Tag Archives: British composer

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? 

Dog.

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.

www.edscolding.co.uk

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

Meet the Artist…… John Metcalf OBE, composer

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

I fear my answer may sound pretentious . . . When I was 12 years old there was a single moment when, while out walking, the idea came to me to be a composer and it was an idea which for the first time seemed to make sense of my whole life. It was quite unusual in that it wasn’t an obvious choice – I do not come from a particularly musical background

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

I see it as much as a vocation as a career. There are very many influences – it’s a life’s work. Anything that helps to reconnect new music with an intelligent audience has been important. I also love the simplicity and rigour of minimalism. Working with other artistic disciplines, especially but not exclusively in opera, has also been very formative

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

Again several. Being true to myself; understanding that recognition needs to come from within rather than without; and seeking a radical artistic path despite composing in a non-modernist idiom.

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

I think the obvious ones either way. It can be helpful to have a structure and a deadline. Even for the best organised composer creative work can at times be chaotic as well as totally absorbing. Similarly the timing of commissions can be a help or a further challenge.

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

It’s a commonplace of course but the best collaborations are those in which all those involved have a part in the decision making and there’s a huge range within music from individual performers who commission specific works to orchestra members who have little or no choice over what they play. At its best collaboration – the  highest sum of the best parts – can be the pinnacle of artistic work

Which works are you most proud of?

Well, I have put on ice much of my music before 1990. However, I am not one of those composers who doesn’t like to listen to his own music and I am proud of so many of my works since then. A breakthrough piece for me was Paradise Haunts (1994) violin and piano, later (1999) violin and orchestra. The short piano piece Endless Song (1999) is probably my most played work and there is a set of variations for Harp and Strings, Mapping Wales, based on it.  I’m also proud of the song cycle In Time of Daffodils (2006) and my last two operas –  A Chair in Love (2005) and Under Milk Wood (2014). Most composers have their ‘ugly duckling’ work. Mine is Cello Symphony (2004) – only one performance to date but there is happily a recording. (Thank you for this promotional opportunity, I think I’ve made the most of it!)

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Stravinsky, Elgar and Arvo Part are among them and I love listening to new pieces that I don’t know! I have the greatest admiration for new generation of young British performers also. They are really extraordinarily good. It is an odd realisation that the fees for classical musicians have decreased markedly as the standard of playing has increased.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been some very special concerts at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. The 1996 concert at Llandaff Cathedral with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Part, Vasks and Kutavicius stands out. Hearing the Kutavicius work – The Last Pagan Rites – prior to that at a cathedral in Vilnius following a very traumatic travel day was also memorable. Finally the premiere of Under Milk Wood: an Opera on April 3rd 2014 is still fresh in my memory

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

I think, excellence. As few compromises as possible. Never the middle ground, always the high ground. And spend as little time as possible teaching, administering, examining – crucial, wonderful skills though those are – and as much time as possible be it on composing or playing.

John Metcalf is a leading Welsh composer who has composed major works in many musical forms. While his cultural roots are in the heart of Wales, his work has a broad international following and is represented in a growing catalogue of recordings.

In 2009 he received one of four inaugural Creative Wales Ambassador Awards from the Arts Council of Wales. The awards recognise artists’ achievements, their standing in the arts in Wales and their capacity to push the boundaries of their art inherently as form and as a point of contact with contemporary Wales.

2010 highlights included the release in September by Signum Records of the ‘Paths of Song’ CD, containing Septet, Llwybrau Cân (Paths of Song), Castell Dolbadarn (Dolbadarn Castle) and Mapping Wales and a recording of his six piano palindrome Never Odd or Even in a multi-track version by Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen on Brilliant Classics 9171/7. On October 29th his new saxophone quartet On Song was premiered by the Lunar Saxophone Quartet at the Riverfront Centre, Newport. Several performances followed and the work was also released on Signum Records SIGCD233.

In Her Majesty the Queen’s 2012 New Years Honours List John was awarded an MBE for services to music.

www.johnmetcalf.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Adam Swayne, pianist & composer

Who or what inspired you to take up a career in music?

As a teenager I was lucky to have Jeremy Carter as my piano teacher. I also revered the rock’n’roll pianism of Jerry Lee Lewis (and still do).

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I struggled during my first couple of years on the demanding joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM, but my third year was something of a revelation. I learnt reams during my piano lessons with John Gough (including, crucially, a fresh and non-stuffy approach) and also took composition lessons with John Casken and lectures in postmodern music from Kevin Malone and Shostakovich from David Fanning. It was at this point I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. Fulbright studies in the US with Ursula Oppens sealed the deal.

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

Juggling a range of disciplines and trying (hard!) to excel in all of them. Alongside piano I compose frequently for many varied ensembles (that, strangely, hardly ever include piano – for example this one) and I regularly conduct performances of (mainly) new music. My work with CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) is really important because it involves getting amazing people from all walks of life participating in the music, and I also serve on the board of the Riot Ensemble in order to get the most cutting-edge of this stuff out there in concert. I love teaching and am lucky to supervise over 80 groups of all styles and genres as part of my role as Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester, and I also have a clutch of brilliant and talented students at the Junior Royal Academy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I played Rzewski’s colossal ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’ in three venues last year, and I think I am proud to have scaled that particular pianistic mountain (although I haven’t been brave enough to listen to the recording yet!). I’m also pleased to have performed Lutoslawski’s terrific concerto – here’s a clip of the ending in my performance with the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and Victor Yampolsky.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Probably pieces by Shostakovich. I relate well to nervous energy, tragedy…. and comedy!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Whatever I think will be fun to prepare and fun for people to listen to.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Hmm, tricky one. I like venues where it is easy to blur the boundaries between the performers and the listeners, so it’s more of a community experience. Maybe St Martin-in-the-Fields?

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Kevin Malone wrote me a wonderful and hilarious piece involving plenty of theatre called Count Me In. You can watch a performance here. I also love the sound of wind orchestras and have been lucky to have been involved in quite a few over the years. You can’t beat the Americans for their brass sound.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’d have to include Pierre Boulez – a great musical polymath with an amazing conducting style. You can see every single composerly detail in the gesture. My American conducting teachers (especially Mallory Thompson) taught me the importance of this. At other ends of the spectrum I love Eddie Cochran and The Who.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my first outing of Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’ in which I have to adopt the persona of two female goddesses as well as play some really imaginative piano music. (You can listen to a performance here.) I’m playing this again in a Riot Ensemble concert on January 30th.

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

Just to give 100% energy and commitment to whatever is being asked of you, however big, small or unusual.

What are you working on at the moment?

This morning, the John Ireland ‘Phantasie’ Trio. I play in a piano trio with Ellie Blackshaw (violin) and Peter Copley (cello) and we are on a mission to present all three of the Ireland trios. They are wonderful and really reek of Sussex, which is where I live.

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

Doing the same sorts of things, but with less anxiety about note learning/ preparedness.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious about note learning/preparedness!

Adam Swayne works with a vast range of musical media and styles that go beyond conventional labelling. He is just as at home giving a solo piano recital or conducting an orchestra as he is organising musical installations in art galleries or composing for amateur ensembles. He takes an inclusive, informative and innovative approach to his music making that is drawing an increasingly large audience.

Adam is a graduate of the joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM. He gained first class degrees from both institutions, and an MMus from the RNCM. Manchester University gave Adam their highest award (Sir Thomas Beecham Medal) along with other prizes including the Recital Prize. Prizes from the RNCM included the John Ireland Prize and an award for performances of contemporary music.

In 2003 Adam was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to begin doctoral studies at Northwestern University, U.S.A. He graduated in 2006 with distinction, having presented several U.S. premières of works by British composers.

Adam is now Senior Lecturer and Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester and piano tutor at the Junior Royal Academy of Music.

Adam’s Swayne’s full biography can be found on his website:

www.adamswayne.com

Meet the Artist……Joanna Marsh, composer

Joanna Marsh

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

I think it was watching ‘Young Musician of the Year’ on our black and white telly in the 1970s ignited my competitiveness and made me get on and do some practice. Although much of that ‘practice’ was improvising and composing because that is what principally interested me – though I took a long time to acknowledge it. For ages I thought the only way to have a career in music was to be a performer.

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

One day when a pupil hadn’t turned up I decided to show some of my music to a talented composer friend. His reaction was pretty straightforward – I needed to do more and to get my work “out there”. I hadn’t had any real affirmation of my music before and although it sounds ridiculous, I was on a high for about a week after that.

Later I met Judith Bingham who became a tremendous friend and mentor. Early on, she insisted that I wasn’t taking myself seriously enough, which forced me to examine my approach. Organists can be a bit “throwaway” about the production of music, which is so often done on the spur of the moment with very little thoughtful preparation. Composing is different, not because of the speed of creativity; it’s about the preparation and decision-making in advance. It is the pre-compositional process that leads to the depth and meaning of the music which is eventually created.

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

When I moved to Dubai because of my husband’s job, my worry was, “That’s it. Game over”. But actually, the experience has taught me a huge amount about seeking out opportunities and making things happen rather than waiting around hoping to be noticed by others.

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

I really enjoy the sense of “team involvement” and having people invested in you. Knowing there is someone else interested in what you are producing is such a relief because composing is such an isolating process. I also deeply appreciate having deadlines. Luckily I have never had a commissioner who has “got in the way” of the process.

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

Having dedicated professional musicians rehearse and perform your music is always a revelation. They breathe life into the thing you have struggled and grappled with for weeks or months. They’re the chefs who turn your recipe into a feast, checking with you that the taste is just as it is intended to be.

Working with musicians who haven’t prepared or even thought about your music is all about damage limitation. It’s very draining.

I once wrote a piano piece for a pretty well respected European pianist. He’d had a run of completely insane projects (including playing the complete Liszt in 48 hours!) and hadn’t opened the score before he arrived at the venue to rehearse. He sight-read very roughly through my piece while I sat there cringing and it was not much better in the performance the next day. I’m sure he felt bad about it, but I definitely felt worse because I had to sit there in the performance pretending my piece was really supposed to sound like that. It was nothing like!

Which works are you most proud of?

Immediately after finishing a piece I usually worry that it is complete rubbish. It’s often only years later that I get any kind of perspective. In my second year of living in Dubai I wrote my orchestral piece Kahayla and had the idea that I could write the score out on a giant piece of paper so it looked like a picture of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. So I did it and it always gets mistaken for an actual drawing. But the musical content was the only important thing as I was writing. The ideas behind it were strong and a sense of flow was there.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Among my composer contemporaries I love the music of Joseph Phibbs. He has a unique voice: beautiful and extraordinary, especially orchestrally.

I find pianist Katya Apekisheva’s playing wonderfully lyrical. And what a communicator! I hope she is huge in the future.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I recently heard the Syrian ney flute player Moslem Rahal in Abu Dhabi play a solo accompanied by rabab and Arabic percussion. It was a partly improvised piece derived from a mediaeval Spanish folk melody; very lyrical and rhythmically complex. He found a huge number of voices and colours in that instrument and virtuosic multiphonics appeared and disappeared seamlessly in the texture. There was no sign of him taking a single breath in those 20 minutes. I was riveted with awe: it was quite an outer-body experience.

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

You need to be open to what life brings you. Don’t just think of the next thing coming up as the real opportunity, what you have on your plate NOW is the opportunity.

What is your present state of mind?

Slightly wired. I have lots of projects going on at the moment.

 

Joanna Marsh’s new work “Arabesques” is being premiered by The Kings Singers at Kings Place on 29 January as past of the London A Cappella Festival 2015. “Arabesques” is inspired Middle Eastern culture and is a setting of three poems by three contemporary Arab poets (Sa’adi Youssef, Abboud al Jabiri and Khaled Abdallah) each about a woman they have known. The music is also infused with mesmerising repetitive motifs which characterise each movement.

Joanna Marsh is a British composer who has been living in Dubai since 2007. The inspiration for Joanna’s compositions often comes from seeing contemporary subjects in a historical perspective. For example, “The Tower” (2008) for the BBC singers, (John Armitage Trust) was a reflection on the Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s famously tall tower, and its curious parallels with the mythical Tower of Babel. Her other piece about the Burj, Kahayla – written two years later, uses allegory to look at Dubai’s desire to ‘win’, comparing building the tallest tower in the world with winning a horse race. Horse racing is the national sport and a big part of Dubai’s cultural heritage.In addition to her concert music, Joanna composed the music for the short film “The Morse Collectors” which has won prizes at seven international film festivals including the Chicago Children’s Film Festival. Her songs for children’s choirs based on the poetry of Brian Patten, have been performed at festivals and choral competitions internationally and across the UK including Choir of the Year. In 2005 she wrote a musical installation for the Pier 6 Bridge at Gatwick Airport which is still playing in 2014.

Joanna is Programme Curator and Composer in Residence for THE SCORE, which most recently put on the region’s largest choral festival in Dubai: ChoirFest Middle East 2014.

Joanna (b. 1970) studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was an organ scholar at Sidney Sussex College Cambridge. She studied composition with Richard Blackford and Judith Bingham. Joanna was selected as one of the composers on the ROH2 “Composing for Voice” programme at the Royal Opera House, which culminated in a performance with members of the London Sinfonietta in 2008.

Her experience of the Middle East has provided inspiration for many of her compositions including “Arabesques” for The King’s Singers and “A Short Handbook of Djinn” for harpist Catrin Finch, “The Travels of Ibn Battuta” for the Maggini Quartet and “The Hidden Desert” for pianist Gergely Boganyi.  The British Embassy in Dubai commissioned her brass fanfare “The Falcon and the Lion” written for H.M. Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit to Abu Dhabi in November 2010.

www.joannamarsh.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Roger Proctor, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?

My main motivation for composing has been the arrival of my children, which although taking up a great deal of time – has been a constant source of inspiration. In addition to this, I am very inspired by the countryside. When I began composing my latest album ‘Summit’, I was living very close to Richmond Park and I took much inspiration for the music during misty morning walks in the park. I am also very inspired by the area close to where I live now and I have tried to reflect the openness and beauty of the Chiltern Hills.

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

I have been greatly influenced by working with my piano and composition students who have drawn my attention to all manner of composers and musicians both in ‘pop/rock’  genres and classical. I have also been influenced by working with rock and jazz musicians in a band environment where freedom of expression is sought and encouraged.

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

Recording my last album ‘Summit’ took a great deal of time and patience over many months.

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

Commissioned work is an incredibly challenging task as often you do not have sole creative input into the final work. It is a collaboration of at least two or more people all with differing opinions on the final outcome. These challenges can be incredibly rewarding however and can lead to unexpected outcomes.

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

Composing can be a lonely pursuit so I always enjoy collaborations with other musicians. in 2008, I worked with a singer on an album of folk music which was a really enjoyable collaboration.

Which works are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my latest album of solo piano music ‘Summit’ written to reflect my love of the countryside and dedicated to my one year old daughter. Although I have released it as a CD, I primarily wrote it with the pianist in mind. I am very keen that my music should be interpreted and re-composed by the pianist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I love venues which are ‘unconventional’ like outdoor venues. Last year I performed in a disused barn in the middle of a corn field which was great fun and very atmospheric.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love Bach for the truthfulness and inventiveness of expression. In particular, I am incredibly impressed by the way they solved structural problems in seemingly effortless ways. Modern composers I have taken influence from are John Tavener and Yann Tiersen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Watching sir Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s 5th (from the choir stalls so I could see every expression on the conductor’s face) and feeling my daughter wriggle in my wife’s belly.

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

Take advice and instruction in an objective and critical way. It is important to remember that ‘you’ are the musician – it is your creativity and musicianship that are the most important aspects of your performance or composition.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am busy working on my second album of solo music, due to be published in late 2015.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my violin.

www.rogerproctor.com

Meet the Artist……Gavin Bryars

(photo: Gautier Deblonde)

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

I started as a jazz bass player having become very interested in jazz as a teenager. I had studied classical piano from the age of 5, but took up the bass when I was 18.  I only started to compose in my early twenties and for this move it was the work of John Cage that was the key inspiration.

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

Initially it was Cage.

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

There have been many, but perhaps writing my first opera, a setting of Euripides’ Medea in Ancient Greek was the most challenging as it was the first thing I’d ever written for orchestra, for the stage, for the human voice and I’d only ever seen one opera live. In addition I was my own publisher and I had only 8 months to write it while teaching full time…

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

The main challenge, which is in fact a pleasure, is to get to work with many very different artists  – both with performers, choreographers, opera directors etc.

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

It is, again, the encounter with artists of real quality and I have to find what works best for them; that is to say, I always take account of their characters both musical and otherwise.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I’m not really proud of any of them! There are works that I think are of greater significance but I never proud of my own achievements though I take pride in the successes of others – my children for example.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

My favourite musicians are the members of my own ensemble, who are the finest singers and chamber music players I know, and with whom I have chosen to work. There are many composers whose works I enjoy and admire but none would be “favourites”!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but I would single out two. One was a concert performance of my first opera by BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra 11 years after the opera performances. The other was touring an old piece of mine, The Sinking of the Titanic, during the centenary year of the sinking, when I included my four children in my ensemble (my three daughters on viola, two cello; my son on double bass)

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

There are two:

Always keep and open mind and a spirit of enquiry (so as not to develop predictable routines) and make sure that you have a secure musical craftsmanship ( so that you are able to express your ideas without difficulty of technique).

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

I would like to be still alive and well, and in our home with my entire family on the Pacific coast of Canada (where we live for part of the year)

What is your present state of mind? 

Alert and as serene as possible

Gavin Bryars presents ‘The Bass in My Life’ with Daniele Roccato, double bass, who performs works by  Stefano Scodanibbio, Giacinto Scelsi, Ivan Fedele, Franco Donatoni, Daniele Roccato and Gavin Bryars at the Italian Cultural Institute London tonight.  The event is part of the Suona Italiano residency to promote Italian music. Further information here

“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” –Michael Ondaatje

Gavin Bryars’ full biography

www.gavinbryars.com

Meet the Artist……Patrick Nunn, composer

_MG_8764Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

I don’t recall the initial trigger(s) to take up composing but there was always a strong desire from about the age of seven to put dots onto the page.  Similarly, the decision to make a career appears to have been there from an early age in some form – it just always seemed to be the path I was destined to follow.

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

There are key figures and key works that have become significant in my musical life – those being Bach, Stravinsky, Debussy, Messiaen and more recently, Jonathan Harvey, George Crumb, Anton Webern and Matthias Pintscher.

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

The process of composing itself is by far the greatest challenge of my career to date.  Self-doubt and anxiety has often crippled my creative output for months on end.  I’ve also never been a composer to repeat the same technical trick over and over in my writing.  Every new piece presents a new problem to solve and each time the solution requires a different approach.  Perhaps this explains why I write so slowly.

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

I rarely write without a specific request for a work (with or without payment) and that brings with it certain pleasures such as working closely in collaboration with a musician or ensemble to develop a specific idea or sound.  The biggest challenges are always the deadlines and time-frames that often appear to get in the way of the creative flow.  It seems to be a common issue amongst artists, yet I am finding more and more that these goal posts can serve as great motivational forces when hitting a creative dead end.

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

I’m always interested in exploring new sounds often through the combination of electronics and acoustic forces.  Working with particular performers, especially those who have developed new performance techniques or use extended instruments, is really exciting because as a composer I get to try out sounds that perhaps nobody has written and heard before.

Which works are you most proud of?  

There are a few recent works that have been significant for me because they represent either a change in style or in the way I approach writing. Music of the Spheres (2006) for piano and planets  was a real labour of love due to hundreds of hours spent trawling through data files from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in order to find a few gold nuggets that could be turned into something of musical interest.  Despite all the effort, I am very happy that performing piano alongside a sonic representation of our solar system is accessible to anyone from about Grade 2 piano upwards.  Escape Velocity (2006) for accordion and string quartet is also an important work because it represents both a change in style that felt very comfortable for me but also because it demonstrates an attempt to explore and ultimately integrate two different instrumental forces into a single sound world. Fata Morgana (2007) for cello with Hyperbow, ensemble and live electronics is another key work as it represents the culmination of several years of research exploring the application of sensors and performance data in shaping and controlling the evolution of accompanying live electronics. It was also the first time I began to feel confident with my expanding musical language and with writing expressively at the extreme ends of the cello’s range. In this work, I felt that I had finally begun creating a more unified and meaningful connection between the expressiveness of the performer and the resulting reflections from the electronics through the aid of the sensors – something that has been a developing working method for me ever since.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

Not at all – I’m always grateful for a performance, wherever that might be!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

In addition to those composers I mentioned earlier who were of most influence in shaping who I am as a composer, I would include Ockeghem, Pergolesi, Prokofiev and some contemporary heavyweights such as Schoenberg, Ligeti, Boulez, Crumb, Magnus Lindberg, Helmut Lachenmann, Unsuk Chin, Harrison Birtwistle and GérardGrisey.

As for performers, I wouldn’t say I have any favourites as such.  Moreover, I just really appreciate and admire performers generally as I gave up myself after completing my undergraduate studies due to stage nerves.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are three that are particularly memorable for me – the London Sinfonietta’s 2008 QEH performance of Grisey’s complete Les espaces acoustiques; the Sinfonietta/Royal Academy 2013 RFH performance of Stockhausen’s Gruppen; and the Britten Sinfonia’s astonishing performance of Birtwistle’s Yan Tan Thethera at the Barbican this May.

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

In the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”.  If you don’t feel utter joy and a sense of deep passion for something, change direction and try something else.  Life’s too short!

_MG_8646_cropped

Tell us a little more about your new work ‘Morphosis’, recently premiered by Zubin Kanga. What was the inspiration/creative impulse for this work? What were the particular challenges of creating and performing this work? 

I’ve wanted to work with the wonderful Zubin for many years.  He’s a real collaborator and that excites me because it affords me space to try new things and to make mistakes – essentials in the quest for new methods of creating and working.  Zubin knew of my work with sensors and electronics so it seemed a perfect collaborative partnership.

Much of my recent work is fundamentally concerned with this notion of meeting points – of fusing apparently opposing sound worlds; moulding, mixing and states of flux. I see my work as becoming more sculptural of late – where musical ideas grow outside of their original form, then take an unexpected turn and morph into something else, perhaps falling back temporarily to allow the electronic reflections to come to the fore only to suddenly re-emerge with a fresh direction that overwhelms all proceeding shapes.  This concept of flow, of coursing and of flux is also at the base of Morphosis. Musical objects begin as simple chords surrounded only by their electronic reflections that are subtly influenced by the movement of the performers hands (the sensors being attached to the back of the hands and transmit three-dimensional movement data to the live electronics).  These musical objects are presented several times as if one is looking at a single object from different angles. They are joined together by the morphing states of the electronics into what I hope is a flowing musical argument that is both visually and aurally engaging.

Working with live electronics is always a challenge but is particularly so with the addition of sensors.  Speed is critical!  Six channels of data from the performers hands must stream into the laptop once every 20ms.  This data must be refined for musical processes.  Each movement must be carefully calibrated and assigned to a particular parameter of a digital sound process.  Vast amounts of number crunching are performed in tiny segments of time and any blip in the system results in either a click in sound or a fatal system crash.  All this must be performed from just a single laptop that gets slower the more processing is added.  As a composer, the months of computer programming can become unbearable.  Many challenges emerge: Which should I write first – the music or the electronic effects?  How will the sounds change if I do not fully know how the performer will try to control the sound through the sensors?  How can I impose limits on what the performer will do with their hands to shape the sounds?  All these questions push my creative process to the edge – something I fear yet something I crave too…. living on the precipice…. creating something new, something never before uttered…. it’s the ultimate drive….

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

Southern Italy full time – writing more than I teach

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Acceptance of myself and everything external

What is your most treasured possession?

My mind – all else is temporary

What do you enjoy doing most?

Dancing 4am, hot sand between the toes, cool breeze on the skin – Italian beach

What is your present state of mind?

Buzzy and tired – it’s 4.30am!

Patrick Nunn (b.1969, Kent, UK) studied composition with Frank Denyer at Dartington College of Arts, Gary Carpenter at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and Simon Bainbridge and Jonathan Harvey whilst completing his PhD in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music (funded by a PRS Scholarship).

He has been the recipient of many awards including the Birmingham New Millennium prize for Sentiment of an Invisible Omniscience (2010), the Alan Bush prize for Transilient Fragments (2008), a British Composers Award (solo/duet category) for Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows (2006), and the BBC Radio 3 Composing for Children prize for Songs of Our Generation (1995).

Patrick’s music has been performed widely in the UK and on the continent and has featured at more than fifty festivals worldwide. He has worked with a diverse range of collaborators, including the BBC Concert Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Kreutzer Quartet, Thalia Myers, Piano Circus, Icebreaker, Ballet Rambert, Gogmagogs, Composers Ensemble and New London Children’s Choir.

Under the auspices of Tod Machover (MIT), Nunn, in his role as Hyperbow Researcher at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote two new works incorporating Diana Young’s (MIT) Hyperbow design: Gaia Sketches for solo cello and live electronics (finalist in the New Media category, British Composers Awards 2006); and Fata Morgana for cello, ensemble and live electronics. Nunn presented the collaborative process between composer and engineer in a research paper alongside Young at the 2006 NIME conference at IRCAM.

In addition to his extensive work as an educator, Nunn has recently completed two ABRSM commissions for their Spectrum series, as well as a new work for the Tempest Flute Trio. His work Prism was nominated for the solo/duo category for the 2009 British Composers Awards and Pareidolia I for bass clarinet, electronics and sensors has been shortlisted in the Sonic Arts category for the 2012 Awards. He currently holds the position of Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. His music is published by Cadenza Music and the ABRSM, and also features on Red Sock Records (Music of the Spheres), NMC (Prism) and the Sfz label (Gonk).

© Patrick Nunn (Nov 2012)

www.patricknunn.com

Photo credit: Nick Fallon

 

‘Madame X’ – the Opera

Masetto and Zerlina – a young immigrant couple – are impoverished, cold, and starving. Masetto, a brilliant portrait artist, is being ripped off by his unscrupulous agent, and circling art collectors will not take “no” for an answer.

Shivering in a shabby loft, struggling to make ends meet, and exploited by the wealthy and powerful collectors Lady Brannoch and Mr Wilmore, Masetto lives for his art, protected only by his muse and love, Zerlina. Their plight becomes increasingly perilous, desperate, and deadly, until at last: revenge.

‘Madame X’ is a new opera by Tim Benjamin, inspired by the Italian operas of Handel and by Jacobean revenge drama. This dark, passionate and obsessive tale is peppered with black humour and explores the potent combination of money and power in the world of art.

I asked composer Tim Benjamin to tell us more about the genesis of his new opera:

What is the inspiration behind Madame X?

Madame X is a tale of skulduggery in the world of art, specifically portrait-painting. It is created in the style of the Jacobean (and Elizabethan) “revenge” dramas, of which the necessary ingredients included a dastardly plot, a murder, a ghostly visitation, and a gory revenge preferably taking in the entire cast. My opera (I also wrote the libretto) makes the most of these ingredients, finding a lot of fun in them too: it’s not “tragedy” in a particularly sad or weepy sense – though it has its moments! –  indeed there’s a fair bit of comedy in the plot.

‘Madame X’ is the name of a painting by John Singer Sargent. Has this painting had any direct or indirect influence on your work?

The Portrait of Madame X by Sargent has an interesting background: Sargent and a notorious young socialite, Virginie Gautreau, collaborated to produce something of a publicity stunt for both of them. In the event it back-fired, the painting (today considered a masterful study) shocked and scandalised, and had a poor public and critical reception; Gautreau was humiliated and Sargent permanently left Paris to move to London.

Now, while interesting, that isn’t the story of my opera Madame X, but it is one of the many fascinating stories behind now-famous artists and their works that form the essence of the plot of the opera.

Madame X (the opera, not the painting) features a brilliant but impoverished artist, Masetto, and his lover and muse, Zerlina, who are exploited by characters that represent various forces that have shaped the history of art: Mr Wilmore is an American capitalist (“new money” and art-as-investment), Lady Brannoch is an aristocrat of Old Europe (“old money” and patronage), Botney is a double-dealing agent, and The Public who are … the public, featured at play, often drunkenly, and at church; alcohol and religion are, of course, both major influences in the world of art.

The character Masetto only ever speaks (well, sings) the titles of famous paintings. We, the listener, and the other characters on stage must interpret his meaning from these titles. One of these utterances is, naturally, “Madame X…” – but this happens at a key moment in the plot, which I won’t spoil here, so you’ll have to come and see it to find out why!

What are your key musical inspirations in creating this opera?

The sharp-eyed reader will have spotted that Masetto and Zerlina are characters from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and that opera is an influence or inspiration for this. The plot is (very) loosely similar; one could say that the equivalent of the Don in Mozart is “Money”and the women that he pursues are “Art” in Madame X. The primary musical influence is however Handel, specifically his Italian operas (Giulio Cesare, Cerce, Rinaldo, Rodelinda…).

Just as there are numerous references to famous paintings in the libretto, there are references to famous movements in classical (and not so classical) music in the score. Not quotations as such, and not pastiche, but what I might call adaptations or “re-tellings”. These encompass not just Handel, but also composers from Mozart to Britten, and more.

There are one or two quite specific musical references; for example I have used a motif from Beethoven’s final piano sonata which (at least according to Mann’s ‘Faustus’) represents “Fare-thee-well”, as it does also in my opera.

The strong Baroque musical influence is also reflected in the small orchestra, which features a harpsichord (doubling chamber organ), and naturally this prominent sound strongly shapes the overall feel of the piece. The part is not written (as in Handel) in figured bass – as that would pose more than a few challenges given the constantly-shifting harmonic (albeit often tonal) landscape of my score – it is fully written out, but still requires the player to conjure up the essence of semi-improvisatory Baroque performance.

harpsichord-extract

What/who do you think art is for? (!)

From the point of view of who? We all have our own function for art, and these functions seldom if ever coincide with the intentions of the original artist. Take Mona Lisa for example – it is one of the most visited paintings in the world, and it has been used to sell everything from crisps to coffee to software to Lego to headphones to airlines! But none of that was the intention of Leonardo, who was simply commissioned to produce a portrait of the wife of a wealthy silk merchant. So what is Mona Lisa for? For tourists to queue up and look at? For ad-men to sell with? For silk merchants to show off their money and wives? A store of cultural capital and prestige for the French Republic? Or for a jobbing portrait-painter to earn a crust?

All of these, and more, are “functions” of this particular work of art, and every other work of art to differing extents, and all of these are addressed in Madame X, especially when they brush up against each other and cause conflict. My character Masetto is an archetypical artist, and while he might just take each job as it comes and do the minimum that is required to satisfy the client, he also has his own motives, and it is the expression of these motives that transform a merely functional commission into a great work of art.

To relate this back to music, Stravinsky is reputed to have said that the key to being a successful composer was to think what you want to write next, and then persuade someone to commission it! This is quite the opposite to what the silk merchant might have expected when he hired Leonardo, but perhaps the artist had a vision of an enigmatic smile, and all he needed was to find a wealthy patron, with a suitably beautiful wife, to pay him to paint it…

MADAME X, the new opera by Tim Benjamin, is featured in the 2014 Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre, London, 25th, 26th, and 27th August.

Buy tickets

Madame X website

Meet the Artist……Tim Benjamin

Meet the Artist……Oliver Rudland, composer

Oliver photoWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

Like a great many other composers, the initial impetus or inspiration to write came from a deep-seated desire to emulate (and often imitate!) the music I had encountered in childhood and adolescence, through performing and learning music – in my case, through brass bands, orchestras and youth opera (I was blessed by the fact that Leeds County Council has an amazing music service with many inspirational teachers). Over time, I discovered the great power of music to express ideas about the world and about oneself, and this awoke in me the desire to make composition my vocation.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your composing and your musical career to date? 

My initial passions were fired by the English pastoral school, perhaps best represented by Vaughan-Williams and Holst. After this, I went through a Steve Reich phase (pun intended!), which had a very substantial impact upon my development, since it led me to realise that tonality could still be used in original and meaningful ways. Subsequently, I underwent a somewhat obsessive infatuation with Wagner, whose protean use of a wide variety of musical influences to create dramatic works of enormous philosophical depth planted in me the ambition to write opera. At this point, I re-discovered Benjamin Britten, who I came to see as a composer who had achieved equal dramatic mastery and psychological understanding, but in a more English and down-to-earth manner.

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

Undoubtedly my first two operas. Through these, I have learnt how to synthesise all my musical influences and gradually, from naïve beginnings, to write music and libretti which not only work poetically and musically but which also function well dramatically on the stage. Organising the performances and staging productions was just as much a challenge as the actual composition. For my first opera, The Nightingale and the Rose (after Oscar Wilde), written while I was still an undergraduate, I combined an orchestra of RCM students with the hundred-strong Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir and professional opera singers. My children’s opera, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark (after Jill Tomlinson), then involved co-ordinating sixty primary-school children from around Cambridgeshire with professional musicians, as well as singers from Cambridge University, which was an even more formidable logistical challenge, since it meant one had to deal not only with some fairly mischievous young spirits, but also with their anxious parents!

What are the particular pleasures/challenges of working with individual artists, ensembles or orchestras? 

I always enjoy working with musicians and artists to bring a project into being. I would consider myself the entrepreneurial type, and tend to gather together a team of creative people to build a project around a dramatic conception. Collaboration involves a balance between allowing plenty of creative freedom to the individuals that you are working with, whilst striving to direct everybody’s energies towards a mutual goal. Maintaining this balance without creating too many frictions and tensions is always a challenge; the trick is to find people who share your ideals.

Please tell us more about your new opera Pincher Martin

Pincher Martin is an operatic adaptation of William Golding’s novel and poetic masterpiece. Recreating on the stage the existential plight of a marooned naval officer who struggles to survive first in the ocean, then on a lonely rocky islet in the middle of the Atlantic, has stretched my imagination to the limit, and has required the use of devices and technology which were previously unfamiliar to me. Throughout the course of the drama, we will be using a silver-screen movie-style cinematic backdrop, both to aid us in realising difficult scenarios such as a man drowning in the Atlantic, and to evoke the drama’s World War II setting.

Just one example of how this will work in practice is a scene in a moving motorcar, where the protagonist terrifies a woman with his dangerous and aggressive driving in a terrible attempt to make her acquiesce to his desires (yes, this is in the book…!). Musically, I have accompanied this scene with continuous unpitched and then pitched fluttertongues in four solo brass instruments, to evoke the sound of a car engine, first stationary and then in faster and faster motion. In terms of staging, this coordinates with the film, in that what is displayed on the screen is the view seen from the back seat of a car, first shaking very slightly as the car is parked in a layby with its engine idling, and then changing as the car moves off down the road. This is combined on-stage with the set, which in this case consists of a car bonnet behind which the protagonists will sit, with the backseat view behind them on the film. The bonnet itself is half-car, half-rock-like in substance, so that we can move expeditiously from a scene taking place on the rocky islet to this memory scene in the car, whilst also suggesting to the audience that the rock is actually an imaginary environment created by Pincher’s subconscious, and that we are dealing with scenes from his past life, which he is recalling during his purgatorial existence on the island.

Using this synthesis of music, film and staging to bring William Golding’s story to life has been an incredibly difficult challenge, but one which I am very glad to be undertaking, as it has expanded my creative world substantially.

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

To be yourself whilst learning from others.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To build a life where I can continue to realise my musical and dramatic ideas, whilst also starting a family with my wonderful and brilliant wife Helen (whose ambitions equal mine in her own field of scholarship), balancing both of these enormous challenges in harmony.

Oliver Rudland’s opera Pincher Martin is at the Royal College of Music from 24-26 July. Tickets available here

http://pinchermartinopera.com/

View the trailer

 

Oliver Rudland was born in West Yorkshire in 1983. He studied composition with Huw Watkins and Joseph Horovitz and piano with Niel Immelman at the Royal College of Music as a Foundation Scholar, and then studied at Cambridge University with Robin Holloway, where he also taught harmony and counterpoint for five years. 

His orchestral music has been played in masterclasses directed by James MacMillan, Colin Matthews and Mark-Anthony Turnage, and he has had chamber works performed at the Cheltenham International Music Festival, the Southbank Centre, and the DiMenna Center (NYC), as well as at other venues across the U.S. and Europe. Oliver’s works have been performed by, among others, Matthew Gee (principal trombonist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the Britten Sinfonia, the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir, and Gonville and Caius College Chapel Choir. 

Oliver’s first opera, The Nightingale and the Rose, received its première at the Royal College of Music, London, and was then staged at the Carriageworks Theatre for four nights in 2008 by Leeds Youth Opera. ‘Exceptional talent…Oliver is going to be a big name in the future.’ (Yorkshire Evening Post) 

In 2011, he staged a production of his children’s opera, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, based on the classic story by Jill Tomlinson, which received very positive reviews from audiences and critics alike. ‘This was children’s opera at its best; it was fun and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds,’ (GSM News). Further productions of this opera are planned for Leeds (2015) and Freiburg imBreisgau, Germany.  

Future projects include a commission for a new choral work for Leeds Grammar School’s nine lessons and carols service, and a commercial recording of his choral music directed by Michael Waldron. For more information please visit: www.oliverrudland.co.uk