THE NCEM Young Composers Award 2019 finals will be judged at the National Centre for Early Music in York on Thursday evening.

The pieces will be presented by the NCEM in association with BBC Radio 3 and virtuoso Irish viol player Liam Byrne, professor of viola da gamba at the Guildhall School in London.

The shortlist in the 19 to 25 age category comprises Sarah Cattley’s Dream Fever; Liam Connery’s Piangere, Affogare; Zakia Fawcett’s You Were A Great Comfort To Me; Matthew Fox’s Fantasy; Sam Gooderham’s Sonnerie 1982; Derri Joseph Lewis’s Walls Of Brass and Caitlin Nolan’s Canonic Duet For Solo Bass Viol. Stephen Jesse Rees’s Fantasy Nocturnal is the sole work in the 18 and under category.

For the 2019 award, composers were invited to create a Fantasy for solo viol or for viol and electronics. "The Fantasy is a form that has flourished since the Renaissance and is characterised by the elaborate spinning out of a musical idea," says NCEM director Delma Tomlin. “It is music that’s all about invention.

"The Fantasy is also a type of piece where anything can happen, and for this year’s award we wanted to encourage composers to think about augmenting the sound of the viol through the use of electronics, though we also considered compositions for solo viol that do not involve electronics."

Liam Byrne will perform each of the pieces in a 6.30pm public concert in the presence of a panel of judges: BBC Radio 3 producer Les Pratt, Tomlin and Byrne himself.

The performance will be streamed live via and on Facebook and the winner(s) will be announced after the concert. The winning work(s) will be premiered by Byrne in a later public performance, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show.

Leading up to Thursday’s concert, the shortlisted composers will be taking part in workshops and rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday, led by composer Christopher Fox, when the entries will be presented by Byrne.

Byrne first performed at the NCEM in the chamber group Fretwork and was last there on the European Day of Early Music on March 21 to present "a glimpse behind the golden mirrors of 17th century Versailles" in Shadows Of Sarabandes, a chamber concert with Swedish lutenist Jonas Nordberg. Together they entered "a world of intrigue, political ambition and exquisite beauty, wrapped around the court of the Sun King, in an evening of contemplation and desire" built around music by Marais and de Visee.

His career has taken in collaborations with musicians as diverse as Blur's Damon Albarn, soprano Emma Kirkby and Appalachian fiddler Cleek Schrey; devising baroque performance installations for the Victoria & Albert museum, and creating new electronic works with Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson.

His involvement in the NCEM Young Composers Award came through a suggestion by this year's fellow judge, Les Pratt. "I was a guest on the BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show, and afterwards Les said, 'it might be interesting to have you involved for the award as we've not had a solo viol before', and I was delighted as I not only love working with contemporary music as well as early music, but also with young musicians," says Liam.

Hence this year's invitation to composers embracing both solo viol and viol with electronics. "When I started collaborating with Valgeir Sigurðsson, the Icelandic composer and electronic musician, he taught me first and foremost how to listen to electronic music differently, its texture and timbre, in ways that we don't always do as classical musicians, particularly in relation to amplified sound and how that works," says Liam, who has enjoyed exploring the viol's sonic capabilities.

"Now, for the Young Composers Award, a lot of the composers have written pieces that will require a computer to manipulate my playing, so my instrument will have a microphone on it and the sound will then be processed. To do this, I'll have a series of foot pedals, midi-pedals, controlling what I'm playing, with me programming them."

The symbiosis of classical and electronic music has grown over the past decade, "but what is new is how the format of solo instrument and electronica is starting to enter the canon, and I do believe, as a teacher, it's important that young musicians learn how this format can work, for both composers and performers, though I don't know of any course that specifically addresses this interface yet," says Liam.

As he contemplates the workshops and awards concert that lie ahead, Liam has one final thought. "Sometimes we do new music a disservice by being excited just because it's new , but it's always important to respond to music because of its beauty," he says.

Concert tickets are on sale on 01904 658338 or at

Charles Hutchinson