Tag Archives: British composer

‘Panathenaia’ – Frieze  Music at the British Museum

Guest review by Karine Hetherington

I don’t go to the British Museum as often as maybe I should. My education in ancient civilizations sadly ceased the minute I left primary school. However I still love the Greek myths. I have happy memories of fashioning the Greek gods and heroes from papier-mâché and chicken wire in class and recall my felt tip drawing of Prometheus writhing in agony as an eagle pecked out his liver!

When I received an invitation to attend a talk and musical concert at the British Museum about the Parthenon Frieze in June, it seemed the ideal opportunity to renew my interest and to learn something of the precious exterior ornamental band which ran around the 2,5001 year-old Parthenon temple.  I also wanted to know what all the fuss was about, why lawyer Amal Clooney, one month after marrying superstar George, was taking up the Greek cause to return the priceless marbles to Greece. Today, around 60% of the frieze is housed in Room 18 of the British Museum, the majority of the remaining 40% resides in the Acropolis museum.

The Parthenon Freize at the British Museum (picture source: Wikipedia)

So I set out on a gloriously sunny evening in June with the words of my friend Molly Borthwick (generous supporter of that day’s event) whirling around in my mind: “You haven’t met Ian (Jenkins), you haven’t heard him speak! He’s the world expert on Greek and Roman sculptors. You’ll lurvv him!”   When Molly says these things, I listen.

An hour later I was in the back row of the lecture hall. Without any ceremony a silver-haired Ian Jenkins walked on stage, looking the part of Victorian gentleman and flamboyant academic in his slightly creased, pin-striped suit and a silver watch chain, from which hung his museum key. From his lectern he perused the audience. I scanned the room myself. My gaze flitted across the packed lecture hall composed of suited men and women in heels and summer dresses, over to a younger crowd nearer to where I was sitting, in jeans, sneakers and dark tee-shirts, some of whom, started to canoodle the minute they sat down.

I went back to reading the programme: “Ian is the curator of the Museum’s critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art”. “The body” I thought to myself, a theme which is bound to get the punters in at the British Museum. Tonight however, Ian’s angle had changed. We were being offered: ‘The Parthenon Frieze: a symphony in stone’. As I am a great classical music lover and a Wigmore Hall regular, I was intrigued by the musical connection. This, coupled with the fact that we were going to be treated to a live UK premier of newly commissioned work entitled Panathenaia which had been inspired by the Parthenon frieze.

Ian explained that the frieze was the decorative sculptural upper band of marble, which originally ran off the entrance to the Parthenon temple.  The frieze evokes the ‘Great Panathenaia’, the festival held every four years to celebrate the birth of Athena. Here we had to imagine it in situ: two parallel processions progress along opposite sides of the building towards their finishing point on the east wall. We see horsemen, chariots, animals for sacrifice, young women and magistrates or tribal heroes. There are chariot races that day and music competitions, the prizes special jars, filled with olive oil, with a depiction of the event on them.   The high point of the ceremony is the presentation of the peplos or sacred cloth, newly woven, to adorn an ancient olive statue of Athena.  Presiding over these festivities are the gods and goddesses. The interesting thing, Ian tells us, is that there is a question mark over whether the gods are viewing these events from on high – that is from Mount Olympus – or down at the Temple in Athens, suggesting perhaps the merging of the human and the divine. Have humans become godlier or have the gods become more plebeian? There is a pause whilst we take this in. A man in front of me stops tapping the screen on his iPhone and looks up, as if he has just woken up to this momentous question left hanging in the air.  He looks around vaguely then bows his head again and resumes his silent tapping.

Ian’s talk becomes more and more fascinating as he draws all sorts of modern artistic parallels with the frieze. He sees the same arrangement of horses in a work painted by the great artist Mark Gertler in 1916, ‘The Merry go round’ and so on. And then comes Ian’s tour de force. “The symphony” which is to be found in the Parthenon Frieze. Ian starts to show us slides of his transcription of the frieze, which he has converted into a sort of Braille, in which the numerous figures seen from above, are represented by simple shapes. And here I quote from the Panathenaia librettist Paul Williamson, as I’m not a musicologist : “The heads of the horsemen, for example, are shown as ovals, laid out in rows to indicate the depth of field. The effect of the semibreve-like ellipses arranged on staves, as it were, is incredibly like musical notation.”

Oh my! My brain is now reeling, I am eager to hear the music to give it a rest.

Full of anticipation we leave the lecture hall, and make our way up a grand staircase to Room 18, the Parthenon frieze viewing gallery.

Twenty minutes later, having finally settled in our seats, we are able to admire the frieze for real; we stare at the sections of white marble sculptures on the walls, beautifully lit, looking so clean, the figures so beautifully fluid and lovingly preserved, though incomplete. It is hard to believe that they are so ancient. The TV camera is there with Patricia Wheatley, formerly with the BBC and head of the BM Broadcasting unit, the photographers with their telescopic lenses, all now aiming at the stage, for the choir, two sopranos, the orchestra and lead violinist Hugo Ticciati (soon to be playing at the Wigmore I noticed with interest) has just stepped in. The enthusiastic Ticciati starts speaking a little fast on the stage, but it doesn’t matter, all I need to know is in the programme, namely that it was he who had the idea of commissioning this work in the first place.  Ticciati enlisted the services of award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones (Winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition) and they chose Paul Williamson to write the libretto. Ticciati and his orchestra performed the finished work once in Sweden last summer, at a summer festival he organises, and instead of the Parthenon, a rock-balancing artist was called in to reconstruct his own frieze with some stones from a nearby lake. Apparently the last irregular diamond of stone was put in place as the music ended.

Wow! I thought, not bad, not bad at all. But even a rock-balancing artist cannot compete with these beautiful smooth, sculpted warriors running along the wall.

A young bearded conductor steps up on stage with tight corkscrews curls, followed by two late musicians, who, cowering with embarrassment and grasping their violins quickly find their seats.

Panathenaia is a Cantata in eight movements for string orchestra, timpani, soloists and choir. The hugely talented composer, Thomas Hewitt-Jones drew his inspiration from certain figures from the frieze and temple statues.

The instrumental Prelude opens with the tense plucking of strings and jagged rhythms, then the full orchestra enters into a slow lumbering movement of strange, mysterious sounds marking the start of the Athenian procession or is it the wars that preceded the building of the Parthenon temple, as there is the rumble of drums.   We are transported back to c. 495-429 BC, where the instruments one imagines to have such different discordant sounds.

In marked contrast, the following “Temple” movement with the Choir, is one of beautiful high, ethereal voices, denoting the harmony and beauty of the land and holy building where justice reigns: “This ancient land’s an orderly/Arrangement, wrought from flowing forms”.

“The Weaver’s Song” following, sung with great feeling by the fine blonde soprano Paulina Pfeiffer is both mournful and serious in tone – serious because she is weaving the sacred cloth which will clothe the statue of Athena, therefore a great responsibility – mournful – because she is alone, separated from her warrior boyfriend who is taking part in the chariot races during the festival: “Eros, has made me dull”. Apparently in rehearsals, Paulina, was disturbed by her voice ricocheting off the frieze in Room 18. She was, I was told, holding back tonight, and I noticed her shoulders stiffen a little as one particular high note echoed around our heads. The effect however was thrilling!

I loved “The Lyric Suite”: Hugo Ticciati’s achingly beautiful violin, sometimes so haunting and then the unsettling bassoon, plucking of strings and tympani which crescendos into a full-blown orchestral swell setting things up for Prometheus and his challenge with the gods.

In “Prometheus” we had the gorgeous pairing of the blonde soprano and dark mezzo-soprano, Karolina Blixt. Blixt looked very striking in her Grecian ivory dress and liquid eye liner eyes which flashed at the audience, causing quite a ripple amongst the male members who looked up at her in complete reverence (I see a star in the making). “Ah but the gods have lost their spark” they sing signifying the decline in the influence of the gods, making way for Prometheus who “…freed the agent of change/That far-seeing rascal”. The sopranos snarl the word “rascal”

In “Shadows in a dream” the choir asks what harmony is possible when humanity inherits the earth? Tympani – storm rumblings loud then soft and distant, set the scene for the following “Birth of Pandora”, Zeus’s revenge on humanity. I loved the amazing anarchic dance of the satyrs attending the birth of the beautiful, ‘baneful’ Pandora. “Caper on your crooked legs” – wonderful alliteration by Paul Williamson the librettist. And finally the Coda – plucking of double basses like footsteps fading away. The music has turned full circle. We are back to where we started.

Loud applause. Ian Jenkins the curator, the musicians, singers, composer, librettist and conductor, had transported us into another world, another time. It had been an exciting, illuminating experience, one that I am very keen to repeat. These sorts of happenings however are rare and require money, time, commitment and passion. Vision too. I felt privileged to have attended such an event.

Since then I have returned to admire the frieze in the British Museum twice!

Discover this extraordinary composition performed by orchestra and singers for the first time ever in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery, which houses the Parthenon Sculptures. Surrounded by these stunning carvings, Panathenaia celebrates their artistry and tells the story portrayed in the timeless stones.

Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer who lives in London. A dual-British and French national, with a Russian ancestry thrown in, her short stories and novels reflect her passion for both the detail and grand sweep of European history. After studying creative writing at Birkbeck College in London, Karine has been telling stories that have brought history to life, with tales of love and adventure that draw on the detail of real events and real lives. Karine’s novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse’ is available now. Read an extract here

Meet the Artist……Thomas Hewitt Jones

Meet the Artist……Gavin Higgins, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

I grew up surrounded by a family of musicians. Everyone played in the local brass band and my grandparents were really my first teachers. When I was 15 I received a scholarship to study at Chethams School of Music in Manchester and whilst there a friend and I sneaked out of school one day to see a production of the Rite of Spring. It was the first time I’d experienced orchestral music and dance performed live together and I found the whole experience hugely overwhelming. As soon as I left the theatre I knew I wanted to write music.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

Early on in my career it was brass bands that provided me with a way into music. I grew up playing the tenor horn and moved onto French horn when I started at Chethams. It was here that I experienced orchestral music for the first time. The music of Stravinsky, Turnage, Prokofiev, John Adams really struck a chord with me. Even now I find those early influences really underpin what I want to do as a composer. My music is often very fast, driven and rhythmic. It’s immediate, and for me that’s important.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

I’m about to start working on an opera. I think this will be my most challenging project, but I can’t wait to get started on it.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

For me the aim of the process is to hear my music performed. I’ve never been good at writing music without a performance in mind. The process is hard, long and at times frustrating but to finally hear the music performed is what drives me. Of course when you are working to a specific commission or brief you can’t necessarily write whatever you want, but the restraints that come with a commission are good for me; it gives me structure and a guide.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

I love collaborating with other artists. As a composer you spend a great deal of time alone and this can sometimes be counter productive. So the opportunity to actually create music with other musicians, artists or choreographers is something I thrive on. I really work my best when I’m working with others, so when I’ve collaborated with choreographers or librettists I feel I’ve written some of my strongest pieces. When you know the ensemble you are working with so well it can help drive the creative practice. I have a great relationship with Tredegar Town Band, for whom I have written two large works now. Since I know the players and conductor so well we can just get straight the heart of the music. It’s wonderful.

Your new work receives its world premiere on 23 October 2015. Tell us more about how this work developed and the particular pleasures and challenges of creating it and working with LMM’s Bridge Project children and the LPO 

I’ve been fascinated by dance suites for some time now and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to explore this kind of music. When I was approached by LMM to write this new work I thought this would be the perfect vehicle for it. So the piece very much follows the structure of a baroque dance suite. There are four movements: Allamande, Courante, Sarabande and finally a very lively Gigue.

It’s been one of my most challenging commissions to date, not least because of the involvement of the LMM students. Writing music for a combination of professional and student musicians is a difficult thing to get your head around. I had to write the LMM student parts out before I’d written any of the orchestral music so I had to know how the rest of the music would fit around these lines a long time before I’d had chance to really get stuck into the material.

It’s been hard to write but I hope it’s fun to play!

Which works are you most proud of?  

That’s a tough one because I am very self-conscious about the music I write. In most of my works there are moments that bother me, either because listening now I find it naïve or I feel I could do it better if I was able to write the piece again. But I suppose the two pieces I’m most proud of are Dark Arteries, a ballet I’ve just completed about the miners’ strike, and Velocity, which was commissioned to open the Last Night of the Proms in 2014. It was such an honour to be asked to write that piece, the whole experience was just incredible.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A few years ago I heard the Berlin Philharmonic play Brahms 2 in Oxford at 10:30 in the morning. I have never heard such an incredible sound in my life. Every single player, from the front desk to back, played like they were leading the orchestra and the performance was thrilling. I heard them play the whole of the Firebird score last year at the Proms and I was in tears at the end. They’re such an incredible group of musicians.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

A career in music is tough and is full of challenges and frustrations and so you have to work hard and practice your craft every day. Go to lots of concerts and listen to lots of different kinds of music. Take what you do seriously and be self critical, but don’t be self critical it impedes on you improving, know when to give yourself credit!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Happy, comfortable, maybe taking a walk in the Blue Mountains.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having a lovely time on my roof with my London family…. Also eating sushi….

What is your most treasured possession? 

My pictures of my friends and family.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Time in London. I love this town and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening to it at the moment. I just hope that we can get it back on track, it’s the most amazing city in the world and we shouldn’t allow greedy, corporate villains to take it from us. It is the centre of cultural universe and we must fight to keep it that way.

What is your present state of mind? 

Slightly tense! I’m trying to finish Tänze for the performance at the South Bank Centre in October!

Gavin Higgins’ Tänze will be premiered at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and children from London Music Masters’ Bridge Project at 6pm on Friday 23rd October 2015. Further information here

Described as ‘boldly imaginative’ and ‘extraordinary’, Gavin Higgins has been consistently praised by critics for his distinct and visceral compositional style.

The early stages of his career saw Higgins receive substantial commissions for some of the country’s leading orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Northern Sinfonia and the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain. He has worked with soloists and ensembles such as Mark Simpson, the Flotilla Saxophone Quartet, the Tredegar Town Band, Rambert Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and the Fidelio Trio.

The Gloucester born composer comes from a long lineage of brass band musicians, dating back to 1895. Growing up in the Forest of Dean, he followed an initial musical training in the family brass band, with studies of french horn and composition at Chethams School of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal College of Music with Gary Carpenter and Ken Hesketh.

Higgins has continued this heritage with high profile commissions and performances of vigorous, daring brass band pieces including Freaks (2007), Tango (2008) – both recorded by Black Dyke Band’s principal trombone, Brett Baker; Fanfares and Loves Songs (2009) for the National Children’s Band of Great Britain and, Destroy, Trample, As Swiftly As She, commissioned for the 2011 European Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland.

In 2010 he was appointed Rambert Dance Company’s Inaugural Music Fellow. This appointment has led to the ‘blasting, warping score’ (The Guardian) of, What Wild Ecstasy, and more recently the innovative and ambitious Dark Arteries. This music of ‘such ingenuity, flair and skill’ was premiered at Sadler’s wells by the Tredegar Town Band.
What Wild Ecstasy was nominated for a British Composer Award in the stage works category 2012. This follows on from nominations for, A Forest Symphony (2009) and, Diversions After Benjamin Britten (2013).

A Growing collection of ensemble and orchestral works have been featured at major festivals, such as the saxophone quartet, ENDGAME, commissioned as part of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival; and his ‘boldly imaginative response to last summer’s riots’ (The Times), Der Aufstand, which was commissioned as part of the 2012 BBC Proms.

Recent successes includes performances of music theatre piece, Uncle Dima, by the London Sinfonietta; the premiere of his ‘striking’ (The Guardian) piano trio, The Ruins of Detroit – commissioned by the Britten Pears Foundation and performed by the Fidelio Trio at the Cheltenham Festival; and the premiere of the ‘fast, exciting and brilliantly scored’ (The Telegraph), Velocity – commissioned by the BBC to open the Last Night of the 2014 Proms.




Meet the Artist……James Francis Brown, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I don’t recall a specific moment when I thought of becoming a composer. It’s something I have always done, as far as I can remember. Singing my own little tunes on long family walks was probably the way it emerged.

There was, however, a significant event when I was around nine years old. I had been playing the piano all day and searching for new harmonies (or new to me at any rate) on a rather gloomy day. At a particular point in the progression of chords the sun suddenly filled the room with golden light. I can’t remember what the notes were now and I wouldn’t have attributed this event to a supernatural cause but I do remember the jolt of pleasure at the coincidence and I have imagined music as a force of nature ever since.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Moods and emotional states affect me more than events, although they are naturally interlinked. Internally I have an almost constant flow of music which seems to shape itself to my environment. I don’t suppose this musical flow is of any great quality – that is the aim of the process of refining and reinforcing. Of course, I’m influenced by powerful creative encounters and it must be apparent in my music but I rarely experience this as direct emulation; it’s more like osmosis.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

I don’t want to be too negative but sometimes the challenges of being a composer seem overwhelming. Leaving aside the difficulties of the creative process, which are usually absorbing, intriguing and rewarding, there are the difficulties of offering the results in a world which has less regard for the values I hold dear. The current cultural climate, at least in the West, seems to favour the extrovert and I often wonder whether someone like Schubert would have attained even the modest success he did if he were alive today.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

Ideally, perhaps, composers would write what they want or need to write when ready to do so. This is the old notion of ‘having something to say’ – and there is something to be said for that. There are innumerable practical reasons why this is rarely the case but, if one has a supple enough imagination, it is often possible to work under the illusion that the premise for the commission is entirely one’s own. For me it is essential to feel this way in order to generate confident ideas. I don’t think it’s just ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome. As for the pleasure, it’s always a fascinating sensation bringing something into existence – perhaps a feeling that it was waiting to appear like the sculpture in the marble block.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

To my mind, nothing represents the internal state as revealingly as music. When people play my music with insight and sensitivity there is a strong feeling of transformation, even if it differs from my own way of thinking. It’s important to say that this is not fundamentally a matter of ego or self-importance; flaws are equally revealed. It’s a sense of joining with others.

Which works are you most proud of? 

As with many artists, I tend to think of my works as offspring; I have an affection for them all – even the less successful ones. The most recent piece is, probably naturally, the one I’m most interested in. I’m preparing my piano quartet for publication and I must admit to being quite pleased with it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Beethoven is evergreen for me. His music is nearly always open at the piano. Others who give me ‘nutrition’ as well as pleasure are Sibelius, Bartok, Britten and Tippett. Actually the list could go on and on and spans the centuries. As for living composers it’s more complex because you have to disentangle friendships, admiration of technique, bravery and determination from the mix, as they are different things. I’m more inclined to think of favourite works by contemporary composers than a list of favourite composers. Any composer with a feeling for the best qualities of tradition as well as a restless search for freshness is likely to appeal to me. A snapshot of what’s in my mind at the moment would feature the symphonies of David Matthews and Kalevi Aho

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Bernard Haitink conduct The Midsummer Marriage at ROH in the late nineties was unforgettable. The performance was wonderful and Tippett was there to receive some of the warmest applause I have ever witnessed. Many things came together for me, in that moment, which reaffirmed my own sense of purpose.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

It’s more important than ever to value the non-verbal intelligence of music and not to let material exigencies and social politics dominate this precious form of communication. It can be used as a prop for ideas but we shouldn’t forget that it’s a wonderful idea in itself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

So many of the supposed satisfactions in life are illusory. Just as in music, there is the anticipation of an event and then the receding resonance of it but the event itself can be practically non-existent. I find I’m at my happiest when I’m in a state of effortless concentration and ideas and abilities seem to come almost without the sensation of thinking – alas all too rare. Oh – and then there’s throwing my seven-year-old daughter in the air and making monster noises. Now that’s fun!

James Francis Brown studied composition firstly with Hans Heimler (himself a pupil of Alban Berg) under the scholarship from the Surrey Scheme for Exceptionally Gifted Children and subsequently at the Royal Academy of Music. From 1994, James Francis Brown’s major works have been heard regularly at the South Bank and Wigmore Hall and have included a Piano Sonata (1994), a Viola Sonata (1995), and the String Trio (1996) for the Leopold String Trio which, following its première at the Deal Festival, has enjoyed numerous performances in London, Glasgow and as part of a British Council tour.

The English Chamber Orchestra with soloist Jack Liebeck gave the première of his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra at the Barbican in February 2001. His Sinfonietta, commissioned by Faber Music, was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in February 2002 by the London Chamber Orchestra. He has been a regular visitor to the Presteigne Festival and his song ‘Words’ is included on a CD of the collaborative song-cycle ‘A Garland for Presteigne’, on the Metronome label.

In March 2003, he was awarded a five-year NESTA fellowship. Recent works included a Piano Quartet for the Fidelio Piano Quartet and a piece for the Philharmonia Orchestra premièred at the 2004 Three Choirs Festival and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In 2005 he scored a short film “The Clap” which has won several awards at major international film festivals and he was invited to be the first ever composer-in-residence at the International Musician’s Seminar, Prussia Cove.

2006 saw the première of the cello and piano version of Prospero’s Isle at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival as well as the Trio Concertante for the string trio and orchestra at the Presteigne Festival. Prospero’s Isle has subsequently been recast as a symphonic tone poem, which was performed by the State Academic Orchestra of St Petersburg in November 2007 as part of a major British music festival.

An accomplished arranger he recently reconstructed and orchestrated sketches for Wagner’s projected opera Männerlist großer als Frauenlist for the Royal Opera House, which was performed in October 2007. He has also arranged Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll for the 2008 City of London Festival. His Clarinet Concerto for Catriona Scott was performed at the 2008 Presteigne Festival.

In 2009, James was the composer-in-residence for the Ulverston International Music Festival, the composer-in-residence for the International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove (at the request of cellist Steven Isserlis). He also gave a talk with David Matthews on the inspiration of dreams in music in August that year.

In 2010, the Badke quartet premièred James’ String Quartet (which was commissioned by the London Chamber Music Society), and 2011 saw the release of his CD Prospero’s Isle.

2012 was a good year for the composer, there were world premières of the piano solo version of Dunwich Bells (performed by Clare Hammond), the Piano Trio (by the Barbican trio who later toured it), Fanfare and Chorale (at the Jersey International Music Festival, by Jersey Premier Brass), the song Ozymandias (by Simon Lepper on piano and soprano Gillian Keith). James became an associate of the Royal Academy of Music in July 2012, and – in 2013 – the world première of A Dream and A Dance (by the Nash ensemble) took place in honour of the composer David Matthew’s 70th birthday.

Successes in 2014 included a stunning performance of the string quartet at the London Chamber Music Society, and a new theatrical version of Prospero’s Isle performed by Matthew Sharp and Clare Hammond at Sharp’s RE:naissance festival. His new work Rigaudon, part of a collaborative anthology ‘Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov’, was premiered by pianist Noriko Ogawa at Bridgewater Hall in April 2015.


Meet the Artist……Andy Quin, pianist and composer


Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Neither of my parents were musicians and we didn’t own a piano. Apparently I used to nip into the front room to play a piano on visits to my aunt when my parents were chatting. On the strength of what they heard they bought me a cheap piano and paid for lessons when I was four. This was a major struggle for a working class family at the time and I know they went without things in order to fund my musical efforts. I will forever be indebted to my parents for their faith in my abilities, their early support allowed me to realise my dream. Unfortunately Mum died when I was eleven and never got to hear my first TV and Radio broadcasts the following year, but she always loved to hear me play during her long illness at home and gave me so much encouragement. 

As for composing, I think this is down to two things really, laziness and poor eyesight! Reading music was always a struggle for me so I relied on my ears. It was so much easier for me to make up my own music than to read the works of others!

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Of the many old 78’s I used to listen to as a very young child, two in particular stand out for me; Rachmaninoff himself playing his Prelude in C# minor and Sidney Torch playing the organ of the Regal Edmonton, London. I think it is no coincidence that both are composers and both are telling stories through music. These recordings had a huge influence on me. 

Up until about the age of eight or nine I was really totally immersed in classical music, I aspired to be a concert pianist. My brother (who was a few years older) had an eclectic taste and encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music. We lived on the East Coast and he encouraged me to listen to the Pirate radio stations such as Caroline and Radio North Sea International, my musical horizons were considerably broadened as a result! (Later when I studied with media composer Tim Souster it became apparent that this great diversity of musical influence could be a huge advantage if I wanted to write music for TV and Film) . I had never really considered composing as a career until I met Tim. He introduced me to my publisher De Wolfe Music. I studied with Roger Marsh and Peter Dickinson whilst at Keele University but one of the most significant influences was the visiting Professor, Cecil Lytle from the Juilliard, New York. It was he who introduced me to the works of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. 

I had always had a keen interest in technology (my dad was a radio engineer in the RAF during the war), and I became involved with computers in the very early days of digital back in the 70’s. The studio technician at Keele was Cliff Bradbury (who later went on to engineer many of my recordings). He was very forward looking and introduced me to the world of computers and music. It was my work with the Fairlight CMI ( the world’s first computer sampling musical instrument) that was really my key to the media music industry.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I suffer from perfectionism which is a huge disadvantage if you ever want to get any composition finished or recorded! However, hopefully professionalism and the practicalities of the real world take over and you have to always look forward. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on, not keep going back to revise. Total perfection in music composition/performance is not possible (except perhaps in the case of Bach!).

In practical terms, scoring was very hard for me, notation never came naturally to me. After my first few albums, my publisher asked if I would like to write and record a project for the US market with a large orchestra. When it turned out the orchestra was the RPO and I only had a few weeks to score, prepare parts etc. I was in a panic! Once again, computers came to my aid with a program, then in its infancy, called Sibelius. Many of the musicians told me it was the first time they had ever seen music printed with a dot-matrix printer! It was a steep learning curve but I am so glad I persevered. I have now worked with many of the UK’s finest recording orchestras, and it is so nice to get positive feedback from the players after a session. Rather strangely I now often like to work with a pencil and manuscript paper!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I have been so busy as a professional composer, and it was only with the release of my ‘ Two Toccatas for Piano’ (summer 2014) that I have had my first chance in over thirty years to work on something that wasn’t commissioned! I have been so lucky to have had such a wonderful, joy-filled life of music and to get paid for it!! I have now recorded something over 70 albums, every one a new and different challenge pushing my musical knowledge and abilities. There is always so much more to learn and music just keeps on giving!

You compose for film and tv. What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on film/tv scores?

I am not really the ideal film/TV composer as the first thing to understand is music is not the most important element in a production. It is just one part of the jigsaw of directing, script, casting, acting etc. that goes into making a great production. This goes against my nature as music is by far the most important thing from my perspective! However, building a good working relationship with a director is essential, and you learn that the music is not lessened just because it is only a part of the whole. It is there to serve a function just like say, sacred music or ballet music. The very best music both fulfils and transcends its function.

On a practical level, the hardest and yet most satisfying aspect is to listen and understand the language of a director. They often speak in visual terms; ‘Can the music be a little darker here?’ or ‘I need music to bring the vastness of the Himalayas into peoples sitting rooms on a small screen!’. Interpreting exactly what they mean and having empathy and sensitivity for their vision is paramount. When an artistic collaboration works well the sense of an emotional and intellectual bond is wonderful.

Which works are you most proud of? 

I am both proud and embarrassed by all my work! Nothing is ever quite good enough, and yet I can honestly say I am proud that I have always done the best I can do at the time. My score for the short film ‘Dollar Night’ by Marco Antonio Martinez is a recent highlight. it is such a lovely, simple short story, I hope the music does it justice.

Probably my favourite album is ‘Childrens’ Magical World’ DWCD 0375. My youngest son was just a few years old when I wrote and recorded this double album of orchestral fantasy themes and was the inspiration for much of the music. This was a massive project involving orchestras, child choirs and many, many hours of hard work as I orchestrated it all. The dedication on the sleeve reads;

“This album is dedicated to my family. My wife Anne for her patience an support over the years, Laura for her inspiring beauty and elegance, James for his sheer enthusiasm, and little Jonathan who at 4 years old lets me join in and play, so that I can be a child again”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

It is always so difficult to single out and I couldn’t just list a few. I admire and have had the great privilege to work with many of the world’s finest musicians. As for composers I guess it always comes back to Bach, although Debussy, Rachmaninov and Liszt are up there. My favourite band is Earth Wind and Fire!

How does your performing inform your composing, and vice versa?

Improvisation has always been central to my musical life both in composition and performance. I love the thrill of real-time composing and performing live, it is almost the antithesis of the studied and lengthy, lonely process of written composition and studio recording. The engagement with a live audience is a wonderful feeling and music is too much a living, evolving thing to be tied to closely to dots on a page or a fixed recording. These can represent the essence, or capture a moment in time, but can never replace the immediacy of real music making that happens at the moment of a live performance.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

As I get older, and I don’t want to sound sentimental, it has become apparent to me that the great Bacharach and David song is right, what the world needs now is love! Love of the material world, love of life and people, and for a musician, love of your art and skill. Of course I am aware much great art and music is born out of suffering, however suffering is largely due to our love of things that can be taken or lost, our fear of the passing or loss of things we need, or hold to be dear and beautiful or desirable. The ephemeral, transient nature of music as art, bound up in its very essence with the passage of time, is inextricably linked to human life and love. Music can be a great intellectual exercise, one of the best in fact, but should never be approached with a cold heart!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I don’t really mind where I am as long as I have my wife and family, my health and music and books.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There are so many kinds of happiness I’m not sure if any are perfect.

What is your most treasured possession?

In terms of material things, my Estonia concert grand piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living, laughing, walking, thinking, reading and talking. Making and listening to music. Just being with family and friends, people are wonderful!

I am a keen badminton player, I have an interest in physics and astronomy and I love flying.

What is your present state of mind?

My wife would say, “what mind?!”

I am celebrating 50 years of playing the piano this year and so am probably in a slightly reflective state at the moment.

Andy Quin on SoundCloud

Born in London, Andy started playing the piano at the age of four and aspired to be a concert pianist. He had given his first radio and TV broadcasts by the age of eleven, however in his early teens, an interest in composition and recording sparked a change of direction and he started to develop his skills in rock, jazz and popular music. Having turned down a scholarship to the RCM, he studied at Keele University graduating with a degree in Music and Electronics. Andy studied composition and studio techniques with Tim Souster, Peter Dickinson and Roger Marsh. He also continued his classical piano studies with the acclaimed concert pianist Peter Seivewright whilst pursuing his interest in jazz with Professor Cecil Lytle from the Juilliard School of music. After graduating, Andy started writing for the De Wolfe Production Music Library. His first album ‘Mirage’ brought worldwide acclaim and he was soon sought after as a composer for TV and advertising. During the Eighties Andy composed music for many TV series and some of the UK’s best known advertising campaigns including the Oxo Family with Linda Bellingham, Websters Bitter with Cleo Rocos, Birds Eye Menu Masters, and the classic After Eight ad where Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe are entertained by Liberace. He worked with leading directors and producers such as Mike Figgis and Terence Donovan, on projects for clients including BA, Slazenger, Wimbledon LTA, Lynx, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, CIS and many others. Central Television made a short documentary film about Andy’s work at this time. After great success in the American TV and film market during the early Nineties Andy moved to the countryside and concentrated on production music at his purpose built private studio. However an interest in World Music saw him writing and producing a number of tracks for the international best selling album ‘One World’ which achieved No.3 in the UK charts. He has produced a great diversity of compositions such as Native American music for the Imax natural history Film Wolves, period music on the Academy Award nominated documentary feature My Architect, early jazz on Boardwalk Empire, the Mambo title music to the ITV comic outtake series It Shouldn’t Happen To A…., and a song on a top 20 album in Sweden. Recent commercials include; Scholl, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Fairy cleaner, Britannia, Pedigree Chum and Setanta. Recent compositions include jazz on the Todd Solondz Film Dark Horse and the track Awakening, a finalist in the 2014 MAS awards for it’s use on the trailer to Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. Currently working on his 70th album for De Wolfe Music, and with thousands of broadcasts every year in all continents, Andy is probably one of the most successful production music composers in the world. Andy is a virtuoso concert performer and still gives occasional recitals when time permits.


CD review: ‘Flowing Waters’ by Luke Whitlock

Flowing Waters – Luke Whitlock
Suite Antique (piano solo)
Flowing Waters (piano solo)
Evening Prayer (piano solo)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (piano solo)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio
Flute Sonata

It’s always nice when someone contacts me to tell me about a new CD which they think I will like, and Luke Whitlock’s debut recording Flowing Waters is no exception. It was recommended to me by librettist Ben Kaye, and I have enjoyed exploring it over the course of several days.

This is the first album devoted to Luke Whitlock’s work (in addition to composing, he is also a producer for Radio 3 and 4) and it reveals a composer whose music is firmly rooted in melody, tonality, lyricism and expression. There are hints of folksong in the Suite Antique, as well as a very obvious hommage to the Baroque tradition of composing dance suites in the titles of the individual movements. It is also redolent of works by Debussy and Ravel which also looked back to Baroque antecedents, with quirky nods to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in the ‘Gigue’. The music is lyrical, elegant and witty, at times mininalist and at others more richly textured in the manner of Chopin or Liszt (‘Minuet’, a sensuous Chopinesque waltz), all sensitively executed by acclaimed pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

The title track ‘Flowing Waters’ was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, and is a musical portrait of the River Teign in Devon. The piece opens with simple chords before moving into a flowing passage which owes much to Philip Glass in its spare textures and unexpected harmonic shifts, but also to Beethoven in the repeated LH quaver figure (the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata springs immediately to mind here) and also Liszt’s second ‘Petrarch Sonnet’ from the Années de Pelerinage. There are some Lisztian harmonies in the middle section of the work too, and the music plots a course through different tonal, melodic and harmonic landscapes, reflecting the winding and varied course of the river which inspired it. I was particularly taken with this track because it echoes a number of piano pieces (including several of Philip Glass’s ‘Etudes’) which I am currently working on.

The ‘Three Pieces for Wind’ trio are haunting and reflective pieces which depict certain landscapes and the listener’s interaction and response to them. There is a pleasing balance and sense of conversation and humour between the instruments (flute, clarinet and bassoon). The ‘Flute Sonata’, composed for flautist Anna Stokes (accompanied here by pianist Wai-Yin Lee), is the major work on the disc and reveals hints of Chopin and Poulenc in its melodies and scope. Meanwhile, ‘Evening Prayer’, which comes between the works for wind, is a tender meditation, redolent of some of Satie’s piano music.

The disc closes with ‘The Faust and Mephisto Waltz’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Liszt whose music is taken from a score for a silent film. It is jokey and enjoyable in its pastiche, while presenting some technical challenges for the pianist (Duncan Honeybourne), and does indeed have a very filmic quality.

The music contained on this album is very accessible and will certainly appeal to those listeners who may initially shy away from “new music”. Recommended.

Flowing Waters is available on the Divine Art label. Further information here

Composer Luke Whitlock will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview

Meet the Artist……Fiona Bennett, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I had my first piano lesson at just four years old, my dad would love to have played but came from a family who just couldn’t afford lessons. He played me Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony when I was about seven years old and I vividly remember being bowled over by the storm section. My first pop single was the Adagio from Spartacus and Phrygia which was in the charts because ‘The Onedin Line’ was a very popular TV series. I began writing songs when I was 15, mainly due to my father’s encouragement.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Coming from Wales and being surrounded by music in school the whole time meant it was a huge part of my life, right from the very beginning. I really enjoyed piano lessons, took my first exam when I was just six and music was always my great love. Sounds daft but significant influences are every single piece of music I’ve ever heard, all the classical greats plus Barry Manilow and Abba. I love good pop music and Abba wrote the best, most beautifully constructed songs. I don’t have a favourite composer, too many to choose from!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Small hands! I have always had to choose my music carefully. Rachmaninov was never going to be possible but I played Mozart, Mendelssohn well. Becoming a mum meant being permanently busy and not having the time (or inspiration) to write. I didn’t compose a note between 1998 and 2011 but when my elder son was working towards his Winchester College entrance exams and spending lots of time at his dad’s to study, I began playing again.  Within a few months, I had composed the whole ‘A Country Suite’ album, eight pieces for piano.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

I wrote to order early in my career. Jingles, incidental music for TV drama but I’m afraid I prefer working independently and putting together music for my own enjoyment (which, thankfully appeals to a wider audience too). I am a huge fan of Debbie Wiseman (she and I studied with James Gibb at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1980s) and she is expert at composing to pictures and being able to change things quickly. I am still very much a full time mum and would find that aspect very challenging. I still write at the piano with manuscript paper and a pencil!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Again, this isn’t something I do much. I composed a piece for SATB choir back in 2014 and it was a huge thrill to sing in a choir actually performing a piece I had composed in the beautiful setting of Douai Abbey in Berkshire.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I was a prolific songwriter in my teens/20s/30s and the first song I wrote ‘Ti a Mi’ (Welsh for ‘You and Me’) was a big hit for me. It has generated a lot of royalties over the years and is still played on the radio now.  I am very proud of ‘A Country Suite’: it has some lovely melodies and the piano pieces are rather more complex than they sound!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love good music, melody, harmony and so, as well as classical music, I loved 1970s pop music, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Wizzard, Sweet, Slade, The Osmonds. In terms of classical music, I adore Puccini, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Bach.  I love a big romantic melody!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing ‘One Voice’ in Barry Manilow’s choir at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1982 was very exciting.  My own ‘Concert for Autism’ was very special too. I put on a free concert at St Nicolas’s Church in Newbury in September 2009. I invited along some of Newbury’s most talented musicians and we raised almost £5000 for the West Berkshire branch of the National Autistic Society. I sang, played Mozart duets and a massive ragtime medley. It was great!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians and composers? 

I am not one to sweat over a piece. If it works, it tends to come quite quickly and I rarely (if ever) change things. If it works and sounds good, just do it.  I have broken many of the ‘rules’ of harmony and counterpoint, parallel fifths and octaves, parallel fourths. I’m not a fan of tritones and haven’t used those as yet but never say never! If the piece I’ve written sounds nice to the ear, is well structured, has a good intro, beginning, middle and end, then I’m happy.  If you have to keep changing it all the time, chances are it wasn’t that great to begin with.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Happily married and sharing my life with my new fiancé, John. He is also a trumpet player and we both practise together! Aw!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Loving someone special and knowing they love and cherish you too.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am not a big one for ‘things’ but my new engagement ring is very special to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Several things: attending concerts with John, playing the piano and realising a new piece is starting to form, going for pizza with my two amazing sons, walking my greyhounds in the woods.

What is your present state of mind?

As happy as I have ever been in my whole life!

Fiona Bennett’s ‘New Lady Radnor Suite’ is available now. With a nod towards Hubert Parry who composed ‘Lady Radnor’s Suite’ in 1894, Fiona has composed and dedicated her new album to her friend, Melissa (The Countess of Radnor). 


Meet the Artist…… Graham Lynch, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

In my late teenage years I’d dropped out of school and was working in a dull office job in London, but also playing keyboards in a rock band and having piano lessons. My piano teacher was also a composer, and one day I sat down and wrote a piano piece and immediately I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life – write music. It was very much a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. After that things changed completely and I went to university and music college for the next seven years to catch up on the training I’d missed.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

All my composition teachers taught me useful things, but my lessons with Oliver Knussen were especially helpful. I studied with him privately for a couple of years. He’d put the music up on the piano and play it whilst scribbling alterations and improvements. It was very practical, and great to be around a musical mind with so much to offer.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Developing a musical language that is coherent and expressive. It’s been a slow journey for me, from atonal composing through to a style that is tonal/modal. I see music as about communication (what else can the arts be?) and for that one needs clarity of images and ideas; through this one reaches towards the strangeness that lies beyond our quotidian existence. As Paul Valéry once wrote “what is there more mysterious than clarity?”. I think that’ll go on my gravestone.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

The pleasures are being paid to write it and having a performance at the end. The challenge is the deadline. I compose very slowly, almost every day for hours but only producing a few bars of music each week. I sometimes prefer to write pieces without a commission because they can develop at their own speed.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

Working with orchestras and ensembles is incredibly exciting but there’s always limited rehearsal time, which can be frustrating. Because of this I particularly like working with soloists, especially keyboard players and guitarists as their instruments are capable of doing so much. I’ve written quite a lot of music for piano (and harpsichord) and had some fantastic performances where the players have really taken the time to get inside the music. Giving a pianist some music is like handing over a novel, they can immerse themselves in it in their own time and space.

Which works are you most proud of?  

Probably the pieces that reflect a temporary cohesion of my musical language at a given moment, in whatever guise that language presents itself. These would include the early orchestral piece Invisible Cites, the tango Milonga Azure, the White Books for piano, and recently Beyond the River God for harpsichord, and others.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Couperin, Stravinsky, Debussy, Mozart, Ravel, to name just a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s impossible to pick one as there have been many memorable concerts, in a generally terrifying way; first performances in particular are always nervy experiences. One of the most unusual performances, although it wasn’t a concert, was when an orchestral piece of mine was used as the modern test piece in the last Leeds Conductors’ Competition. I was able to hear it conducted and rehearsed in the semi finals by six different competitors.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Hard work and perseverance. I know that sounds very boring, but much the same advice was given out by the likes of Rilke, Mozart, Rodin, Ravel, and Cezanne. Plus, a relationship with all the arts. I’m a complete art gallery and book addict, and all these other arts feed into the music I’m writing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

West Ham winning the Premier League, but as that’s never going to happen I’d settle for the FA Cup.

What is your present state of mind? 


Graham Lynch was born in London. He has a PhD in composition from King’s College London, and he also spent a year at the Royal College of Music, as well as studying privately with Oliver Knussen.

Graham’s music has been commissioned and performed in over thirty countries, as well as being frequently recorded to CD and featured on radio and television. Performers of his music include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Singers, Orchestra of Opera North, BBC Concert Orchestra, and El Ultimo Tango from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He has also worked as an arranger for the Belcea Quartet. His works have been played in venues as diverse as the South Bank, Wigmore Hall, Merkin Hall New York, Paris Conservatoire, Palace of Monaco, and from the Freiberg Jazz Club to a cake shop in Japan, and everything in between.

In 2009 his orchestral work, Invisible Cities, was used as the modern test piece in the Leeds Conductors Competition, and the same year saw the release of the first CD devoted entirely to his music, Undiscovered Islands, which received high critical acclaim. Since that time many of his works have been recorded across a wide variety of CDs.

Graham’s interest in many musical styles has resulted in pieces that reach from complex classical works through to compositions that tread the line between classical music and other genres such as tango nuevo, flamenco, jazz, and café music. These diverse works are in the repertoire of ensembles such as Las Sombras, Ardey Saxophone Quartet, Terra Voce, Dieter Kraus and Tango Volcano. He has also written educational music as part of the Sound Sketches piano series.

Recent commissions include Present-Past-Future-Present for harpsichord (Finland), Arche for violin (UK), Sing-Memory for guitar and harpsichord (Finland), and Lyric Duo for two saxophones (Chile). Premieres for 2014 will include Apollo Toccate for guitar (Finland), Beyond the River God for harpsichord (Finland), Trio Cocteau for piano trio (UK), and French Concerto for baroque violin, harp, and harpsichord (France).

Graham has been the recipient of funding and awards from many organisations, including the Arts Council, Britten-Pears Foundation, PRS, RVW Trust, and the Lyn Foundation.


Meet the Artist…… Morgan Hayes, composer

photo: Malcolm Crowthers

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?  

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?  

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 


Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.

Meet the Artist……Ed Scolding, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I’ve liked making up music since I was young. It became the thing I most liked doing, so I just carried on doing it. Parents were always supportive.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I worked for my uncle John Hardy in Cardiff between degrees, and still do from London. He has a refreshing, inspiring attitude to other people and to music.

Many teachers, in various different ways. The performers, writers, directors and other artists I work with. My colleagues and students at The Conservatoire.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Picking up work after finishing education. Dealing with uncertainty. Carving out time to compose in. Writing music can be challenging but it’s a relatively familiar, safe space to be in.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It still feels like a huge privilege knowing that someone wants your music – that the notes you’re writing are already wanted by someone. And they’re going to take those notes seriously and invest time and energy and feeling, to bring those notes to life.

Deadlines are useful too, for helping to justify keeping other people waiting for other work!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I love collaborating with musicians and artists in other fields. Discovering some of their artistic voice, their sound, their craft, their ideas – taking these and digging into them and finding something new for both parties, hopefully.

Which works are you most proud of? 

It’s always the most recent few works, so brass & percussion piece Torque, chamber piece Black Sea, short opera Adrift, unpitched percussion solo Drawing, vocal ensemble piece The Sickness of Angels.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

At the moment – Screaming Maldini, Richard Causton, The Organelles, Laura Mvula, Ligeti.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Thomas Ades’ violin concerto Concentric Paths performed by Pekka Kuusisto with the Britten Sinfonia in February 2012. And many Organelles gigs back to sixth form days!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be genuine. Be resilient. Work with the best people you can. Don’t be satisfied too easily.  Say yes to everything until you can afford to say no to things. Make your own opportunities. Don’t believe the world owes you a living.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Here, but with a bit more room.

What is your most treasured possession? 


Ed Scolding is a versatile composer with a strong interest in collaboration and drama. His concert music has been described as as ‘subtle and polished’ (Bachtrack) and ‘succinct, witty and apt’ (Norwich Evening News), and film music as ‘intense but under-stated… extraordinarily effective’ (Richard Paine, Faber Media Music).

Recent projects include Thrown for Sinfonia Newydd, percussion solo Drawing which won the Nonclassical Composition Competition, Black Sea for The Hermes Experiment supported by Bliss Trust / PRS Foundation and a score featuring Dermot Crehan’s Hardanger fiddle for short film The Blood of The Bear which has been screened in festivals across the UK and Europe including at the BFI and the Barbican Centre.

Collaborative projects include short opera Adrift produced by Gestalt Arts, work with rock band Screaming Maldini and electronic producer Hem (aka Geoim), a Mozart flashmob for Welsh National Opera, music for Third Stage Dance and for Anna Jordan’s play Freak.

Ed’s music has been recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Wales and performed by Exaudi, Music Theatre Wales, London Sinfonietta, Ayre Flutes, Aisha Orazbayeva, Ksenija Sidorova and Anne Denholm at Nonclassical, Southbank Centre, St. John’s Smith Square, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Monmouth Festival, Cardiff Music Festival, Bath Fringe Festival and Wales Millennium Centre.

A keen teacher, Ed is Assistant Director of Music at The Conservatoire, Blackheath, with responsibilty for the Saturday Music School and strategic direction, and teaching GCSE and A-Level music and music technology, theory, composition, technology courses and workshops.

Living in London, Ed keeps close links to Wales through his work as Publishing, Projects and Web Manager for quintuple BAFTA Cymru award-winning composition company John Hardy Music and sister label Ffin Records. Ed is a Council Member of the ISM and a member of the ISM Special Interest Group for composition. He examines Rock & Pop grade exams for Trinity College London, with exam tours completed in Thailand, Malaysia, UAE and Spain and throughout the UK.

Born in 1985, Ed graduated in 2008 from Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with First Class Honours then completed MMus Composition with Distinction and the LRAM teaching diploma at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011 with support from sources including Arts Council Wales, Seary Charitable Trust, Ismena Holland Award and Harvey Lohr Award.


Meet the Artist……David Barton, composer

DSC_00032Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

In some ways, I feel I’ve always been a composer. When I started piano lessons age six and had my first keyboard, I was far more interested in making up my own tunes than I was practising the ones the teacher gave me. My piano teacher was very willing though, and more than happy to try and notate my early efforts as a composer! One of the things I’ve always been very comfortable doing is improvising and inevitably, that’s where a composition begins. I think there are really two reasons for this: one is that I started accompanying pretty early on; as far back as the top of the junior school I was able to accompany singers and instrumentalists, and as any accompanist knows, the ability to cover a gap, invent an introduction or rescue the soloist is hugely valuable. Secondly, and really following on from this, at the age of 14, I took on the role of church organist, a role which I filled for 12 years. It was at this point where composing became a bit more important as I felt increasingly confident in writing pieces for the groups and ensembles I was working with.

I continued to develop my composing while I was at school, and I was lucky to have music teachers who encouraged and valued this skill (a skill which it seems to me is so-often seen as second rate to performing). I think the pinnacle of this came when in the Upper 6th I was asked to compose the anthem for the school’s Founders’ Day service. I set a text by Ronnie Wilson titled ‘The Time We Have is Precious’ and it was sung by the school choir in Gloucester Cathedral in July 2002. As for composing becoming a career, I guess this was when I first thought about submitting my compositions to publishers. I knew these pieces worked with the individuals and groups I’d composed them for, and I guess I was curious to see whether publishers would feel the same. I think I had my first pieces, Five Fanfares (Fagus Music) accepted in 2004, and as they say, the rest is history!

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

It’s hard to get away from being influenced by the music we enjoy listening to and playing. Several people have commented over the years that my writing is very ‘English’; not particularly surprising to me as I listen and enjoy an awful lot of English music: it’s part of who I am and it seems natural that it should influence my writing as a composer. Secondly, I think we’re heavily influenced by the musical activities we’ve been and are involved in. My experience has generally been working with amateur ensembles and choirs, often with very limited resources; my teaching also influences what I compose as it gives me an insight into the educational value and appeal of the music I write.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I guess the greatest challenge is persuading people that your music is worth trying. Many of the schemes for composers and indeed the emphases in university courses has been to write ‘new music’. This ‘new music’ is, I guess, the music which the BBC commissions for the Proms and leaves out of it is television broadcasts in favour of the ‘classics’. I have, on more than one occasion joked that if I wrote a concerto for empty wheelie bin and silent cymbals, it would be performed and lauded everywhere! I’m not really sure what this ‘new music’ is we’re supposed to write, but I know that the music I write is ‘me’. That’s not to say my compositional style doesn’t change and develop, but it’s still essentially ‘me’: possibly one of the greatest challenges is therefore staying true to oneself? The music I write is, shall we say, pretty conventional? Over the last 10 years, I found in particular that the UK is very conservative in trying things by lesser-known composers; we seem to be very concerned by the composer’s ‘name’ in the UK. Publishers have their ‘house’ composers, something which is not so much the case in the USA where they’re very much more concerned with what you write rather than who you are. This is possibly why the majority of my music is published overseas.

I think that there is huge potential in the internet and social media to get music out there and known, but I also think it has its disadvantages. It’s easy for people to ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ your music, but it’s another thing to actually put your money where your mouth is and buy it.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

There is always a balance to be struck between accessibility and challenge. As I say, I have worked almost exclusively with ‘amateurs’ and I think the music I write reflects that. That, of course, doesn’t mean the music has been dull or boring, but it does have to take into account the skills and abilities of particular groups and individuals. I want performers to enjoy the challenge of learning something new, but I would never want them to lose sight of the act of enjoying making music. Too many challenges in a piece then you’re in danger of being on the wrong side of that line.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Gosh, that’s very difficult to answer! In some ways, I’m proud of them all because they all start from nothing. There are plenty of ideas and melodies which never go anywhere, so finishing a piece is hugely satisfying. I guess we can be proud of pieces for different reason: I’m proud of A Celtic Blessing (GIA Publications, Inc.) not only because it has sold well over 3,000 copies, but because several recordings have also appeared on YouTube (all from the US). It’s lovely to see that something you’ve written is being enjoyed and, more importantly, used. I’m proud of my solo for flute and piano Imagination (David Barton Music) because it was the first piece which generated a PRS royalty! Maybe I’m even more proud of the performers who are willing to give my music a fair hearing?

Who are your favourite composers?

I’ve always enjoyed a hugely diverse range of composers; Walton, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Moeran, Holst, Howells and Stanford all spring immediately to mind. I’ve always enjoyed early music: Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, Josquin and Penalosa. There’s the tunefully enjoyable Gilbert & Sullivan, and I’ve also a huge respect for light music composers and arrangers: Farnon, Tomlinson, Binge and Morley.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I know it sounds so simple, but people should listen to more music. I recently catalogued my CD collection: there are over 6,500 individual tracks…that’s a lot of listening. I am always discovering new music. So often, I’ll hear something on BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM and I’ll be off to buy it straight away. I think, alongside that, always being open to unfamiliar music. I think I’ve always been far more interested in individual pieces than a composer’s entire output, so there aren’t really any composers I ‘don’t like’; amongst their output, there are nearly always a few pieces which I do enjoy.

Secondly, and I’ve mentioned it already, staying true to yourself is important. When you compose, like any creative act, you have to give a bit of your inner-self; your compositions take on some of your identity. By all means push the boundaries and challenge conventions, but don’t try to be something you’re not.

Advice for aspiring composers? I think, above all, compose. Sounds ridiculous, but get composing. I think you need to be composing on a regular basis, and where possible, getting feedback on your writing. Don’t just write because you need to produce an A-Level composition; write because you enjoy writing. I have come across students in the past who want to study composition at university, but have only written four compositions: two for GCSE, one for AS Level and one for A-Level. Also, don’t spend so long planning for and dreaming about the next piece that you never get round to writing it. Getting started is the hardest part (the second hardest part is thinking up a title for your piece, but that’s another story…) Start by writing things for people you know or groups you have a link with.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Interesting question! I don’t know many composers who are in it for the money, so in 10 years’ time, making more money from composing would probably be a bonus! I think that above all, I hope I’m still doing and enjoying doing what I do now. I get an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from composing, and I hope those to do buy and perform my music enjoy it too.


David was born in Winchester in 1983, and has been at the helm of award-winning David Barton Music since 2001. He combines a busy portfolio of teaching, accompanying and composing both from his base in Lichfield, and across the UK.

He was educated at The Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, where he won prizes for both music and drama. He took a leading role in all the school’s musical activities including choirs, orchestras and chamber ensembles. He also played a significant part in the school’s productions including as musical director for Cinderella and Bugsy Malone. Whilst at the school, he continued his instrumental studies as a pianist, flautist and singer; he also gained the skills and confidence to be an effective accompanist. Whilst at the school he also learnt the organ, and in the latter years, led the music at the school’s assemblies. In November 1998 he played 2nd flute in Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No. 2 under Sir Simon Rattle as part of the World’s Largest Orchestra at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

David Barton Music was established during David’s last couple of years at school, and since leaving, he has developed a successful career as a teacher, composer and accompanist. He graduated with a BA(Hons) Open Degree in 2008, and a MEd in 2010, both with The Open University. He also holds the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching and the CertGSMD(T) in Flute Teaching. He was one of the first students to graduate on the Royal School of Church Music’s DipRSCM in Sacred Music Studies course. As a composer, he holds the LLCM and ALCM diplomas from the London College of Music. He is currently reading for a PhD in Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

David has over 100 compositions and arrangements published in the UK, USA and Canada, and thousands of copies of his music have been sold worldwide. These include works for solo voice, choir, organ, woodwind, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Regular performances, particularly of choral works, take place especially in the USA. Publishers include several major companies including GIA Publications, Inc., Spartan Press (Phylloscopus Publications) and Augsburg Fortress. David also typesets and publishes a number of pieces under the David Barton Music umbrella, and these are sold direct via his website.

David writes in a variety of styles, but mainly classical. His music is designed to be tuneful, generally easy-on-the-ear and accessible to a wide range of ensembles, particularly those with limited resources. A number of works have received favourable reviews in Church Music Quarterly, Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine, and Pan Magazine. In 2011, his setting of A Celtic Blessing was selected as one of the prestigious JW Pepper ‘Editor’s Choice’ for that year.

More about David and his music and teaching on his website