The Walter Hussey Composition Competition attracted 193 entries from 28 countries, from which our judges selected the top five. It was a long but rewarding process. One Sunday in October, our judges discussed and debated through the day to choose a winning piece, with assistance from an octet of singers from Reading Phoenix Choir.

Now we’d like to introduce you to the five finalists and their piece one by one, (no clues to who won from their order of introduction!). The winner will be announced – and their piece given its world premiere – on Saturday 9 March 2019 at Reading Phoenix Choir’s concert, Golden Phoenix, at Reading Concert Hall. Tickets to this concert will be available nearer the time from Reading Arts.

This month we start with Alison Willis.


Alison Willis (b.1971)

Entry name: Gold and Spices
Text from All Saints by Christina Rossetti

Alison is an award-winning British-born composer whose choral and instrumental music has been performed across the UK, Europe and America. She has a particular interest in re-imagining historical sources, issues-based work and collaborative working. Her music has been described as ‘intensely moving’ and ‘beautiful yet pragmatic’.

Recent works include Non Omnis Moriar inspired by refugees and performed in September 2018 by the BBC Singers as part of their concert with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors; JOURNEYS for chamber orchestra, reflecting on the ongoing refugee crisis as part of the Adopt a Composer scheme; A Light Not Yet Ready to Go Out supporting the work of Breast Cancer Now; and Pax Vobis, premiered by Hampshire Youth Choir at Winchester Cathedral as part of a service marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.


About the Walter Hussey Composition Competition, Alison said:

‘The particularly exciting thing about this opportunity was the chance to write for an excellent choir that sing everything from memory and in mixed formation. As a composer this meant that I could indulge both my passion for using musical patterns and for singing to create a piece that I hope is enjoyable to sing and exciting to listen to! I particularly liked the rhythm of the words, “I have brought gold and spices” and these form the basis of the piece across all parts. It has been a pleasure to be part of this process so far, thanks to the choir for creating such an inspiring and well organised opportunity. I look forward to hearing the other finalists!’


What our judges said about Alison’s entry:

  • Well-handled harmonically, has good contrast of rhythmic and flowing melodic sections
  • Immediately memorable melodic hook
  • Good variety of rhythmic contrast
  • Harmonic movement well-paced throughout
  • Very pretty, sophisticated writing, and an evocative setting of the text


To find out more about Alison Willis:

Listen: Soundcloud
Watch: YouTube
Music available through Composers Edition


Next time: Edmund Jolliffe