RPS Composers programme

Establishing yourself as a professional composer is rarely easy. Despite having the talent, composers at this stage in their careers often do not have the confidence, contacts and wherewithal to create new opportunities for themselves.

Annually, the Royal Philharmonic Society aims to transform the prospects of promising composers, helping them take their first critical steps in establishing a career. We not only grant a range of commissions and the chance for your work to be performed with a noted ensemble, venue or festival: we also aim to help you develop the means to seek further commissions and performances of your own. This comes through a range of sessions and activities, including the opportunity to meet and draw insights from key figures in the music business and professional composers, workshops to develop skills that will enable you to promote yourself and your music, and individual sessions to define personal objectives that we will help you to fulfil.

Furthermore we will give you an insight into the range of settings in which you and your music can have real impact, and will encourage you to think more about the scope of everything you can do as a professional composer. Our composers will spend time experiencing the vital education initiatives our partner organisations deliver, giving you a sense both of the responsibility and the many opportunities you have to enrich other’s lives. Additionally, we will proudly present you as an RPS Composer, part of a distinguished lineage that goes back to Beethoven and Mendelssohn, helping you get the recognition your music deserves.

‘This sort of support is like gold-dust at this point in my career.’
Laurence Osborn, RPS Composer 2018

What does the RPS offer? Usually we grant around eight commissions which this last year have had value of £2,000 each, for a chamber or solo work plus its premiere performance with a leading ensemble, venue or festival in the UK. Each of these valued partners plays a vital role in your experience, giving you a practical insight into a range of their creative work and how you as a composer can most fruitfully collaborate with more such organisations in future. Moreover, over the course of a year, you will also attend a number of sessions designed for you to set goals, make plans, and enable you to establish a good footing in the music profession, meeting contacts who will be invaluable for your future. We are particularly grateful to Schott Music - with whom the RPS shares its premises - whose team lend their expertise to several of these sessions helping our composers address a range of practicalities of being a professional composer and offer individual specialist guidance. Over the course of the year, we estimate all such activity will take place across approximately 15-20 days.

Our current cohort of emerging composers are writing for Cheltenham Festival, Music in the Round, the Philharmonia, Presteigne Festival and Wigmore Hall. To give you a greater impression of what is offered, you can read about our current commissions and the composers fulfilling them on our website.

With each composer, we set the brief and parameters for the work they’re going to write with their respective festival, ensemble or venue in early Autumn 2020. A provisional submission date will be agreed, and the composers are then free to set about writing their works. Premieres usually take place from May to December the following year.

Who is it open to? Vitally, you should be at a stage where you are able to demonstrate genuine commitment to establishing a career as a composer, both in what you write in your application, and also in the proficiency of the music you submit. You may have recently graduated or be coming to the end of your studies, but equally a formal degree or equivalent qualification is not compulsory. We recognise that composers pursue many different routes, so we look forward to hearing your individual story.

Please note, this opportunity is not open to those studying at undergraduate or Masters level during the year of the programme. If you are still studying, we recommend that you focus on all that your college or university can offer, and you’re welcome to apply in a future year. Composers working towards a PhD are welcome to apply. Equally, given its purpose to help establish your career, this opportunity is only for those aged 18 and above.

We're always keen to hear from those who have not considered applying to the RPS before, but are equally pleased to hear from those who have and read about what they have achieved recently.

We are continually striving to address how we can minimise barriers to the widest possible range of applicants and are proud to have adopted Sound and Music's Fair Access Principles. We particularly welcome applications from under-represented demographics, such as those who are Black, Asian and ethnically diverse, or those who are disabled. If you feel that any part of our offer - or the experience in applying for it - could inhibit any such person from applying, please do let us know (contact details below) and we will be happy to address this. We have also proudly signed up to the Keychange initiative, aiming to achieve 50:50 gender parity in the composers we support.

How do I apply? Applications for the 2020/21 programme have now closed. We anticipate reopening applications in February 2021.

When you apply, you are asked to complete our online application form and also submit three of your compositions for consideration by our panel. Selected applicants are then invited for an interview in London to talk more about your music and aspirations. The interview panel usually consists of a member of RPS staff, a composer, and a representative each from two of our partner organisations. First round applications will be reviewed by RPS staff, two composers and one or two members of staff from two of our partner organisations. External adjudicators are rotated each year.

Selected applicants will be invited for an interview to talk more about your music and aspirations. The interview panel will usually consist of a member of RPS staff, a composer, and a representative each from two of our partner organisations. First round applications will be reviewed by two members of RPS staff, two composers and one or two members of staff from two of our partner organisations. External adjudicators are rotated each year.

What does it cost? We are pleased to say that there is no entry fee or cost to those who undertake the programme. If you are shortlisted for interview in London, you would generally need to cover your own travel expenses, but do talk to us if you are concerned that this may prevent you attending.

Is this the 'RPS Composition Prize'? Yes, this is the opportunity previously known as the 'RPS Composition Prize' though we've changed the name to reflect that it offers more of a lasting association with the Royal Philharmonic Society, given that its recipients join our distinguished roster of composers which dates back 200 years.

If you have any further queries about any part of the process not addressed in the guidelines below or wish to speak to a member of the RPS team, please get in touch with us. We also warmly welcome feedback about our application process and are keen to hear from anyone who may have identified potential barriers to applying. You can contact our General Manager Robin Sheffield at robin@philharmonicsociety.uk or call one of the team on 020 7287 0019.

We are grateful to a range of donors for supporting our work here including the ABRSM, the Susan Bradshaw Composers' Fund, Delius Trust, the Elgar Bursary Fund, The Fidelio Charitable Trust, Garrick Charitable Trust, Presteigne Festival, PRS Foundation, and the RVW Trust

The RPS has a long tradition of supporting composers, dating back to Beethoven. We are only able to keep helping composers thanks to a generous family of individual donors, trusts and corporate sponsors. If you would like to help us in this, please click here to find out how to get involved. Even the smallest gesture is greatly appreciated.