Xia Leon Sloane on Studying Composition and a Commission for the BBC Proms (Episode 28)

We’re almost exactly a month away from the opening night of the BBC Proms, the world famous summer season of concerts of classical music founded in 1895. Since their infancy, they’ve championed the composition and performance of new works of music through various channels including, latterly, the BBC Young Composer competition.

In 2018, one of the winners of this competition was blind composer Xia Leon Sloane, who describe themselves as “a writer of words and music, with a particular interest in the way that art can respond to political and ecological ideas”. Their choral piece, Earthward, subsequently received its world premier by vocal ensemble VOCES8 at a prom at Cadogan Hall on 22 July 2019.

In addition to the BBC Young Composer competition, they’ve won The Cambridge Young Composer of the Year, The Joan Weller Composition Prize, The Humphrey Searle Composition Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society/Classic FM 25th Birthday commissions. They’ve also composed with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, The National Youth Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia Academy.

Xia first undertook composition lessons at the age of 12 and, at time of publication, they’ve just finished their final year of undergraduate study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Much of their composition emerges from their spiritual practice and their own responses to world affairs.

Blind since the age of 2, they’re an advanced braillist and a prolific user of braille music. We spoke with them in February about their braille music journey, and what it was like to have a score that originated in braille performed by sighted musicians in front of a live audience of nearly a thousand, and a radio audience of hundreds of thousands more.