CMS names composer Huw Watkins as Stoeger Prize winner

The Chamber Music Society (CMS) of Lincoln Center’s 2016 Elise L Stoeger Prize has been awarded to British composer and pianist Huw Watkins. The Welsh composer will benefit from the USD25,000 (€23,000) cash award – the largest of its kind ­­­­­– in recognition of his significant contributions to the field of chamber music composition.

The prize for composers of chamber music was established by a generous gift from Milan Stoeger as a memorial to his wife, Elise, and in gratitude for the music that had been one of the principal joys of their lives. It is awarded in recognition of achievement in the field of chamber music composition rather than for a specific work, and the intention is for the funds to help sustain a composer through the creative process.

As one of the UK’s finest pianists Watkins has premiered works by Oliver Knussen, Mark-Anthony Turnage, John Woolrich and Michael Zev Gordon and has performed concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra of the Swan.

Watkins has himself written a number of works for specific artists with whom he has developed performing partnerships, including his Cello Sonata for Paul Watkins (recorded for Nimbus); Partita for Alina Ibragimova (recorded for NMC); and a viola work titled Fantasy for Lawrence Power. Long-time supporters the Nash Ensemble commissioned a horn trio, while a string quartet for the Carducci Quartet was a commission from the Manchester Chamber Concerts Society.

Watkin’s orchestral works include the widely-acclaimed Violin Concerto, premiered by BBC Symphony Orchestra with Edward Gardner, as well as two commissions from the London Symphony Orchestra: London Concerto and the Flute Concerto for Adam Walker. The latter was premiered under Daniel Harding in 2014 with subsequent performances by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. This season the Hallé will premiere Symphony conducted by Sir Mark Elder.

Likewise, his longstanding relationship with the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales (NOACOW) has resulted in a number of new works, including a Piano Concerto, which premiered in 2002 with the composer at the piano, and a Double Concerto premiered by Philip Dukes (viola) and Josephine Knight (cello) conducted by Jac van Steen. As BBC NOACOW Composer-in-Association (2015-2019), Watkins has written, and will write, several new orchestral works including the Cello Concerto for his brother, the cellist Paul Watkins, premiered at the 2016 BBC Proms under Thomas Søndergård.

Commenting on the selection process, Chamber Music Society artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han said: ‘We are very proud of the Stoeger Prize’s distinguished history of celebrating composers who devote their talents to chamber music, and we are delighted with our jury members’ selection of Huw Watkins to receive the 2016 prize.

‘They were universal in their admiration of his work, praising it as fresh and emotionally gripping, beautifully crafted and endlessly lyrical. He won their full endorsement and we agree that Watkins, as a composer of immense talent, is well suited to join the illustrious ranks of his predecessors.’

Previous Stoeger Prize recipients include Oliver Knussen (1990); Jörg Widmann (2008); Brett Dean (2010); Zhou Long (2012); and Thomas Larcher (2014).

Born in 1976, Huw Watkins studied piano with Peter Lawson at Manchester’s Chetham’s School of Music, followed by composition with Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and Julian Anderson at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music.

In 2001 he was awarded the Constant and Kit Lambert Junior Fellowship at the Royal College of Music, where he later taught composition. He is currently Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music

Said Watkins: ‘For as long as I can remember, chamber music has been central to my life: playing it, listening to it and writing it. To be chosen for this prize by the Chamber Music Society is a huge honour – the list of previous Stoeger Prize recipients is indeed an illustrious one ­– but it is also an inspiration for me to keep writing the music I love most of all.’

He will appear with CMS at Alice Tully Hall on 21 February as pianist in two works by Mendelssohn: Andante and Allegro brilliant for Piano, Four Hands, Op 92, joined by pianist Orion Weiss, and Sonata in D major for Cello and Piano, Op 58, with cellist Paul Watkins. During the 2018-2019 season, CMS will premiere a new piano quintet by Watkins.