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Winner Announced for Henfrey Prize for Composition 2023

Above: Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey, Director of Performance at St Catherine’s College, winner of the 2023 Henfrey Composition Prize Electra Perivolaris, finalist Ynyr Pritchard, Tonia Ko (composer and adjudicator of this year’s prize), finalist Sirui Huang, finalist Manuel M. Burgos, Catz alumnus and musician Daniel Shao and musician BeiBei Wang. 

On Tuesday 9 May, St Catherine’s College hosted the final concert of the annual Henfrey Prize for Composition, which supports the creation of outstanding new chamber and acoustic music. The prestigious award is open to students and recent graduates from the University of Oxford, and comes with a prize of £1,000.

This year’s final featured world-class performers from the Tangram Collective, including Catz alumnus Daniel Shao (flutes) and Beibei Wang (Chinese percussion), who performed four new works by Oxford composers. The finalists for the Henfrey Prize for Composition were Manuel M. Burgos, Sirui Huang, Electra Perivolaris, and Ynyr Pritchard.

The winner was chosen by guest composer Tonia Ko, who had the difficult task of selecting a winner from a talented field of composers. In the end, the winner of the Henfrey Prize for Composition 2023 was Electra Perivolaris.

Writing on her win, Electra said:

‘I am delighted to have won the University of Oxford Henfrey Prize for Composition with my piece ‘The Sleeping Warrior- A Mountain Contour Song for Two Islands’. This piece, composed for flautist Daniel Shao and percussionist Beibei Wang of Tangram Ensemble, was inspired by my mixed Scottish and Greek heritage, taking the mountain contour lines from maps of my home on the Scottish Isle of Arran as its starting point. The outline of the mountains on Arran is described as ‘The Sleeping Warrior’, giving this piece its title. Ideas from Chinese drumming, including the use of dramatic storytelling with sound and movement and the use of dialect rhythms, are elements which are also present in the Gaelic music in the Western Isles of Scotland. I use the mountain
contour lines from the maps to create an element of choreography, as the shapes are traced in the air and on the drum heads using granite rocks collected from the mountains of Arran, and as the piece progresses, with marble rocks from the mountains surrounding my Greek family’s home on the island of Chios. This layers with the playing and singing of the flute part, which is influenced by Gaelic speech rhythms, Gaelic Hebridean song traditions and elements of the Byzantine chant which is present in the communities on Chios.

‘The chance to compose for Tangram and work with them in such an open environment has been the most rewarding process and it has enabled me to develop my compositional practice in new and unexpected ways. My piece for Tangram explores a ‘borderless’ kind of music which brings together influences from different musical cultures as a means of discovering a new compositional language, drawing on my dual island heritage of Scotland and Greece, as well as on Tangram’s roots in Chinese music.’

The programme also included traditional Chinese compositions and excerpts from the Kunqu Opera, Tiger Bullet, by guest performers Yuxiao Chen (Chinese flute), Songyuan He (voice), and Mike Skelton (sanxian and ruan).

The Henfrey Prize for Composition was established in 2017 by a generous donation from St Catherine’s Honorary Fellow, Dr Anthony Henfrey and is an opportunity for young composers to showcase their talents and to receive recognition for their work. The award has been adjudicated by some of Britain’s top composers, including Judith Weir, Catz alumnus Mark Simpson (2008, Music), Emily Howard, and the late Anthony Payne.

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