Composer Lab: Reflections from the programme's alumni

Composer Lab is a professional development initiative aimed at composers who have had limited opportunities to write for symphony orchestra. The programme provides participating composers with a creative and open environment in which to deepen their understanding of writing for the forces of a symphony orchestra. Composer Lab is delivered in partnership by the Contemporary Music Centre, the National Symphony Orchestra and RTÉ lyric fm.

With submissions now open for Composer Lab 2023, we hear from some of the programme’s alumni who share their experience of this unique professional development opportunity, now in its sixth year.

Scott McLaughlin

I was fortunate to be included in the 2016 Composer Lab, which was a really wonderful experience from start to finish. It was my first orchestra piece, and to be honest I hadn’t really considered writing one before this (I mostly write for solo instruments), but the opportunity seemed too good to miss. The NSO musicians were warm and welcoming, drawing attention to things that might not work in such a big ensemble, and offering helpful suggestions. It all came together under the truly wonderful mentorship of Dave Fennessy. Both in one-to-one sessions and onstage with the orchestra he gave me the confidence to shape the piece into what I wanted. The whole process (in 2016) was somewhat rapid, but I learned a lot and the experience was very positive. I’ve now written two more orchestra pieces, with a level of confidence that wouldn’t have been possible without the Composer Lab.

Photo by Symeon Yovev


Anne-Marie O'Farrell

Composer Lab was a marvellous opportunity to work with Ireland's National Symphony Orchestra. It gave me the chance to hear particular combinations of orchestral sound in the flesh, and to experience the music being worked on by musicians rather than being replicated by synthetic alternatives. The workshops with section leaders were really useful for practical pointers, as well as for trying out individual effects. Very helpful advice was given regarding the creation of parts and their layout as part of the process with CMC.

It was wonderful that the project culminated in a performance which was both open to the public and broadcast on RTÉ lyric fm, creating a wonderful sense of occasion for everyone involved. I'm really grateful to the NSO and the CMC for bringing this project about; I found it invaluable.”



Composer Lab 2018: Live broadcast recorded at RTÉ Radio Centre 1 May 2018 ©

Sam Perkin

The CMC's Composer Lab is an extremely valuable artistic initiative.

It allows a composer to have vital, hands-on experience with an orchestra in the creation of a new work with no aesthetic boundaries. Composer Lab also gifts you with an opportunity to work with, and be guided by, an experienced mentor throughout the process. Additionally, you get to meet other composers doing the same thing, be inspired by them, and give support to each other along the way. It is of great cultural importance for new, inspiring music to be written for orchestra, by the composers of today. CMC provides this space. 

Personally, the most important facet of Composer Lab, however, was the artistic freedom allowed to the composer in the bringing-to-life of a new work for orchestra.

Photo by Cédric Michel


Composer Lab 2019: Live broadcast recorded at the RTÉ Radio Centre Dublin, 28 May 2019.

Amanda Feery

It is always a thrilling moment to hear your music performed for the first time, but particularly so when it comes to the sheer force of the symphony orchestra. I had never composed for the symphony orchestra before Composer Lab, and through David Fennessy’s mentorship, and the openness of the NSO players at workshops, I gained so much confidence and skills in writing for the medium. I would encourage everyone to apply, even if you have only ever composed for solo instruments or smaller ensembles. I always say, “if in doubt, apply anyway!".


Find out more about applying for Composer Lab 2023 here.