Marc Yeats: Where best to be a composer?


21.11.2018 at 18:00


My fact-Finding project to Reykjavik and Helsinki.

I am visiting Iceland and Finland to discover how each nation supports its contemporary composers, how it promotes and publishes them, what schemes are available for commissioning and collaborating – in general, how a composer survives financially and artistically in Finland and how the government and charities or public funding, if any, supports this. This information will prove very useful to compare with how composers working in similar genres are supported in the UK and what examples and lessons could be learned or practices aspired to from the way composers and new music are valued in Finland.

My trip is sponsored by The White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities, a Doctoral Training Partnership supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain in partnership with the University of Leeds where I am currently a PhD candidate and is organised as part of a researcher employability scheme, giving researchers experiences that will help their future employability.

This project will see the organisation and delivery of a seminar for composers in Dorset, UK to explore the theme of ‘composer as entrepreneur’, specifically looking at increasing employment and collaborative opportunity for composers in rural areas. The aim of the seminar is twofold: one, to offer composers support for professional development around how to collaborate, generate work opportunities and understand available funding as well as the national agencies that can support creative projects; and two, offer a networking opportunity that brings together those in Dorset who can potentially commission, perform and collaborate with the community of composers who assemble for the seminar, offering the opportunity to form relationships and discuss potential collaborations. The seminar will take place in the Lighthouse, Poole at the end of January 2019 and include a number of key speakers from national companies involved in contemporary music such as Sound and Music and Arts Council England as well as a presentation from me after a fact-finding trip to Iceland and Finland, two countries who support music and composition more strongly than the UK, to look at what they are doing to support composers and what we can learn from their experiences. The project will take place primarily in Dorset with international travel to Iceland and Finland to gather information and form relationships with various agencies and individuals in those countries, potentially forging links between them and the composer’s community in Dorset. I will be working in partnership with the Arts Development Company in Dorset to deliver the project. My role will be akin to that of an expert advisor in a collaborative role.

My Research

I am currently a PhD candidate at the School of Music, University of Leeds. The title of my thesis is: Control, Flexibility, Flux and Complexity: A Timecode-supported Approach to Polytemporal Orchestral composition.

My current interests in composition involve creating fluid music that simultaneously brings together fully notated musical lines in differing tempi, fixed against timecode that is read in relation to loosely synchronised mobile stopwatches, enabling performers to reference their relative positions along the timeline of the piece during performance. This asynchronous/polytempic compositional approach explores the relationships between composer control and performer flexibility, as well as virtuosity and structural cohesion, resulting in performances that are always iterations of my compositional intention. They also produce a slightly ‘out of focus image’ that whilst always being recognisable, shifts in its material contextual relationships, yielding results that are similar but slightly different as each iteration becomes a fixed rendition of the piece in its own right. My practice has developed through an interest in delivering complex musical structures without a conductor, in part, through giving players the freedom to approach technically challenging ensemble music within an achievable, understandable, flexible and expressive timecode performance format that allows but confines degrees of indeterminacy (alignment flux) without distortions to the music’s overall architecture in performance (temporal drift). In this context I have found that timecode supported flexibility allows me to reach a satisfactory compromise between my desire for exact structural control and what is humanly possible without a conductor, to achieve a desirable musical outcome with minimal structural drift that fulfils my creative intentions to create music that is made up of many different streams of simultaneous activity – a temporal polyphony rich with multiple instrumental voices – all independent of one another but behaving as one entity, as a polytempic architectural construction in sound.

Timecode-supported Polytemporal Music for orchestra is conductor-less and scoreless with each musician performing in simultaneously independent tempi from parts alone. This method offers new possibilities in writing and performing multi-tempi music by balancing composer control and player mediation to support structural coherence and flexible performance outcomes in through-composed, sonically complex orchestral music using managed flux. Working with the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, my research builds and tests new methodologies and repertoire in this undeveloped area of composition, producing a ‘how to’ tool-kit for other composers’ use.


Marc Yeats is an internationally performed composer and visual artist currently a PhD candidate in composition at University of Leeds, whose compositions have been played by the most noted of orchestras and ensembles across the globe. These include UK companies such as The London Sinfonietta and The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic and the Halle Orchestra and Chorus. Further afield, Marc’s work has also been performed by the Tokyo City Philharmonic, the Atlanta-based, Chamber Cartel, and many others. His compositions have gained great acclaim through many radio broadcasts for the BBC and also been broadcast in many other countries including the US, Germany and New Zealand.

Marc’s relationship with the BBC is both strong and enduring, starting with a BBC Scotland performance by the Edinburgh String Quartet more than 20 years ago. His first orchestral work I See Blue (1995) conducted by Martin Brabbins, received much acclaim when first performed around the same time. This led to specific BBC commissions, including a piano concerto, the round and square art of memory (1999) to open Piano 2000 in Manchester, with Kathryn Stott as soloist, and a solo harpsichord piece Rhema (2010) performed by Mahan Esfahani and broadcast in 2010 by BBC Radio 3 from the Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall in Leeds.

Selection as one of just 10 to attend the legendary Hoy Summer School in 1994 brought Marc into contact with the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. At the completion of the course, Max was keen to support and promote Marc’s work, and conducted his first commission with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Anatomy of Air (1997) at the St. Magnus Festival in 1997. He and Marc continued to share ideas, and Max took a great interest in Marc’s visual art and compositional work with mobile technologies and a range of asynchronous and polytemporal structural approaches to composition.

Marc was recently been appointed as composer-in-residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospitals, a position he has also held with other UK and US organisations. Work such as My Blood Is As Red As Yours (2008) (an orchestral and choral piece commissioned by the Halle to celebrate World Aids Day in 2008 and performed at the Bridgewater Hall) and recent polytemporal works, such as shapeshifter (2015) and the observation string quartets (2015–16) ( and the observation series of pieces (2015–18) (see: continues to enhance his reputation as a leading contemporary composer. Marc is now managed by Noel Music Management, and his many works continue to be performed and broadcast to enthusiastic worldwide audiences.

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