with Alex. He says, “I was glad to be chosen by him to edit, print and bind this piece, and I also prepared a piano reduction for the vocal rehearsals.”

There’s no doubt that Alex will have an amazing career. Before his 17th birthday he has already composed more than 40 major works. We are proud that Sibelius can play some small part in helping people like Alex realise their immense potential.

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