Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?
I’ve always been interested in melody, and when I started to learn the piano at about 8 years old, as well as learning the standard repertoire, I was also fascinated by how melodies worked and wanted to compose my own tunes. It was much later, when I studied at music college, that I realised that I wanted it to be my career. Although I love playing the piano, I was much more interested in creating and composing my own music.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
There were two big influences. One was a music teacher at the Junior department at Trinity College of Music, Philip Colman, who instilled a passion for music-making and a love of inprovisation which I’ve taken through into my professional life. The second was my composition tutor at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Buxton Orr, who was an inspiring and brilliant teacher.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Writing large scores in a very short space of time is always a challenge, but it’s something that I find much easier now than I did, say, 10 years ago. It’s a skill that is acquired with experience, and recently I scored a film called “The Whale” in just 3 weeks. The film had 45 minutes of orchestral music. My score for the film “Wilde” was written in just three and a half weeks, with around 60 minutes of orchestral music.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece, and on film/tv scores?
The great delight of working on a film is that the inspiration is right in front of you, on the screen. It’s also hugely rewarding to hear your music performed by the very best orchestral musicians, usually as the ink is still drying on the manuscript paper! The challenges are always the time constraints – everything is composed to a deadline, and the deadlines seem to be getting tighter and tighter!
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
We are so fortunate in London to have the most talented musicians to perform our music. I am constantly amazed by the professionalism, skill, and musicality of our session musicians and orchestras. I’ve worked with a vast array of brilliant session musicians, and I have also recorded many times with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Which works are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of my score for the French film “Arsene Lupin”. It was an enormous challenge as there was over 2 hours of music in the film, and a huge variety of musical styles within the score too. We recorded over 3 days with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios and it was wonderful hearing the score brought to life by the orchestra.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
I’ve been very fortunate to have conducted at both the Royal Albert Hall and Cadogan Hall and I love both venues! I have a concert coming up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on December 8th at Cadogan Hall which is always great fun. Come along! (Details here)
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I have many, but I do love the playing of Maxim Vengerov. He always tells a story with his performance which appeals to me as, when you’re composing for pictures, you are constantly aware of the story and the drama, and that the music must help the telling of the story.
What is your most memorable concert experience (as performer and/or as composer)?
The last concert Christmas concert that I conducted at Cadogan Hall with the RPO was wonderful. The hall was packed and the audience were very responsive – we even had them clapping along during the encore!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To be dedicated, hard-working and completely focussed on the music, whether playing it or writing it.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just completed “The Whale” for the BBC – a film about the true-life story that inspired Moby Dick. I’m also writing the score for “A Poet In New York” – a film about the last days of Dylan Thomas. There is also a second series of the BBC drama “Father Brown” which I’ve recently completing.
What do you enjoy doing most?
I enjoy being at the piano, writing music. It never loses its wonder and magic.
Debbie Wiseman conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Cadogan Hall on 8th December in the Magic of Christmas, a concert in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. The programme features Debbie’s own compositions, and much-loved seasonal works by Tchaikovsky. Full details and tickets here
Interview date: October 2013