Sunderland-born musician short-listed in British Composer Awards

Edward Gregson. Photo by Phil Portus.
Edward Gregson. Photo by Phil Portus.
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A Sunderland-born composer, who drew inspiration from the conflict in Syria for one of his latest pieces, is in line for an Oscar of the composing world.

Edward Gregson’s Four Études, the final movement of which marks the tragedies in Aleppo, has been short-listed in the British Composer Awards in the brass band section.

It’s the latest in a long line of accolades for the composer of orchestral, chamber, choral and instrumental music whose lengthy career has seen his music be performed, broadcast, and recorded worldwide by the likes of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic

Closer to home, Edward was awarded an honourary doctorate of music from the University of Sunderland in 1997, after which he composed a special fanfare for the university called Processional, which is still played as an opening piece of music at Sunderland University graduations today.

Speaking about Four Études, which was commissioned by the Black Dyke Band, Edward said: “This is a little bit different to my usual work and came about because of my association with the Black Dyke Band. It’s written for a brass band and starts as a very colourful piece, but as I was writing the last movement it was when these terrible tragedies were unfolding in Aleppo, so I decided to try and say something about it musically.”

The winners of the prestigious awards will be announced at a ceremony being held at the British Museum in London on December 6.

Though Edward’s been nominated for a number of awards, including an Ivor Novello Award over the years, he said: “To be nominated for an award is always satisfying, particularly as this is judged by other composers. It’s an acknowledgement from your peers that they think you’re worthy of nomination.”

The composer, who was born in Sunderland in 1945 and now lives in Macclesfield, in Cheshire, says his home city has often informed his sound.

“My parents were ministers in the Salvation Army and I was born at home in Sunderland,” he explained. “I played in a brass band when I was younger and though I didn’t go on to study brass music it’s something that stayed with me. Though we moved around when I was younger I think psychologically that place where you were born stays with you, it’s a base that stays with you for the rest of your life.”

He added: “Growing up, as I did, with a church, music is important because it’s part of the ritual. Even though it was an Evangelical church, music still played an important role so I think it’s that which first inspired me.”

Like many, Edward believes the City of Culture bid 2021 is an important step forward for his home town.

The composer - who has also enjoyed a career in academia with tenures in the music department of Goldsmiths College, University of London and as Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester before he retired in 2008 - said: “I think what’s hugely important is that University of Sunderland now has specialisms which are world-class and attract people from across the world, as well as students from Sunderland. For a city to have a good university is very important and I think that, combined with culture, is vital for further regeneration.”