Introducing the new RPS Composers

21 Jul 2020

Meet the seven artists newly joining the Royal Philharmonic Society’s historic roster of composers dating back to Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

Since its foundation in 1813, the Philharmonic Society has continually supported composers and brought new music to the stage. It commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and supported the young Mendelssohn in his early twenties, commissioning his popular ‘Italian’ Symphony. Ever since, the RPS has strived to help composers whose voices deserve to be heard.

Establishing yourself as a professional composer is especially difficult. It doesn’t just take remarkable talent: it takes great confidence, initiative and imagination to create opportunities for yourself. Annually, each composer in our cohort receives a commission from the RPS and a performance with a noted British ensemble, venue or festival. But it doesn’t stop there: we help them plan their next steps, build their profile, gain a practical understanding in how the profession works, and meet valuable contacts, ensuring they can secure future commissions and performances of their own. To achieve this, we are indebted to our partner organisations – the Philharmonia, the Wigmore Hall, Music in the Round, Cheltenham Music Festival and Presteigne Festival – and to Schott Music whose team share their expertise in a series of dedicated sessions.

The 2020-21 RPS Composers are:

  • Alex Paxton - writing for the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series. As a composer, Alex draws upon his life as an improvising-trombonist, jazz musician and workshop leader. He is the founder of DreamMusics Ensemble which combines synth sounds with virtuosic musicians in contemporary classical, jazz and improvisation.
  • Ayanna Witter-Johnson - writing for the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series. Ayanna is a graduate of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music. A singer, songwriter, cellist and composer, she is committed to proving that classical and alternative r&b music can successfully coexist.
  • James B. Wilson - writing for Presteigne Festival. James draws musical influences from a range of recent and contemporary artists - from Benjamin Britten to Sonic Youth, and the poetry of Dylan Thomas to the films of David Lynch. A Royal Academy of Music graduate, his output ranges from intimate acoustic works to immersive electronic pieces.
  • Jonathan Woolgar - writing for Cheltenham Music Festival. Jonathan draws from a wide range of musical experience to create work that is communicative without compromise. He has lately written for the LSO's Panufnik Composers Scheme and the soprano Héloïse Werner, performing at The Red House, Aldeburgh last year as part of Britten’s birthday concert.
  • Lucy Hale - writing for the Wigmore Hall, as Rosie Johnson RPS / Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer. A graduate from the Royal Northern College of Music, Lucy is passionate about widening access to music making. She is currently Young Composer-in-Residence with Orchestras for All and was the inaugural Young Composer-in-Association with BSO Resound in 2018/19.
  • Ruta Vitkauskaite - writing for Music in the Round. Ruta is a musical omnivore: performing (violin, piano, voice and electronics); organising a festival, workshop series and 'New Music Incubator' in the Baltic States; initiating a range of experimental new music projects; and making music in community settings. She has recently completed her PhD at the Royal Academy of Music.
  • Sylvia Lim - writing for the Wigmore Hall, as Rosie Johnson RPS / Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer. Sylvia recently completed her PhD at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Her music is influenced by natural phenomena and the visual arts, and she enjoys exploring the 'materiality' of sound and focusing on small musical elements in depth.

RPS General Manager Robin Sheffield says:

‘We are doubly pleased to offer these opportunities at this testing time for musicians. Given the enormous demand there is for this and other opportunities, we are also addressing what more we can do for the many talented composers we cannot offer a place, such as signposting and sharing some of our resources. As we strive to ensure our offer is open and inclusive, we are proud to adhere to Sound and Music's Fair Access Principles and have signed up to PRS Foundation’s KeyChange initiative to achieve 50:50 gender parity in the composers we support. We are delighted to welcome the 2020-21 cohort, and look forward to working with them and sharing their music in the year ahead.'

Indeed, we are now maintaining a webpage of further opportunities for composers in the UK, and in the year ahead will be finding ways to share with composers more widely some of the insights and expertise presented in some of our cohort sessions.

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

If you might like to consider supporting this work, please do contact us on

Related pages