I love composing. Not all the time, but at the times when it’s flowing, when I’m utterly engrossed, when I lose track of time so much that I forget to eat and don’t see daylight from one day to the next … those are the times when it’s really wonderful. And the thrill of the creation is closely matched by the intense excitement and anticipation the first time that a new piece is brought to life by the musicians. It’s then I find out whether that passage I laboured over for hours creates the magical effect I desired, or whether a daring gamble with instrumental balance has paid off. But the process of creating a new piece has one further summit – the first performance itself, when the new piece speaks directly to the audience. It’s that process of unveiling, and the reactions of the audience members to what has been unveiled, that really makes it all worthwhile.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been signed to Composers Edition. Many of my works are now available on the Composers Edition website, either to order high-quality print copies, or to order pdfs for self-printing.
My music has been performed by ensembles including the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, the Brodsky Quartet, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. In 2004 I was shortlisted for the British Composer Awards for Crosby Symphony Overture. I was among ten composers commissioned to write a piece for the 10th anniversary of Ensemble 10/10 in 2007. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, my entertainment for children for narrator and orchestra, was performed by the RLPO, with Michael Rosen narrating, at the 2013 BBC Proms, Sunday 1 September, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
“Stephens’ musical language is hallmarked by strong thematic ideas and driven by the power of bold rhythmic motifs and sonorous combinations of instruments or voices.” (Andrew Stewart, BBC Proms programme, 1 September 2013)
Current projects include Springhead Echoes for the Fitzwilliam Quartet, and Clarinet Quintet for Mandy Burvill and the Fitzwilliam Quartet. I’ve been nominated for a 2017 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers.
Much of 2016 was devoted to Super Slow Way: A Rhapsody to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, a collaboration with the wonderful poet Ian McMillan, for the 200th anniversary of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, commissioned by the Canal and River Trust. I wrote for the combined forces of soprano Amanda Roocroft, cellist Jonathan Aasgaard, tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, Blackburn People’s Choir, Children’s Voices of Blackburn and the Super Slow Way Chamber Choir. It was performed at King George’s Hall, Blackburn, on Sunday 16 October 2016. A short film about the Rhapsody can be seen here.
Recent performances include Cecilia Speaks with the Manchester Chamber Choir conducted by Jonathan Lo on 17 June 2017 in Mellor Parish Church. Premieres include a setting of Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins for Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, on 29 May 2016 at King’s College, Salisbury Service for David Halls and the Choir of Salisbury Cathedral on 10 November 2016 at 7.30pm in Salisbury Cathedral, Cecilia Speaks, setting texts by Isabel Rogers, performed by the Exmoor Singers of London under James Jarvis, On Goes The River: Three Songs of Childhood, setting texts by Robert Louis Stevenson and Hilaire Belloc, performed by the Senior Choir of Finchley Children’s Music Group under Grace Rossiter, and Quantum Dots for solo piano, commissioned for and performed by William Bracken.
Three of my works are available on CD: A Wailing on the Wind for string quartet and storyteller, Timepieces: Three Auden Lyrics for choir and alto saxophone, and Ultramarine for brass quintet, which is on the CD Something Blue.