Creative activism drives RNCM composer Alexia’s Proms début

Second year undergraduate composition student Alexia Sloane was commissioned to write a piece for the 2019 BBC Proms, performed by vocal ensemble Voces8. We caught up about the fantastic experience and new work: Earthward.

Last year I had the privilege of being selected as one of the winners in the senior category of the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers competition. The prize is a BBC commission, and given my equal passions of music and the written word, the Proms team suggested a vocal piece. I was paired with Voces8, a wonderful octet who made their Proms debut this year at Cadogan Hall.

In a concert which traced nearly 1,000 years of music, my new piece Earthward was given its world premiere.

    alexia sloane proms

Over the last few years, the idea of engaged arts has become the driving force for my creative practice. When I was first approaching the composition Earthward, I was interested in writing a piece which was inspired by the sacred theme of the rest of the programme, whilst also challenging the Western conception of the divine as a patriarchal white male figure.

A devotion to the Earth

As a Buddhist, I felt it would be most authentic for me personally to set a text in which the Earth is the central object of devotion. I find that the angle taken by the media and in politics to crises like climate change is often cold and statistical, and whilst I agree like intellect has a central part to play in our conversations about today’s crises, I also feel that placing too much emphasis on this approach can stifle us into fear and a sense of powerlessness.

The arts are a beautiful way of reconnecting: of being honest with our emotions towards the catastrophes we are facing, both our grief and our love, our despair and our defiance. Only by feeling this connection, by seeing that ‘what we do to nature we do to ourselves’, will real progress feel possible. My text for the piece describes a motion ‘earthward in a bright/ eclipse of wildflowers’, which I hope reflects this desire to rekindle our connection with the natural world.

Working with Voces8

The piece is quite liturgical in nature, one of its central gestures being a motion outwards from unisons onto dense chords. These harmonies, and the melodic lines which surround them, are incredibly difficult to pitch. I was quite concerned when I submitted the score that they might be unidiomatic for voices, and indeed the ensemble agreed it was a challenge. However, they corresponded with me throughout the rehearsal process, and I remain extremely grateful to them for their energy.

voces8 proms blog

Photo credit: Voces8 

Their performance on the day was brilliant, the fiendish writing sensitively navigated. I was particularly grateful to Voces8 because it always takes a great deal of trust to hand over a piece to a group, particularly a new piece to a group a composer has never worked with before. Whilst the concert was a terrifying experience in many ways, their combination of friendliness and professionalism was very reassuring.

Feedback and creative activism

After the concert, a number of audience members came over to share their thoughts on Earthward, which in some ways was perhaps the most rewarding, albeit the most self-conscious, part of the whole experience. It was really wonderful to hear people’s feedback, which gave me grounds both to celebrate finding people who resonated with my music and gave me plenty to think about going forward with creative activism.

Earthward would have been a very different piece without my time at RNCM. My teacher, Emily Howard, has been invaluable not only in helping me refine my musical work this year, but equally in clarifying my creative thought process.

alexia sloane emily howard blog

Alexia and her Tutor, Emily Howard 

Whilst I knew before coming to college that engaged arts would be the focus of my output, I could never have reasoned and articulated my conceptual basis for Earthward before I began my undergraduate course.

This year I have seen my poetry develop in tandem my music, and so I am excited to see where college takes me next in my exploration of engaged arts.


Find out more about Composition at the RNCM

5 August 2019