Debut Sounds: Introducing Young Composers Hunter Coblentz and Lisa Illean

On Monday 4 July, the London Philharmonic Orchestra joins the Royal College of Music for a celebration of new music with Debut Sounds: Dérive.  In this performance, members of the LPO will be accompanied by young musicians from the LPO’s Foyle Future Firsts Development Programme to perform premiere works by the LPO’s Young Composers. Back at our very first workshop together, we caught up with Young Composers Hunter Coblentz and Lisa Illean to find out a bit about them, their style of music, and any advice they had for young aspiring composers.

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What was it like to hear your pieces performed live for the first time?

Lisa (pictured centre): When you’ve been living with something inside your head for so long, it’s very exciting when it becomes external - and at times confronting to hear certain things working and others out of balance. I’ve never had the opportunity to hear something I've written for orchestra with the chance to make substantial changes before the performance. I wrote things for today's workshop that I wasn’t sure would work - with the idea that this is one of the few opportunities I may have to do so.

Hunter (pictured far right): It’s always very exciting hearing a piece being performed live for the first time. Often, my preconceived ideas of how the piece will function are deeply challenged, and in other cases, I am pleasantly surprised!

Lisa: One of the strengths of the programme is that it has the workshops.

Hunter: And so early too. The timing of the workshop is important in that it affords us an opportunity to take the piece away afterwards and rework our ideas.

What is it like to work with Magnus Lindberg?

Hunter: He has a very thorough knowledge of the contemporary repertoire which has great value in a new music setting. He also has a magnetic personality.

Lisa: He is very pragmatic and he understands the orchestra in a practical but also deep way. For someone like me - who can be quite conceptual and abstract in how I approach sound - having someone with that experience and breadth of knowledge looking at my work is invaluable.

Is there anything in particular you’d like the audience to feel or think when they hear your piece?

Hunter: Composing this particular piece (for solo cello & orchestra) has been very enjoyable for me because, as a cellist, I am able to compose on the instrument itself. It has been a pleasure breaking all of the rules passed down to me by my earliest cello teachers. I have been working hard to discover my own contemporary musical language for the instrument.

Lisa: For me, this piece is still very much in the process of becoming something. I have been working a lot with fragments of sounds - the idea of putting together very quiet fragments and forming a texture which gradually evolves over time -this is something that I am interested in.

What advice would you give to any young aspiring composers?

Hunter: I think a young composer must remain humble and must listen to as much music as possible.

Lisa: Someone who I respect a lot told me to listen to as much live music as possible.

Hunter: The language of contemporary music has very much become a language of recordings. There’s this phenomenon of pieces being written and performed only once. Consequently the main vehicle for the dissemination of new music is the recording. So a lot of the exposure that young composers have to these pieces is simply with their headphones on ...

Lisa: A live space can be quite precarious to negotiate as a composer but also uniquely beautiful.

Hunter: The sounds behave in interesting ways in a live space. The composer can’t rely on the crutch of digital post-editing.

Is there anything you’d say to someone who might be new to contemporary classical music and perhaps considering giving it a try on 4 July?

Lisa: There is a lot of beautiful and meaningful new music being made in the world - I think treating it as something that is completely normal to want to listen to would be my first way of inviting someone.

Hunter: I choose to believe that most people maintain an appetite for the new and undiscovered. I would encourage anyone attending a contemporary classical music concert to seek out the value in the multiplicity of aesthetic directions that living composers are exploring, in particular those that sound most foreign. Tolerance, and patience, are our greatest new music allies.


You can hear Hunter and Lisa’s compositions at our Debut Sounds performance on Monday 4 July. To find out more about the performance, make sure to visit our event page.