Des Oliver on his Jerwood event and new piece: The Diasporic Quartets

Photo of Des Oliver

This Saturday, composer, filmmaker and LSO Jerwood Composer+ participant Des Oliver unveils two movements of a brand new piece, The Diasporic Quartets, musical portraits of four British-based composers from the African diaspora. Plus we’ll hear music by the four composers themselves, in a carefully curated evening exploring influence and heritage.

Ahead of the concert, we talked to Des Oliver about his musical influences, curating his concert at LSO St Luke’s and what else is keeping him busy.

Can you tell us a little about the concept behind your first event?

Two years ago, I created a 13-part documentary series called Identity and the Anxiety of Influence for the British Music Collection, which featured interviews with a number of classical composers, and the double bassist and founder of the Chineke! Orchestra, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE. I travelled across the country over the course of several weeks to meet each composer – Daniel Kidane, Dominique Le Gendre, Philip Herbert, Tunde Jegede – and I feel privileged not only to have gotten to know their music but also to have made four new friends.

I found the experience so inspiring that I wanted to write a piece responding to these encounters and to the music of these amazing composers. In a sense, I wanted to continue the conversation, but this time via music. A string quartet concert seemed the ideal medium for this, and The Diasporic Quartets will be premiered alongside their music in my first event on Saturday 23 October. Each movement of the piece is dedicated to, and directly inspired by, the musical landscapes of these four composers – in this concert we'll hear two of the four movements.

What can audiences expect?

In a word – diversity. The exciting thing about this concert is that each composer has a unique voice. All five of us are influenced by our respective heritages but choose to explore and express it in very different ways. One draws influence from Russian and Eritrean music; another creates a synthesis between West African and Western classical music; one draws on French Caribbean music with elements of French impressionism, and another infuses African-American spirituals with the soundworlds akin to Vaughan Williams and Finzi.

Finally, aside from the LSO Jerwood Composer+ Scheme, what is keeping you busy at the moment?

This past year has been a very prolific period for me writing-wise. I was commissioned by The Bach Choir as part of their Bach Inspired series, responding to one of the chorales from the St Matthew Passion. I worked on a virtuosic accordion piece, Iconoclast, dedicated to my former teacher Steve Martland for the Royal Academy of Music's 200th Anniversary series; a children's piece, Rascal, inspired by my dog(!) for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and a Windrush Anthem for Lambeth, Rush, commissioned by the Brixton-based Pegasus Opera Company for their community world chorus.

The anthem was broadcast in Windrush Square on Windrush Day and has since been distributed to schools across Lambeth. It was an extremely challenging project as it involved singers and instrumentalists from all over the world, recording their individual parts via Zoom. Currently, I'm developing a full-length opera inspired by the Windrush story alongside the British playwright, producer, and director Patricia Cumper MBE FRSA.

The Diasporic Quartets: LSO Discovery Jerwood Composer+ Showcase
Saturday 23 October 7.30pm, LSO St Luke's

Film excerpts from the documentary ‘Identity and the Anxiety of Influence: What Does It Mean To Be A Black Composer?’ (re-edited)
Des Oliver Movements 2 & 1 from 'The Diasporic Quartets (portraits in four movements)' (world premiere)
Philip Herbert 
In Contemplation (world premiere)
Daniel Kidane Foreign Tongues 
Dominique Le Gendre Le Génie Humain
Tunde Jegede Quartet No 2 – Reflecting on Beethoven Opus 18 No 2

Darragh Morgan violin
Sarah Quinn violin
Anna Bastow viola
Eve-Marie Caravassilis cello


Identity and the Anxiety of Influence was commissioned by Sound and Music for the British Music Collection.

LSO Jerwood Composer+ is generously supported by Jerwood Arts.

Jerwood Arts Black

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