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How To ... Guides
How To …Commission New Music (H2)
…part of ‘Commissioning Uncovered’

1. Introduction
2. Why should we commission?
3. The commissioning process
4. Select your composer
5. The legal and contractual stuff
6. Marketing your premiere
7. Pitfalls to avoid
8. Get it funded
9. What happens afterwards?
10. Some case studies
11. Useful links and addresses

2-4 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3NW
T 0870 903 3780 F 0870 903 3785

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1. Introduction

• Thinking about commissioning a new piece? Undecided how to go about it?

• Are you concerned about the pitfalls of commissioning? Unsure how to raise the money and
how much to pay?

• Do you want to learn from other people's successes?

Then this Guide could be what you need.

In writing this Guide, we acknowledge the assistance, insight and experience of: Matthew Greenall
– British Music Information Centre, Brian Inglis – Composer and Abigail Pogson – society for the
promotion of new music. All contact details are provided in section 11.

We are also very grateful to the Performing Right Society Foundation for funding ‘Commissioning
Uncovered’, of which this How To Guide is an integral part.

If you decide to go ahead with your commission, we wish you every success in realising it, and we
would welcome learning about your experiences.

December 2003

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2. Why Should We Commission?

"There is huge potential for creating a new repertoire for amateur musicians, either working on
their own or in collaboration with professionals." (Gillian Moore. ABO Workbook, 1997)

As if to bear out this statement, Making Music’s most recent survey shows that on average 221
new works are commissioned by our members each year. It is clear therefore that it is enormously
exciting for both performers and composers to take part in the world première of a new musical
work. Commissioning is not and never has been restricted to the professional sector: many major
works over the years have been premièred by amateurs, and no less a masterpiece than Purcell's
Dido and Aeneas was written for a school. Present-day composers such as Sally Beamish, J ames
MacMillan and Making Music President Sir Peter Maxwell Davies regularly work with their local

Commissioning new works can not only be rewarding in itself but also can add to the stock of
wonderful music that is available for amateur performers, especially as many composers nowadays
are writing in extremely accessible and familiar idioms.

Done correctly, commissioning a new work can:

• provide members and audience alike with a guaranteed new experience
• allow members to be part of the creative process
• provide the kudos of mounting a world première and the associated PR opportunities – and
the access to funding opportunities that can also arise
• create a piece of music particularly suited to a specific audience, for example young people,
or for a special occasion
• amplify your group’s repertoire, and musical repertoire in general
• give a group new focus

Don't forget to involve your members before embarking on a commission, particularly if you are a
performing society. If you do not have their commitment from the start, the project may well not
be a success.

3. The Commissioning Process

The commissioning process is concerned with managing a new and different set of relationships –
those between composer, artistic director, and performers. This can be a rewarding and
productive relationship, provided the following points are taken into consideration and applied

1. Establish a very clear brief for the composer. This may involve a decision about the forces
required, the duration of the piece, whether soloists should be used etc. Should you
specify a theme? Some composers will be more open to suggestions than others, so this
may influence your choice here – you may have flexible requirements for the piece, or you
may demand something special from the composer, for example to celebrate an
anniversary or special occasion. The artistic director or conductor should be fully involved
in this process. Don’t forget the performers either! Prior to choosing your composer, you
may want to ask them if they have any ideas for a new piece – for example in terms of
texts that they might like to use, or theme for the work.

2. Choose your composer, or a shortlist of composers. See section 4 for details on how to do

3. Set up a meeting with your composer or composers. Encourage them to come to a
rehearsal as soon as possible, and to come to one of your concerts where they will be able

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to form a clear picture of how the group sounds and interacts with an audience during a
live performance. Make this an "assessment" stage: don't commit yourself until you have
agreed what both sides want out of the commissioning process, and until you are
comfortable that you can achieve a good working relationship with the composer.

4. Discuss in detail with the composer the sort of work you want. Make sure you specify the
forces to be used and the other things you find important as part of your decisions in stage
one. It is here that you must decide how much artistic freedom to allow the composer –
the extent to which “who pays the piper calls the tune”. This will vary from composer to
composer, and it is vital that both sides know exactly where they stand on this issue – if
ever a relationship goes wrong in the commissioning process, it is usually over forces,
excessive difficulty, idiom, or deadlines – all things that can and should be discussed and
agreed at this stage before the composer is engaged. A final point – the composer may
want to see the venue in which the première of the performance is to be made in order to
tailor his or her composition to the right environment.

5. Draw up a legally binding contract between your group and the composer. You can
request a standard contract from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters – all
contact details mentioned in this document are noted in section 10.

6. In order to keep the composition to brief, and the relationship with composer close, try to
ensure that the composer is kept in touch with the society during the composing process.
If possible, make sure that you can see a little of the music early on, and try it out on your
society (even with the composer there, if you are comfortable!). If your musical director
feels that it is too difficult, then ask the composer to make some changes. This is
important as an over-ambitious work will take up too much rehearsal time, frustrate your
performers and be performed badly! If it has been agreed in advance, the composer
should be prepared to respond positively to such situations - remember that you are paying
for a product for your society. This will be easier if the composer has seen the group in
action and has an idea of their strengths and weaknesses - regular and honest
communication with the composer will help to ensure that the end result is satisfactory.

7. If the composer is amenable, and the society and committee are willing, involve your
society members in the compositional process – again easily done by inviting the composer
to a rehearsal or workshop of the piece in its early stages. It is important not to let your
members feel that a new piece has been imposed on them. If possible, enable your
ensemble to be involved in some way in the creative process. Ask the composer to try
out ideas on them, allowing them to give feedback; or suggest to the composer that the
work includes "free" sections where you can improvise. Care should be taken that the
composer doesn’t feel that the society is losing sight of his or her vision at this stage, but
done with care and attention this can be the most rewarding experience: a sense of "joint
ownership" of the piece.

This is just as relevant if you are working with young people or new participants, who are
bound to want more of a say than the performers for whom Purcell composed!

8. Have the composer write a programme note for the piece, but make sure that your usual
programme editor has editorial rights over it! Unfortunately being a brilliant composer is
no guarantee of an articulate and concise writing style! It might help if you give the
composer a direct brief for this part of the process also.

9. Allocate enough rehearsal time.

10. Make sure the composer is present and given due recognition at the première – but try to
ensure that the first performance of the work is not the last, especially if the work is
successful! See section 8 ‘What Happens Afterwards’ for some ideas.

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4. Select Your Composer

In some ways, unless you already have a composer in mind, choosing your composer is probably
the most difficult part of the process. You need to invest time to find the right composer for your

• The first decision to be made is whether to commission from an experienced
composer with a track-record, or to use somebody less established. The former will
naturally cost more, and the latter may well be able to commit more time and effort
to your project.

• To obtain details of composers who are interested in working specifically with amateurs,
and who have some experience of doing this please visit our online ‘Composer Database’
which is well-equipped to offer details of a number of composers directly relevant to your
needs. If you are unable to find anyone suitable by that means, try the following options:

o Someone in your society may already know a composer. One of your members, or
your Musical Director, may be interested in writing a work, although this should be
approached with caution and due awareness of other possibilities, particularly if a
fee is involved. Or you may have heard the music of a composer that you
particularly like. In this case, you may want to contact the British Academy for
details of that particular named composer.

o Contact the British Music Information Centre or the Scottish Music Information
Centre which exist to document and promote the work of living composers. Each
centre has a database of composers who work in Britain, and a collection of works
and recordings. Centre staff will be happy to put together an information pack with
details and samples of composers' music.

o The society for the promotion of new music (spnm) exists to promote the work of
living composers, in particular emerging voices. They also offer help and
suggestions regarding the selection of composers and hold a database of newly
created works from emerging composers. They may well be able to put you in
touch with a composer who does not yet command a full fee.

o You could hold a competition for local composers, offering them a valuable
opportunity to have their work played (see section 10’s case study: St J ames’
Orchestra). You could advertise in a local conservatoire, university, or schools.

o Don't forget the tried and trusted grapevine: ask other music societies with whom
you are in touch if they can suggest a composer who they have worked with
successfully. Your Making Music Committee or Training and Development Officer
may be able to help here.

• Ensure you consider the following criteria when choosing a composer to approach:

o Do they write the sort of music you like, or that your members like?
o Have they experience in writing for amateurs?
o Have they experience of writing for the forces you need?
o Do they have a track record of delivering work on time?
o Will you be able to reach agreement with them over changes and work-in-progress
o Can you afford them – are all necessary fees covered?
o Have they got time to write the piece in the timescale you have identified?
o If you are working on a workshop basis how skilled are they at managing such

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5. The Legal And Contractual Stuff

We cannot stress enough the importance of having a formal contract or exchange of letters with
the composer whom you are commissioning. If you are working via a publisher (many composers
handle all their work this way) they will almost certainly issue you with a contract which you would
do well to have a lawyer examine. If not, make sure your contract includes at least the following

• Ensure that there are clear deadlines by which the group should receive copies of the
music (by section or as a whole), and that the contract specifies any penalty in the event of
the composer not meeting the deadlines.

• The contract should contain the composer's fee. If the composer is professional, he or she
will usually expect the fees recommended by British Academy of Composers and
Songwriters (see Making Music Information Sheet no.25), although these are guidelines
and therefore flexible. If you feel you can’t afford these rates it is still worth getting in
touch with a composer - many may be willing to negotiate for the chance of writing a new
piece and hearing it performed.

• Ensure that the contract specifies who possesses the rights to the new piece: in other
words, who owns it legally. The composer may well wish to retain the rights while allowing
the commissioning society to retain a full set of vocal and/or orchestral parts for their sole
use in perpetuity.

• The cost of producing and/or copying parts can run into thousands of pounds for large
works. In the case of a published composer, this bill is usually met by the publisher
although you may be asked for a contribution. Composers without a publisher have to pay
for copying themselves so ensure that any claim for reimbursement is settled in advance.
If you take responsibility for printing the score and parts, you will be able to hire the music
out to other societies.

• If the composer is to attend rehearsals, or give a talk at the premiere, it will be important
to establish whether he/she will receive an extra fee for this.

• Recording the premiere of the work will assist the composer's own self-promotion, as well
as providing you with a permanent record of your commission. Bear in mind, however,
apart from the costs incurred, that this can increase the pressure on the performers, and
any professionals taking part would need to give permission. They might also insist on
extra fees. If you wish to sell or give away recordings of the work, you must contact MCPS
(the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society).

6. Marketing Your Premiere

It is an all too common occurrence that composer and performers put a huge amount of effort into
a new work, get justifiably excited over the première, and end up performing in front of the
composer, his or her friends, and not many others! Avoid this frustrating and disappointing
situation by making a special effort to market the concert effectively. Consider the following

• Consider the context in which the first performance will take place, and what the
experience will be like for the audience.

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• The other works in the programme are important, not just with regard to musical
compatibility but also in terms of attracting an audience. Programming a popular work
alongside a new work should bring a larger audience into contact with it, as long as this
makes sense in the programme as a whole. The composer may want some input into the
programming of the performance, as he or she may feel that the piece would sit well
amongst other specific works.

Publicity materials
• When marketing the event, and during the performance, include as much detail about the
composer and the themes running through the new work and his or her inspiration.

• Emphasise the uniqueness of the event – a world première should have a great sense of
occasion, especially if linked to the community in which the piece is being performed.
Distribute a press release to all local newspapers and radio stations and follow them up
with a phone call. You can also announce a première in national publications, such as New
Notes or the Premieres section of Classical Music.

• Minimising the use of musical jargon and intimidating language can bring contemporary
music to an even wider audience. Use your publicity to turn negative preconceptions (the
work will be difficult to listen to, the audience don't know what it will be like) into positive
ones (the work will be thought-provoking, the audience will be witnessing something new).

The première
• If the composer or musical director introduces the new work to the audience, with musical
examples if appropriate, the audience is likely to gain more from the experience. If a short
commission was programmed alongside an earlier work by the same composer, the
composer could point to how his or her style has developed between the two pieces.

• Involving the audience as participants in the work in some way increases the sense of a
creative act taking place.

• Instill pride and enthusiasm in your society members, so that they will be encouraged to
bring their friends. This is a piece of music specially created for them!

• There is enormous potential for the creation of a specialised repertoire which directly
address the needs and experiences of young audiences. You could use the new work as an
education and audience development tool.

For more general advice on marketing and audience development, please see the Guide, How to
Develop New Audiences (H6).

7. Pitfalls To Avoid

Sometimes, the commissioning process does go wrong. In our experience, the usual reason is a
lack of sufficient communication between commissioner and commissioned. Here are some of the
pitfalls, how to avoid them and what to do if they happen:

• The composer fails to produce the music in good time.
Ways to Avoid
o Make sure that you are in close touch with the composer throughout the composition
period, and that you have sight of work in progress.
o Select a composer who has a track record of delivery on time, or one with a publisher with
a proven track record.
o Ensure the contract specifies what happens in the event of non-delivery.

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I f I t Happens
o Consider a partial performance with the completed work at a later date
o Postpone the date of performance

• The composer produces inappropriate music -for the wrong forces, too difficult
Ways to Avoid
o Ensure that what is required is specified well in advance and documented in writing.
o Take up references prior to commissioning; choose a composer known to have delivered
the requirements in the past.
o Be aware of how much of a priority your work is to the composer – if they have a lot of
work on, they may have less time to spend on your work.
Remember - most composers have a good sense of the possibilities of a society – he / she
may be attempting to stretch the performers.
If it Happens
o Request that difficult sections be cut out or modified
o Arrange more rehearsal time

• You do not like the piece.
Ways to Avoid
o Choose your composer with care, preferably listening to his or her works prior to
committing yourself. No-one can guarantee that you will like the end result, but close
working with composers during the compositional process should help to identify major
problems before they get out of hand.
o Attempt to get references from other societies who have used the composer in the past
(please see our online Composers Database)
If it Happens
o You should probably perform the piece anyway! Your opinion is only one of many potential

• There is no audience for the premiere.
Ways to Avoid
o It is your duty as promoters to put the maximum possible marketing weight behind a
premiere, even if you do not particularly like the end result of your commission.
o Particularly if the composer is local to your group, you should find it easier to obtain PR and
marketing opportunities than with more conventional concerts.
o Use all the marketing tricks you can! Go to the Events section on our website for details of
Making Music marketing courses, and the Members section to download the How to
Develop New Audiences guide.
If it Happens
o Arrange for a recording of the première (which the composer would want in any case)
o Use this to help market a second performance

8. Get It Funded

Funding new commissions is one of the easier fundraising tasks facing amateur groups. Easier but
not necessarily easy! Many sources of funding are keen to develop new work however, and some
of the following sources would be worth a try:

• Your first step in looking for funding for a new work should be to ask the Regional
Executive Office of the Arts Council of England (formerly known as the Regional Arts Board)
or the Scottish Arts Council, Arts Council of Wales or Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

o NB - some funders may stipulate that they will only help if at least two
performances have been arranged. You might find it helpful to seek the
collaboration of other societies in your area to present the first, second and

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possibly third performances of the new piece within a short period. This can
have added publicity appeal to all concerned and may help to procure
funding from other sources.

o The Arts Councils have budgets for subsidies for new commissions, for example the
Scottish Arts Council's Music Fund, which will cover the basic composer's fee but not
realisation costs.

o Although many local authority budgets are being downgraded, some authorities
have special funds available.

• The useful links section of our website, and our appendix contains details of several
charitable trusts which are known to have an interest in commissions, although there is a
great deal of competition for limited funds.

• The society for the promotion of new music administers the Francis Chagrin Fund, which is
"open to British composers (or composers resident in the UK) to help cover the costs that
they have personally incurred, by reproducing performance materials for works awaiting
their first performance."

• Individuals, particularly wealthy ones, may be willing to contribute to a commission fee.
The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group run a scheme called Sound Investment,
inviting individuals and organisations to buy "shares" in a new work at £100 per share. In
return, the contributor has the opportunity to be involved in the creation of the new work.

• Local companies may be willing to sponsor the première or make a donation on the
strength of the publicity it will attract, and the boost it might give to their image. When
you approach them, give them some facts and figures about how much coverage they are
likely to get for their money.

• It may be worth holding a reception after the concert, particularly if you want to
commission another piece sometime. Invite the press, local dignitaries, and potential

• Remember that an external funder might have specifics which it wishes to see on a
contract, such as acknowledgement of their assistance on all associated print.

8. What Happens Afterwards?

It is a constant source of disappointment when successful works commissioned by Making Music
members never receive performances beyond the première. We will give you as much help as
possible to ensure that the work has a life beyond its première; who knows, it may be the next
Dream of Gerontius: an amateur commission entering the mainstream repertoire. Make sure you
take the following steps to ensure your new piece gets the widest possible exposure.

• Fill out the online form on the Commissioning Uncovered section of our website to ensure
that your work is entered into the Repertoire Service, thus making it available within the
Making Music catalogues. If possible, enter your contact details so that future programme
planners can contact you to find out about the piece.

• Providing the work is a success, plan repeat performances yourself. This will help to
establish it in the repertoire.

• Hiring it out to other societies will also have this effect, and will help you to recoup some of
the commissioning costs; you could make the work available through the Making Music

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Music Exchange Scheme. If the rights are held by the composer or publisher, you could
encourage other societies to hire it from them.

• If the work is particularly exciting and spectacular, ensure that the composer and publisher
are aware of your enthusiasm. They will be able to use your quotations and comments in
their marketing literature. You could also consider sending the details of a very special
occasion to Making Music News for possible inclusion as a news item.

If the commissioning process has been a happy one, make sure it is not your last.
Consider delving deeper into the commissioning process:

• Obtain feedback from your members about whether they enjoyed the commissioning
process, and whether they would like to work again with the same or a different composer.

• Music clubs will also have a proprietorial interest in works that they have helped bring into
the world. Taking opportunities to introduce such works to other performers, particularly
those in instrumental groupings that are short of repertoire and may be looking for new
pieces, could be regarded as an ongoing responsibility.

• If the relationship with the composer is successful, and you feel comfortable with his or her
music, you may wish to work with this composer fairly often. You could either elevate him
or her to "Composer in Association", or simply maintain a looser connection. A composer
whose work has been happily performed at or by your society before will need no special
pleading, and each further commission could be seen as the logical (and very special)
extension of your previous association with him or her.

10. Some Case Studies

Case study: East London Late Starters Orchestra

ELLSO aimed to develop a participative interest in contemporary music-making by amateur
musicians, orchestras and ensembles. They held a "flagship" national residential course at the
University College of Leeds in J uly/August 1995 and a series of regionally based contemporary
music-making events. The latter focused on the performance by amateurs of new works specially
written for them by professionals, ensuring that the pieces were technically accessible yet of
musical interest to amateur and professional musicians and audiences.

Case study: Barnes Music Society (BT Innovation Award winners, 1995)

Barnes Music Society commissioned a cantata, based on the theme of the Great Fire of London, for
its youth orchestra and a local children's choir. The composer was Brendan Beales, an animateur
specialising in working with children, who based the cantata on melodies developed by the young
participants in workshops. Musical items were inter-dispersed with short readings about the Fire.

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The audience were actively involved in the performance, singing the main choruses (after a short
rehearsal), and simulating the spread of the Fire by crinkling paper bags from Happy Shopper! The
society had previously commissioned "adult" works, but a commission for young performers was
an entirely new and successful initiative.

Case study: Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs (COMA)

COMA is a network of individuals and groups working to create opportunities for musicians of all
abilities and backgrounds to become actively involved at the forefront of new music-making. It
grew out of the East London Late Starters Orchestra, who discovered it was difficult to find
contemporary music for players of all levels to enjoy. COMA's commissioning policy is to create
new music of the highest quality that is musically challenging while being technically accessible.
Most of its larger commissions have flexible instrumentation so that they can be played by the
forces available, and they cater for all musical abilities.

Case study: Crouch End Festival Chorus

As part of a longer term "plan for the future", Crouch End Festival Chorus won a BT Innovation
Award in 1996 to establish a School of Composers, dedicated to composing works that are suitable
for, yet challenging to, members and audiences. In the first year, composer J oby Talbot attended
rehearsals to sing with the choir and assess the abilities of members, who in turn talked with J oby
and shared ideas for his composition.

Case study: Luton Music Club (BT Innovation Award winners 1995)

Luton Music Club organised an Associate Young Composer scheme, by which three composers in
their thirties and forties were selected, and several works of each composer were programmed in
each of three seasons. One purpose was to enable audiences to get to know the composers in
some depth and to follow their progress over time. The composers were expected to attend as
many of the relevant concerts as possible, to introduce their work and, if appropriate, to take part
in certain concerts as performers. Audiences were encouraged to meet the composers informally at
concerts, and were provided with special publicity material about the scheme and the composers.
Although this project did not in itself involve a commission from any of the composers, a new work

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from each of them would be the logical development of the scheme and the Club is now
considering this.

Case study: St. James Orchestra (BT Innovation Award winners,1993)

The St. J ames Orchestra in Paisley held a competition to choose a young composer to write a work
for the orchestra. Six young composers studying in Scotland were invited to submit a short work
(not more than 3 minutes) for practice and performance by the orchestra. Before composing their
work, each composer attended a rehearsal to establish the strengths and limitations of the players.
A seminar was held with the orchestra's conductor Paul MacAlindin to explore the special
challenges of composing for amateur orchestra. On the day, each work was rehearsed for 15-20
minutes, followed by 10-15 minutes discussion with the orchestra led by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
and Sally Beamish. The members of the orchestra then each voted for their own favourite, the
winner being Paul Leonard-Morgan for his "Mohi-J ig". His prize was a commission for a 10-minute
work to be premièred by the orchestra. The composers all learnt valuable practical lessons, while
the orchestra discovered that contemporary music can be both enjoyable and challenging to play.
Since the competition the orchestra has played pieces by two of the other composers who took
part in the competition, and a piece by one of its own members. The project had a noticeably
beneficial effect on playing standards and morale.

Case study: East London Late Starters Orchestra

ELLSO aimed to develop a participative interest in contemporary music-making by amateur
musicians, orchestras and ensembles. They held a "flagship" national residential course at the
University College of Leeds in J uly/August 1995 and a series of regionally based contemporary
music-making events. The latter focused on the performance by amateurs of new works specially
written for them by professionals, ensuring that the pieces were technically accessible yet of
musical interest to amateur and professional musicians and audiences.

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British Music Information Centre: Matthew Greenall, Director
10 Stratford Place
London W1C 1BA
Tel: 020 7499 8567

Scottish Music Information Centre: Andrew Logan, Chief Executive
1 Bowmont Gardens
Glasgow G12 9LR
Tel: +44 (0)141 334 6393
Fax: +44 (0)141 337 1161

Ty Cerdd - Welsh Music Information Centre: Keith Griffin, Director
15 Mt. Stuart Square
Cardiff CF10 5DP
Tel: +44 2920 462 855
Fax: +44 2920 462 733

Society for the Promotion of New Music: Gill Graham, Executive Director
4th Floor
18–20 Southwark St
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7407 1640

British Academy of Composers and Songwriters: Chris Green, Chief Executive
British Music House
27 Berners St
London W1T 3LR

MCPS – The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society
Elgar House
41 Streatham High Road
London SW16 1ER
Tel: 020 8378 7744

Arts Council of England
14 Great Peter Street
London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200

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Scottish Arts Council
Scottish Arts Council
12 Manor Place
Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0845 603 6000

Arts Council of Wales
9 Museum Place
Cardiff CF10 3NX
Tel: 029 20 376500

Arts Council of Northern I reland
MacNeice House
77 Malone Road
Belfast BT9 6AQ
Tel: 028 9038 5200

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
CBSO Centre
Berkley Street
Birmingham B1 2LF
Tel: 0121 616 2616

The Holst Foundation: Anna Cuddon, Grants Administrator
43 Alderbrook Road
London SW12 8AD
Tel: 020 8673 4215

The RVW Trust: Helen Faulkner, Administrator
16 Ogle Street
London W1W 6J A
Tel: 020 7255 2590
Fax: 020 7255 2591

The J ohn S Cohen Foundation: Duncan Haldane, Administrator
85 Albany Street
London NW1 4BT

The Britten-Pears Foundation: The Administrator
The Red House
Suffolk IP15 5PZ

The Peter Moores Foundation: Peter Saunders, c/o Messrs Wallwork Nelson and J ohnson,
Derby House
Lytham Road
Preston PR2 4J F.

The Hinrichsen Foundation: Lesley Adamson, Secretary
10-12 Baches Street
London N1 6DN.