Interview with the 2023 Young Composers Project Winner: Ben Gartly

Interview with the 2023 Young Composers Project Winner: Ben Gartly

By Micha Oostenbrink

Every season, we offer one young composer the incredible opportunity to create an original work specifically for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to perform.

“When I heard about the Young Composers Project, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share my work. With some encouragement from my family, I entered and was honoured when I was chosen,” says Ben Gartly, the 2023 Young Composers Project winner. After months of work, he will get the opportunity to hear the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra perform his piece, Redemption Sought, live on the Winspear Centre stage.

The Young Composers Project is a program that is open to high school students in the greater Edmonton area and provides mentorship by a professional composer, in addition to having their composition featured in an ESO concert. “I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing for a professional orchestra, and all the experiences that I have gained,” says Gartly. “It has really opened my eyes to how much there is involved in a work intended for live performance, as well as how much effort there would be required, should I take the route of becoming a professional composer. Emilie Lebel was a wonderful mentor, and she helped me keep my piece on schedule while still leaving me with all of the decision-making. She was very helpful and encouraging throughout the entire process.”

Music has been a part of Gartly’s life for a long time. “When I was in kindergarten, I started taking piano lessons. In grade one, my teacher moved away, but I continued to play on my own and developed a love for music,” he says. “During the pandemic, I, as with the world, suddenly had a lot of time to myself. I used this time to concentrate on my piano technique and begin learning theory and composition. In 2020, I started to compose pieces for my family and really enjoyed the creative process.”

“I think that the most challenging part of composing my piece was creating it around the fact that real musicians were going to play it,” says Gartly. “This was something new to me, as I’ve never had my work performed by a live orchestra before. I was constantly thinking about the real-life circumstances that it would be played under. The thought of real people sitting down and learning each part of my score forced me to be intentional with the most minute decisions I made.”

Ben describes his piece, Redemption Sought, as “expressing the persistence required when seeking redemption, and the various emotions that take place in the midst of that pursuit.” He adds, “I truly believe that pursuing redemption is one of the most important decisions that we, as humans, make. I attempt to express this complicated process with my composition through three main sections containing interweaving, reoccurring motives. You may hear confusion, frustration, or pain in one section juxtaposed with joy and pleasure in the next. Through this structure, I am aiming to show humanities' overarching desire to solve problems with short-term, inadequate solutions that may give us momentary pleasure. However, this hopeless technique merely hides our current problems. Eventually in the piece, you will hear a sense of understanding, but the struggle is not over. The process of redemption is neither simple nor quick. It requires correction and vulnerability. I believe that we all need redemption, that we all need saving.”

Hear the world premiere of Redemption Sought on Thursday, November 30, performed by your ESO at the first New Music concert of the season. Learn more by clicking here.