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  • 4 July 2007

Brass and percussion take the lead in Proms premiere

Prom date for composer Dr Sam Hayden

Prom date for composer Dr Sam Hayden

The Royal Albert Hall will reverberate to the powerful sounds of brass, percussion and around 100 musicians when Substratum, a new orchestral piece composed by University of Sussex music lecturer Dr Sam Hayden, is premiered at the BBC Proms this summer.

Substratum (2004-2006) was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson, on Tuesday, July 17. It is a seven-part composition within which the brass and percussion sections of the orchestra, along with the bass instruments, all have very important roles.

One of ten specially commissioned works that will be played at the Proms this year, Substratum follows the geological metaphor of the title. "The piece is formed by multiple layers of musical material, but there is always the sense of an underlying fundamental layer, not always perceivable, in the low register, on which everything else is constructed and dependent," says Dr Hayden.

He adds: "The low instruments in the orchestra therefore have a particularly important function, as there is a recurring bass line that reappears throughout the piece, hence the addition of relatively unusual instruments such as the contrabass trombone and contrabass clarinet. The piano also has an important role, being the only instrument that can play in all registers. The percussion is also very important."

Dr Hayden is a University of Sussex music graduate who began studying mathematics, then turned from playing the trumpet to music composition. "I see composition to some extent as problem-solving. What can I do with this instrument, or orchestra, and how will the different sonic elements relate to each other? It's a bit like inventing the rules to a game, then playing it - but it's also very important to break those rules!" says Dr Hayden.

And the result? Substratum is about multiple sound masses, with lots going on. Dr Hayden says: "As a listener you have to make a choice about what you want to listen to. It's also important to keep coming back to a complex piece such as this - as there won't be a single definitive experience."

He admits that it is pleasing to be able to give prominence to the brass section: "As a trumpet player I remember sitting in the orchestra, counting the bars' rest and watching the strings play - therefore brass and percussion get many of the important bits here!"

Dr Hayden is well known as a composer, having had pieces broadcast previously by BBC Radio 3 on the Hear and Now programme. He has also seen his work performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Philharmonie, Berlin and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. A previous winner of the Britten International Competition for Composers (1995) and the Christoph Delz Foundation Composers' Competition (2003), Dr Hayden has seen his work performed throughout Europe and is co-director of contemporary music ensemble [rout].

The Royal Albert Hall performance is, however, the biggest venue to stage his work to date. He says: "The Proms are iconic: the huge space and the long tradition. It's also very important that it is open to passers-by and that tickets are affordable."

Notes for editors

Substratum is the opening performance of Prom No 5 at the Albert Hall, London, on 17 July 2007. Concert programme begins at 7pm and will also be broadcast LIVE on BBC4 television and on BBC Radio 3.


Dr Hayden will discuss the piece with Dr Björn Heile, head of the University of Sussex Music Department, in a pre-concert talk at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) at 5.30pm. Dr Hayden will also give an interview live during the concert interval on BBC4 TV with conductor and broadcaster Charles Hazlewood.


For further information, tickets, etc, see  

For more information about music at University of Sussex, see

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

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