Plucked from Nowhere:


A Composition Competition for a Work for Harp

and Chamber Orchestra.

The Álvarez Chamber Orchestra is pleased to announce “The Song of Britomartis” by Molly Kien the winning entry of the 2009 composition competition Plucked from Nowhere. The music heard accompanying this page can also be played by clicking here. Molly Kien originates from Milwaukee in the USA and currently lives and works in Stockholm.  She receives a prize of £1,000 and her work will be performed by the Álvarez Chamber Orchestra at its forthcoming season, also entitled “Plucked from Nowhere”, the first concert of the festival scheduled for November 13th, 2010 at LSO St Luke's. Other works in the season will include pieces by members of the reading panel, and three world premieres all written especially for the ÁCO: Harp Concerto by  Bogusław Schaeffer, Spiders' Web by Paul Patterson, commissioned with funds from the PRS for Music Foundation, and the Triple Goddess by Geoffrey Álvarez. A separate prize of Sibelius 6 music notation software, which has been donated by Avid, was awarded to Jee Soo Shin for her quirky miniature “Ha-rpy”.  Jee Soo Shin is from Seoul but is currently studying at the University of Southampton and also teaches at the University of Oxford.


The competition was open to composers of any age and nationality. There was no specification as to the length or nature of the work, or the number of works submitted. Thus the  competition attracted a wide range of entries across all age groups from 16 to 78 from many countries including the UK, Germany, Russia and South Africa. Dr Geoffrey Álvarez, Artistic Director and Conductor of the ÁCO, expressed satisfaction with the outcome, “The reading panel was encouraged by the number of scores we received, especially from abroad, with professional, semi-professional and amateur entrants submitting works spanning a huge stylistic range from lyrical modality to free atonality. All our entrants will receive feedback on their entries based on the judges’ comments.” Due to the success of the competition the ÁCO plans to make this an annual event in their programme.


The Prizewinners


First Prize


On 19th March, 2010, in the Schott Recital Room, London, acclaimed film and opera director Tony Palmer presented American composer Molly Kien with the Plucked from Nowhere Award.
Molly Kien was born in 1979 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in composition from Indiana University where she studied with Sven-David Sandström. This led to further studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, where she received a Master’s Degree in spring 2009. She has written for groups such as Nordic Fusion 6, the Swedish Radio Choir and Musica Vitae String orchestra. This autumn (2009) she is working with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.  “The Song of Britomartis” was written for Laura Stephenson, principal harpist with Stockholm’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Swedish new music chamber ensemble, KammerensembleN: they can be heard on the excerpt posted on this webpage. The piece was inspired by a rug outside the auditorium of the Stockholm Concert Hall designed by Swedish artist Isaac Grünewald which draws in turn from the rich wellsprings of matrilineal Minoan mythology, in particular the Goddess Britomartis. The goddess is sometimes portrayed as a mermaid who appears in “The Song of Britomartis” as the harp, glimpsed tantalisingly fleetingly in isolated diatonic white notes at first before gradually establishing herself as the principal character of the work with a cadenza of glissandi of glistening, iridescent scales coloured with flattened G’s and A’s.
The Sibelius 6 Prize  
At the same occasion, Daniel Spreadbury, Head of Research and Development of Sibelius Software, Avid, shown on the left, presented Jee Soo Shin with a full, boxed, professional copy of Sibelius 6, on the right with composer Stephen Montague at the prize-giving. Jee Soo Shin was born in 1981 in Seoul. During her studies in composition with Chungiek Chang at Seoul National University, many of her works were performed in South Korea. Her studies concluded at the University Mozarteum in Salzburg winning the Bernhard-Paumgartner Medal for the best graduate of the year. Her work has been presented at Darmstadt Ferienkurse and by groups such as Ensemble ACROBAT, and vocal ensemble EXAUDI. She currently studies composition with Michael Finnissy at the University of Southampton and teaches at the University of Oxford. The title “Ha-rpy” playfully takes the note H on a journey from piccolo via the violins to conclude on the harp. What happens at the same time on the other instruments is motivically jittery, quirky and characterful; a miniature Paul Klee.
The Jury
The reading panel consisted of – from left to right in the photograph below - composer Diana Burrell, formerly Director of the Spitalfields Festival, now holding a Fellowship at the Royal Academy; composer Paul Patterson, recently awarded the highest Polish award, the Gold Medal, for his work promoting Polish music, currently Manson Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music and composer in residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain; Geoffrey Álvarez, composer and conductor of the Álvarez Chamber Orchestra; Simon Campion, music publisher; Elżbieta Baklarz, virtuoso harpist with the Polish Orkestra Sinfonietta Cracovia and International Liaison Officer for the ÁCO; and Roxanna Panufnik, a composer with a thorough working knowledge of the harp.

The Competitors


All the composers who entered the competition were invited to come to the award ceremony, and among those who responded were two significant composers with flourishing careers. Alastair Greig, currently Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University, details here, wrote after he had attended the presentation:

...the open nature of your event and the fact that you invited a number of competitors to attend the event was a welcome surprise. If only other competitions could be organised in a similar, civilised way, it would make for a much more productive and encouraging community spirit all round...

Nancy Van de Vate, a well established and respected American composer living in Austria, another of our most distinguished finalists, was unable to attend the ceremony as she was recording in Vienna at the time where she also teaches at the Institute for European Studies. She wrote of the competition:

The Plucked from Nowhere competition and all the events and publicity surrounding it were by far the most tastefully and professionally implemented of any competition I have ever experienced.  They would be an excellent model for other such events--so please keep up the good work!

To find out more about this important artist, click here.


Details of the next ÁCO prize, Free Style, are available here.


The Álvarez Chamber Orchestra is committed to the performance and creation of contemporary music of imagination and substance; it brings together musicians who share this passion and have the technique and enthusiasm to realise it. By employing artists principally from the United Kingdom, but augmented with guests from both Europe and further afield of the highest calibre, a cultural dialogue is engendered which lends a unique voice to this Pan-Global Ensemble.

In the 2008 season celebrating the music of England and Poland, Elżbieta Baklarz returned to work with The Álvarez Chamber Orchestra, bringing musicians from the  Sinfonietta Cracovia, already heard to great acclaim at the launch of the season at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in January.



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