Upbeat: Raised stakes

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The Independent Culture
JONATHAN HARVEY, interviewed today (page 24) on the occasion of his English National Opera premiere, is also in the news for winning the 1993 Britten Award for Composition - won for his widely-heard cycle Song Offerings. At pounds 10,000 the award is part of a trend to substantial prizes that can buy a generous amount of composing time. Two more schemes have just emerged: the Oliver Prize, again worth pounds 10,000, and a programme of awards from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which will choose five artists to receive pounds 12,000 each, each year focusing on a different art form - music comes first.

At this scale there's a heavy onus on the judges to pick wisely. It's as well too for entrants to look closely at the small print. The prize in memory of Stephen Oliver requires that a specified libretto be set in order to take part: A N Wilson will provide the first. This ploy is modelled on a competition that Offenbach ran in 1856. But how many composers who need the money can, in 1993, afford the massive investment of time to write a 45-minute opera, on spec, with no say over the text?

The Hamlyn awards are open to 'composers between the ages of 25 and 40 working in all areas of music including jazz and improvisation, non-Western music traditions, opera and music theatre. Cross-arts collaborations which are principally music based will also be considered.' The entries, however, will be sifted by a first- round panel consisting of three English composers, a singer and a professor-cum- BBC man. No quibbles with them as individuals, and the organisers say that the special interests of several will cover all those other fields. But put it this way. If you were a classical composer, would you expect to be judged by jazz, black music and multi-media experts?

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