Tag Archives: female composer

Meet the Artist……Lauren Redhead, composer

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

I hadn’t considered composing as a career until relatively late in life: at university. When I was younger I was very inspired by the first organ teacher that I had, and I wanted to be like her and teach music to young people. By the time I arrived at university I was both interested in contemporary music and aware that, as an organist, I wasn’t involved in a lot of the activities that most music students are—orchestras and the like—so was looking for something that reflected my interests. I’d had a traumatic time doing my performance diploma and was convinced that performing would never be for me, but I also believed that composition was a matter of innate ability and not hard work (as many students do at 18). It was only when, encouraged by my lecturer, I entered—and won!—the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Young Composers’ Competition that I began to imagine that there might be some sort of future in it for me.

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

The lecturer who invited me to enter the competition that I have mentioned, Dr Mic Spencer at the University of Leeds, was a significant influence on my musical development, in particular because he was willing to lend me so many CDs, books and scores when I expressed an interest in New Music. By doing so he allowed me to listen to and learn about music which would have otherwise been completely inaccessible including most of the (at the time) more recent developments in Europe which are so rarely, if ever, performed or even mentioned in the UK. This music in itself was a huge influence on me and opened my ears to so many more possibilities than I had previously considered.

The composer Chris Newman was also a big influence on my work; I greatly admire the music and the art that he makes, and in discussing both my work and his ideas with me he encouraged me to be uncompromising in my work and ideas.

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

The most challenging time for me was a couple of years ago when I was travelling all the time, teaching in a lot of different places, and struggling to find time to work on pieces. However, this also taught me a lot of skills which help me to work under pressure now. The image of the composer toiling away in a darkened room is very much not the reality! The most challenging project I worked on was probably the opera, green angel, that I wrote from 2010-2011 with librettist and theatre director Adam Strickson. The challenges here were working collaboratively, working in the theatre which was also new to me then, and producing such a long work (75 minutes in total). The opera also went through a very intensive rehearsal process: 6 days from the first rehearsal until the opening performance and this was a completely unfamiliar way of working for me as well. However, the musicians that we worked with were all excellent and extremely dedicated which made all the difference.

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

The most recent commission that I have worked on was from the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds. The commission was for a new choral piece that also celebrated the centenary of the discovery of crystallography by William Lawrence and William Henry Bragg. The challenge with such a commission is not just to respond to the brief which involves learning a whole lot of new things about something that you haven’t previously thought about—in this case, about Chemistry—but also to respond in such a way that there is a meaningful relationship between the impetus for the commission and the resultant music. This means that each time it is necessary to re-think one’s approach to composition as a discipline; it’s not sufficient just to draw upon techniques and ideas from the past. This is both difficult, sometimes incredibly so, but also extremely satisfying and rewarding.

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

There are different challenges when working with all sorts of musicians, and I’m really lucky because most of the time I’m now working with musicians who are either contemporary music specialists or people who are extremely enthusiastic about and dedicated to the pieces that they perform. I really enjoy working with pianist Ian Pace, who has performed two of my works, not least because as well as being an excellent pianist he is also extremely insightful about the music that he performs. A lot of my work involved open or graphic approaches to notation, and I’ve also really enjoyed working with specialist performers on this type of piece. It can be a challenge to present this type of notation to unfamiliar performers. Recently I’ve worked with the group Vocal Constructivists on the piece concerto and with trombonist Gail Brand on the piece ‘entoptic landscape’. When musicians like these are so skilled at working with the type of notational challenges I present to them there’s the opportunity for dialogue and rewarding exchange which also helps me to go further as a composer.

Which works are you most proud of?  

This is a difficult question to answer! Usually, the most recent music I’ve written represents best my current thinking about music and composition, so in this case it would be the piece a common method, written for the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds, which I’ve most recently finished. I’m also extremely proud of the piece ‘/’(h)weTH’ which is a collaborate and multi-media piece that I wrote in 2012 with US visual artist R. Armstrong. This collaboration really challenged me to extend and develop my ideas and this was perhaps a turning point for me in the way that I approach many aspects of my work.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

I really enjoy when music is performed in unfamiliar places. I like the idea than any spaces can be re-purposed to become musical, and that the concert hall can become part of the staging of a work itself. In September 2013 Ian Pace performed my piano piece, i am but one small instrument, at the festival Firenze Suona Contemporanea (http://www.flamensemble.com/en/) which takes place in the Bargello Museum which is actually a mediaeval prison that has become an art museum. The concerts take place in the open-air atrium at the centre of the building. This is perhaps one of my favourite ever concert venues.

As an organist my favourite place to perform at the moment is St Laurence Church in Catford. This church was built in 1968 and has beautiful modern architecture and stained glass. It doesn’t house a very big organ but the instrument is quite powerful for its size and makes a great sound. This is the venue for the ‘Automatronic’ (http://automatronic.co.uk) concert series for organ and electronics that I organise with Huw Morgan and Michael Bonaventure .

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

This is another difficult question. All of the composers that I work with as an organist are important to me; some of the best experiences I have relating to music are when others share their ideas with me, and the kind of collaborations I have had with some of the composers whose music I perform are very important.

For many years as a student the music of Mathias Spahlinger was usually very close to the top of my CD pile. I also love to listen to the music of Sainkho Namtchylak, particularly the way her compositions and performances include so many influences and that she is so  confident in presenting her ideas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Perhaps some of the most memorable experiences that I have had were of hearing live performances for the first time of large works by composers I had only heard on CD at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. A particular example that stands out is the world premiere of Concertini by Helmut Lachenmann. But I can think of many examples of fantastic live music experiences, perhaps most recently at the ‘free range’ experimental music series in Canterbury (http://free-range.co) last week. This weekly concert series is memorable every time I go to it, and although so much of contemporary music culture seems based around recordings these days I think that live music is still most important.

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

The most important thing for any musicians to do, students or otherwise, is to listen to—and try to come to understand—as much music as possible, and particularly unfamiliar music. This is an idea that I come back to in my own life very often: it’s not possible to spend too much time discovering new music. In addition, I always try to impress on the student composers that I work with the importance of learning technique. Techniques can always be re-worked and re-purposed and, no matter what type of music you want to compose, being able to manipulate sounds and ideas—and to take these from one setting and use them in another—will always help to realise your ideas. Finally, I try to encourage all students to consider compositional practice in a similar way to instrumental practice: do some every day, do warm-up exercises, do a lot that no-one will ever get to hear. Often we think that instrumental performance takes a lot of hard work but expect composers to be brilliant as a result of inspiration and nothing more. Nothing will take you further as a composer as much as hard work!

What are you working on at the moment? 

At the moment I’m preparing to take the programme of organ and electronics pieces on tour. The tour is co-produced by Sound and Music and is a great opportunity to perform the music that I’ve been learning as a performer. The next compositional project is more collaborative work with Adam Strickson (who I worked on the opera with). The piece is still very much in the developmental and ideas stage, but should be finished by the summer.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Most of my time is spent composing, performing, or teaching music, so I’m glad that I enjoy this. Outside of music-related work I love cooking, particularly for other people. I think that good food is an important part of having a fulfilling life as a musician.

Lauren Redhead is a composer, performer, and musicologist from the North of England. Her music has been performed by international artists such as Ian Pace, the Nieuw Ensemble, Trio Atem, Philip Thomas, BL!NDMAN ensemble and rarescale, and she has received commissions from Yorkshire Forward, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Making Music and the PRSF for Music, and Octopus Collective with the Arts Council of England. Her opera, green angel, was premiered in January 2011 with the support of the Arts Council of England. Her music has been performed at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, the London Ear Festival, and many locations throughout the UK and Europe. In 2013, her work was be performed in the, Belgium, Italy, Austria, the London Ear Festival, the London Contemporary Music Festival and the Full of Noises Festival in Barrow. In 2014 she will be involved in the Sounds New Festival as a composer and performer. A CD of her chamber works entitled tactile figures was released on the engraved glass label in 2012, and further works will be released on CD in 2014.

As an organ performer she has premiered notable works of experimental music by Chris Newman, Nick Williams, John Lely, and Scott McLaughlin, amongst others. Lauren is actively involved in promoting and commissioning new works for organ and electronics and graphic and open notation works for the organ. In 2013 she made her debut organ performance in North America at Wesleyan University and appeared at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. She co-curates the ‘Automatronic’ concert series for organ and electronics with Huw Morgan and Michael Bonaventure. In 2014 she will tour her organ and electronics programme throughout the UK with the support of Sound and Music.

 

Pianist Ian Pace performs Lauren Redhead’s i am but one small instrument on 16th June at Deptford Town Hall, London SE14. Full details here

weblog.laurenredhead.eu

Meet the Artist……Jenni Pinnock, pianist and composer

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

I started improvising and composing as soon as I began playing. My teachers, friends and family were very supportive, nurturing and inspiring throughout, and I spent all my breaks and lunchtimes at school singing, playing, improvising and composing nonsense songs with friends. I would write songs and play and sing in school concerts, and I remember helping to arrange music for the school orchestra at middle school! I knew from quite early on that writing and making music was what I had to do.

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?

I believe my music comes from a melting pot of everything musical I’ve encountered – whether it’s music I’ve played, loved or hated, just experiencing it has an effect on my musical voice. However, some influences will have more sway than others. Javanese gamelan music has played a large part in my life for a number of years, and its influences can be heard throughout my music. Musical theatre is another huge influence on my music, alongside big band music, Beethoven, Debussy and Karl Jenkins. I must also mention that I find a lot of ‘current’ composers hugely inspiring – including many I’ve met through social media such as Twitter.

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

I think the greatest challenge to many who work in the arts is the issue of balance in their lives. For me, it’s balancing composition with family life – especially when I’m looking after a toddler and a new idea bounces into my head!

Which compositions are you most proud of?

That’s a hard one! I’m proud of Surakartan Haze as it was the first full orchestral piece of mine that was workshopped and performed. I’m also proud of Bells in the Rain as it’s a piece I’m very happy with, and that I wrote in the first couple of months of my daughter’s life.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

As with most composers, I’m quite happy with any venue in which my music is to be presented! However, I’m becoming more interested in less traditional venues, which are consequently more accessible to those who are not normally accustomed to classical music. We need to do something to help engage others in classical music, and the traditional concert hall seems to be a large obstacle – so why not remove it from the equation? Venues such as Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and St Ethelburgas church in Liverpool Street, London are examples of venues I’ve visited or performed in recently that I feel make good, accessible venues.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I wouldn’t say I have specific favourites to perform, but two that would make the list (choir wise) are Fauré’s Requiem (as an alto) and the Chichester Psalms. I love playing in orchestras and big bands, but I find there’s something so personal and powerful about the voice. Listening wise, there are too many favourites to pick. Epic, powerful pieces tend to be my music of choice, with In The Hall of the Mountain King and Wieniawski’s Szcherzo-Tarantelle being high on the list.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, I don’t really have favourites. The qualities I admire and seek out in musicians are that they are skilled at their craft, but that they communicate through their music, and add that all important extra dimension to their performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few, but one in particular is Steve Reich’s prom celebrating his 75th birthday at the 2011 BBC Proms series. I was particularly mesmerised by Ensemble Modern’s interpretation of his Music for 18 Musicians.

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

I think the most important concept is to remember that music is an incredibly powerful force, and that in the end it’s just that – music. It’s an organisation of sounds in time, and there are no rights or wrongs. Composers and performers of years gone by lived in musical societies where certain styles of music were the order of the day, or certain performance practices had to be conformed by to be accepted. That’s no longer the case, and we live in such a free musical society that nothing is wrong. However, as a result, there is a saturation of music everywhere, which can mean as composers we have a battle to be heard. My advice would be to be determined and keep working at it – and to value all your colleagues, as you never know who may help you find your next opportunity.

What are you working on at the moment?

My composition practice tends to involve working on several pieces at the same time. Right now I’m working on a Requiem (my labour of love, which gets some attention in between other projects!), a string quartet, and a collection of works for piano.

What is your present state of mind?

My state of mind at the moment tends to flick between happy and at peace, and slight frustration. I think I’m finally achieving balance and have a nice range of projects ongoing –the frustration comes in when the rest of the world takes over and I have the next section of a work in my head but no time to get it down on paper (or on computer!).

A unique combination of influences and interests help make composer Jenni Pinnock a distinctive voice in contemporary composition world. A versatile performer on piano, oboe and saxophone, a range of ensembles and opportunities have given Jenni an incredibly varied musical diet of genres, instrumentation and styles. Alongside more typical ensembles are the Javanese gamelan and church bell ringing.

Recent performances include her work Ori for small ensemble and electronics, her bassoon and ‘cello duet Double Helix and her art song Bells in the Rain. Current projects include a string quartet, a Requiem, and a work for brass quintet and electronics. In recent years she has had works performed at the International Youth Arts Festival, the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music (as part of the Orgelbüchlein project), and at Colchester New Music workshops and events.

Originally from Hertfordshire, Jenni graduated with first class honours from her BMus (hons) at Kingston University and then embarked on an intensive Masters in composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance studying with Stephen Montague and Greg Rose. A member of the ISM, alongside her compositional endeavours she teaches instrumental lessons and arranges music, both of which act as constant sources of inspiration. She is a member of Colchester New Music and Liquorice composers collectives.

www.jennipinnock.com

Meet the Artist……Debbie Wiseman, composer

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

I’ve always been interested in melody, and when I started to learn the piano at about 8 years old, as well as learning the standard repertoire, I was also fascinated by how melodies worked and wanted to compose my own tunes. It was much later, when I studied at music college, that I realised that I wanted it to be my career. Although I love playing the piano, I was much more interested in creating and composing my own music.

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

There were two big influences. One was a music teacher at the Junior department at Trinity College of Music, Philip Colman, who instilled a passion for music-making and a love of inprovisation which I’ve taken through into my professional life. The second was my composition tutor at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Buxton Orr, who was an inspiring and brilliant teacher.

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

Writing large scores in a very short space of time is always a challenge, but it’s something that I find much easier now than I did, say, 10 years ago. It’s a skill that is acquired with experience, and recently I scored a film called “The Whale” in just 3 weeks. The film had 45 minutes of orchestral music. My score for the film “Wilde” was written in just three and a half weeks, with around 60 minutes of orchestral music.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece, and on film/tv scores? 

The great delight of working on a film is that the inspiration is right in front of you, on the screen. It’s also hugely rewarding to hear your music performed by the very best orchestral musicians, usually as the ink is still drying on the manuscript paper! The challenges are always the time constraints – everything is composed to a deadline, and the deadlines seem to be getting tighter and tighter!

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

We are so fortunate in London to have the most talented musicians to perform our music. I am constantly amazed by the professionalism, skill, and musicality of our session musicians and orchestras. I’ve worked with a vast array of brilliant session musicians, and I have also recorded many times with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I’m very proud of my score for the French film “Arsene Lupin”. It was an enormous challenge as there was over 2 hours of music in the film, and a huge variety of musical styles within the score too. We recorded over 3 days with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios and it was wonderful hearing the score brought to life by the orchestra.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

I’ve been very fortunate to have conducted at both the Royal Albert Hall and Cadogan Hall and I love both venues! I have a concert coming up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on December 8th at Cadogan Hall which is always great fun. Come along! (Details here)

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I have many, but I do love the playing of Maxim Vengerov. He always tells a story with his performance which appeals to me as, when you’re composing for pictures, you are constantly aware of the story and the drama, and that the music must help the telling of the story.

What is your most memorable concert experience (as performer and/or as composer)? 

The last concert Christmas concert that I conducted at Cadogan Hall with the RPO was wonderful. The hall was packed and the audience were very responsive – we even had them clapping along during the encore!

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

To be dedicated, hard-working and completely focussed on the music, whether playing it or writing it.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’ve just completed “The Whale” for the BBC – a film about the true-life story that inspired Moby Dick. I’m also writing the score for “A Poet In New York” – a film about the last days of Dylan Thomas. There is also a second series of the BBC drama “Father Brown” which I’ve recently completing.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

I enjoy being at the piano, writing music. It never loses its wonder and magic.

Debbie Wiseman conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Cadogan Hall on 8th December in the Magic of Christmas, a concert in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. The programme features Debbie’s own compositions, and much-loved seasonal works by Tchaikovsky. Full details and tickets here

Interview date: October 2013

Meet the Artist……Judith Bingham, composer

Judith Bingham (photo credit: Patrick Douglas Hamilton)

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

I started when I was very small – my mother said I was 4, but I don’t think she really knew. The attraction was its secrecy I think – I was already playing the piano, and liked the fact I could have a secret world that no-one else could influence. I think the person who influenced me to make it my career was Berlioz, my teacher and friend during my teen years when no-one else took me seriously.

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

Apart from Berlioz, two people really encouraged me when I was young, Colin Davis and Hans Keller: both were very selfless with their time though, of course, I didn’t appreciate that until I was much older. I was very lucky to have Hans as a teacher, – his Viennese background with its rigors and psycho-analytical slant suited me very well. He had a hugely improving effect on my writing and was also very kind. Musical influences were The Fires of London, French Baroque music, and probably singing in big choirs.

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

Being a composer for a living is continuously challenging! But I think the biggest challenge is being truthful in a world that worships fashion. Inner voices make you doubt what you are doing but there is no Art without Truth. I think as I get older there is a challenge of being brave and fresh and not just doing what you know you’re good at.

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

I like the fact that every commission inhabits a separate world, it’s a totally different project from the last. As I was a performer myself for so many years I love working with musicians – I know that sounds obvious, but it is such a magical experience, the transformation from the page to the open air. Trying to get it right – the act of fulfilling the brief – while remaining uncompromised is the great challenge, especially in church music where there are so many restrictions.

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

Whether they can do what you’ve written! That’s the heaven and hell of life for composers. All composers get a lot of bad or inadequate performances either through their own fault, – having written something that’s miles too hard for the commissioners – or short rehearsal time – or lack of empathy, or all three. A piece has to be very banal for people to get it straightaway, but often there isn’t enough rehearsal time for people to get beyond the stage of getting the notes right. This is the English disease. Often it isn’t to do with money but with a British distaste for too much emotional involvement. There is an idea that repeated performances take the place of rehearsal. But it’s tragic when people commission a big piece, only do it once, and spend most of the rehearsal time doing the Beethoven. The pleasure is when people really engage and go the extra mile – of course, they get more out of it this way, and the experience for everyone becomes extremely uplifting. The real magic happens when people feel free from worry about the notes and start to bring themselves to the performance, then the piece can really travel.

Which works are you most proud of?  

That would be a variable thing, and pride isn’t quite the right word, more a transient sort of satisfaction. But I would choose ‘The Ivory Tree’, a kind of dance drama I did for the Cathedral at Bury St. Edmunds. It was a project that went on for years and had some extremely fraught moments, but ended it fantastic performances.  I like mixing dance and singing, and would love to write an opera-ballet.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I am really eclectic with composers, though I have stopped listening to any sort of pop music. This might sound snobby, but it is more that there is only so much time. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Prokofiev. He is a composer with enormous range, and I love the ambiguity of his music. I am trying listen more to women composers, as more and more music is being recorded now, alas, generally by women. I like the discovery of Italian baroque music by nuns, which is gorgeous. Favourite musicians: Roger Norrington, Philippe Herreweghe, Marc-André Hamelin, and people I’ve worked with – Stephen Farr, Tom Winpenny, Peter Skaerved Sheppard, Chamber Domaine, Andrew Carwood – too many to mention.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are some terrible ones! But I can’t really do a league table of the good ones. When I was a student, performing in the Proms was overwhelming, especially Berlioz and Mahler. My first experience of the great roar of a full Albert Hall was extraordinary. Sometimes it is the small unrecorded events that stay with you, or a particular feeling of telepathy with other performers. You might expect big events, big names to be memorable. But it is often something more intimate where a transcendental kind of communication happens.

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

I like what Peter Maxwell Davies said to students: ‘my first piece of advice is – don’t listen to anything I say!’ or words to that effect. I think I would say that integrity matters: this is even more true in today’s world, where things are remembered for ever on the web. The more you dilute your ideas and your identity the less anyone will value what you do. In the (very) long run what people want from a composer is individuality, and truth. It doesn’t mean an easy life though. Develop your ideas – the music doesn’t think for you. Read and think, and develop ideas on the big mysteries of life. There’s a lot of junk out there: the world doesn’t need any more.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m writing a piece called ‘A Walk with Ivor Gurney’ for Sarah Connolly and Tenebrae. The landscape of Gurney’s Gloucestershire in his words mingles with the memorials to the dead Roman soldiers buried there. It is fabulous to be writing for Sarah – a long time ago we sat next to each other in the BBC Singers. Now she is (in my opinion) one of the greatest voices of our time.

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

Still alive, please, and compos mentis.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

No such thing.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Thinking, starting a new project, researching pet subjects.

What is your present state of mind?

Stressed as usual.

Born in Nottingham in 1952, and raised in Mansfield and Sheffield, Judith Bingham began composing as a small child, and then studied composing and singing at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She was awarded the Principal’s prize in 1971, and 6 years later the BBC Young Composer award. Recent composition prizes include: the Barlow Prize for a cappella music in 2004, two British Composer Awards in 2004 (choral and liturgical) one in 2006 (choral) and the instrumental award in 2008.

Read Judith’s full biography here

Meet the Artist……Alison Wrenn

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

My grandfather was a composer, so he definitely inspired me. My mum did a music degree when I was about 9 years old so we had a small music studio at home where I learnt to use Cubase. It was around then that I remember writing my first composition, a Morris dance that was used in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my mum wrote the rest of the music for the production).

As for making it my career, I actually came to it fairly late – 8 years after completing my degree. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible to make a living from composing and I didn’t want to teach, so I took an office job to bring the pennies in. It’s only since getting married and having a baby that I’ve been able to stay at home and write music, but it’s been the best decision I ever made!

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing? 

I consider myself to be a self-taught composer, as I don’t recall ever receiving much direct feedback on my work. Even at university, our composing sessions consisted of listening to new music rather than learning compositional techniques and tips. This is my memory of it anyway! So my composing hasn’t been directly influenced by any teachers.

Instead, I would say that my main influence initially was music I had played in orchestras. I used to say that I wanted my music to have the harmonies of Debussy, the rhythms of Stravinsky, the Englishness of Vaughan-Williams, and the passion of Rachmaninov. However, since returning to composition in 2011, I’ve opened my ears to the wealth of new music that has been written since the time of those composers, right up to music being created in the present. As a result, my style has changed a little, I have learned a lot, and my ideas are more creative. I’ve started to look outside of music to find influences, for example ancient history and nature.

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

As I left it so long after university, I didn’t have any tutors to promote me, enter me for competitions, or show me how to turn this from a passion into a career. I have had to do a lot of research into how composers get paid, how to be noticed, how to get my music performed, etc. I have also had to find the performers for myself, something which would have been a lot easier had I still been at university and surrounded by musicians. This has actually been a good thing though, as I have made connections with a lot of fantastic performers.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’m extremely proud of winning the Yorkshire Late Starters Strings composing competition 2011/12 with my 15 minute piece “Battle of the Winwaed”. The piece was written for the YLSS, who comprise adult string players of grades 2-8. To get round the challenge of writing for mixed abilities, I split the cellos into parts 1 and 2, along with the usual 1st and 2nd violins, violas and basses. I also wrote parts for a solo violin and solo cello, to add more complexity for those players of the highest standard. The orchestra performed the piece twice in 2012.

I’m also very proud of my third string quartet, “Cross Quarter Days”, which was recorded in 2012 and has been released on iTunes, Amazon, and on my website. The piece is in 4 movements, each representing one of the four key dates in the Pagan calendar that divide the year into quarters. It represents a big leap in terms of my development since the second quartet, written just a year earlier, and I feel it’s the work that best represents me as a composer.

Favourite pieces to listen to? 

One of my favourite pieces to listen to is Michael Torke’s July for saxophone quartet. It’s so funky, I don’t think I could ever get tired of it! Other favourites include the Rite of Spring, Turangalîla, the Planets, Ravel and Debussy’s string quartets, White Man Sleeps by Kevin Volans, Gabriel Prokofiev’s Jerk Driver… I also listen to a lot of 80s pop music and Steely Dan!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Performing Turangalîla with the County Youth Orchestra at Snape Maltings, I think it was in 2003. Such an overwhelming piece to perform, and in such a fantastic venue. I feel very privileged to have had that experience. I remember walking off stage with my cello at the end and saying to the conductor, “wow, that was amazing!”.

Regarding performances of my own work, the most memorable is probably when I performed my own concerto for cello and string orchestra at university in 2002. Having my Christmas carol “On A Gentle Winter’s Night” performed in Guildford cathedral in front of 1000 people in 2001, and then its second performance in New Zealand last year, are also very memorable occasions!

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

Be true to yourself. Don’t give up. Have an open mind. Listen. Network. Take criticism constructively. Make things happen, don’t sit around waiting to be noticed.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m currently about halfway through my largest commission so far – a 25 minute suite for full symphony orchestra entitled “Legends of the Tor”. The work will be in 5 movements, each referencing a different legend relating to Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. The piece has been commissioned by my local symphony orchestra, after they successfully applied for a highly competitive “Community Music” grant from the BBC Performing Arts Fund. The community element will be the involvement of 5 local schools, who will each have a group of children composing their own music on the theme of “Myth and Legends”, with the help of workshops led by myself and members of the orchestra. The children will perform their pieces at the concert in June when the orchestra will premiere my piece.

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

My goal is a commission for the BBC Proms! I’ve set myself a 10 year target, so we’ll see what happens! Failing that, I’d be happy to have my music performed regularly and to continue receiving commissions so that I can carry on writing.

Alison Wrenn’s new work for piano trio Between the Mountains and the Sea receives its premiere at the Halstatt Classics Music and Literature Festival on 17th August. Further details here

 

Alison Wrenn (b.1981) is a British composer, whose style brings together influences from the English Pastoral Tradition, elements of popular music and media music as well as strains of Celtic and some aspects of American minimalist music.

Full biography

Meet the Artist……Jocelyn Pook, composer

Jocelyn Pook (image credit: Matthew Andrews)
Jocelyn Pook (image credit: Matthew Andrews)

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

I came from a family in which music and art was important. To this day I don’t know how my mother, a single woman raising 3 children with no money, managed to pay for piano lessons for all of us, but I’m glad she did. There were free violin lessons offered at my primary school so I took up the violin when I was 8, then changed later to viola. I had inspiring and encouraging teachers along the way, in particular my first piano teacher Jean Marshall who also encouraged my early interest in composing.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

I used to compose simple songs on the piano as a child, but it didn’t occur to me to take this further, and when I went to music college it was as a performer, studying viola and piano. After I left, I began working as a professional viola player – sometimes performing in theatre companies and pop bands. Seeing how untrained musicians, some of whom couldn’t even read music, were able to compose, inspired me and gave me confidence, so that when small composing opportunities subsequently came my way – such as writing music for my quartet, or a friend’s video, a colleague’s dance piece, etc. – I seized the opportunity.

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

I am usually filled with trepidation at the start of every new project. Each feels like the biggest challenge at the time. My last piece, Hearing Voices, a song cycle for voice, orchestra and recorded voices, was the first commission for symphony orchestra (for the BBC Concert Orchestra) so that was a big challenge.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble? 

Working with a symphony orchestra was exciting because there are so many possibilities of texture and timbre and combinations of instruments. It’s fun to play with large forces, especially percussion and brass sections which I have less experience of using, and it’s always so thrilling when you hear it all come alive.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

My albums Flood, Untold Things and Desh.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

No, there are many I love!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Yehudi Menuhin, Daniel Barenboim, Nigel Kennedy and Gustavo Dudamel are amazingly talented artists whose passion for music has inspired and communicated so widely. And they don’t shy away from ethical and moral issues.

Plus, singers such as Kathleen Ferrier and ones I’m lucky enough to work with: Melanie Pappenheim, Natacha Atlas, Tanja Tzarovska, Manickam Yogeswaran, Parvin Cox and Lore Lixenberg.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A gypsy ensemble that played in our living room in Serbia.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A song for the Brodsky Quartet and singer Lore Lixenberg, with libretto by Richard Thomas. Also some vocal music for the dancer Akram Khan’s new show iTMOi.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My daughter.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Writing music and spending time with family and friends

What is your present state of mind? 

Pretty chilled out considering I’m writing this on a flight back from China!

Further information/links:

The DESH soundtrack is available on CD now on Pook Music (PM001) and the single ‘Hallelujah’ is available to download on iTunes.  DESH returns to Sadler’s Wells in June for a third run after a sell-out world tour.

Jocelyn Pook’s next collaboration with Akram Khan, iTMOi, will be performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, Tuesday 28 May – Saturday 1 June.

The Brodsky Quartet and singer Lore Lixenberg premiere a new song cycle, which includes music by Jocelyn Pook, at Drapers’ Hall on Monday 24 June as part of the City Of London Festival.

To find out more information about Jocelyn Pook, visit her website www.jocelynpook.com

Best known for her score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Jocelyn Pook is an award-winning composer who writes music for film, television, theatre, dance and the concert platform.

Jocelyn graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1983, where she studied the viola. She then embarked on a period of touring and recording with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and PJ Harvey and as a member of the Communards. She has also toured extensively with The Jocelyn Pook Ensemble, performing repertoire from her albums and music from her film scores. For her music-theatre piece Speaking in Tunes she won a British Composer Award and, for the National Theatre’s production of St Joan, she won an Olivier Award. Jocelyn has worked with a variety of acclaimed choreographers including, most recently, Akram Khan Company on the contemporary solo work DESH. Jocelyn has established an international reputation as a highly original composer of screen music following her score for Eyes Wide Shut, which won a Chicago Film Award and a Golden Globe nomination. Other film scores include: The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino (Dir: Michael Radford), Time Out (L’Emploi du Temps, Dir: Laurent Cantet) and Brick Lane (Dir: Sarah Gavron). She also contributed a piece to the soundtrack of Gangs of New York (Dir: Martin Scorsese).

Jocelyn has composed scores for television shows and commercials, and was nominated for a BAFTA for Channel 4′s The Government Inspector (Dir: Peter Kosminsky). With a blossoming reputation as a composer of electro-acoustic works and music for the concert platform, Jocelyn continues to celebrate the diversity of the human voice. Her work Mobile was a commission from the BBC Proms and The King’s Singers and is a collaboration with the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Portraits in Absentia was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and is a collage of sound, voice, music and words woven from the messages left on her answerphone. Ingerland, Jocelyn’s first contemporary opera, was commissioned and produced by ROH2 and performed in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre in June 2010 to wide acclaim. Jocelyn has chaired and been a judge on various panels including the British Composer Awards, Ivor Novello Awards and BBC Proms Young Composers Competition.

Meet the Artist……Rachael Forsyth, composer

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

Music has been something that I’ve always done and has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. When I turned13 I suddenly turned round and said that I wanted to learn the saxophone, despite never showing an interest in woodwind instruments before, and after a lot of badgering my parents eventually relented. I guess it never crossed their minds then that I would stick to it nor pursue a career in music. I was never a foot on the monitor, look at me person so I guess they were as surprised as I was that when I was bitten by the music bug I couldn’t give it up.

Composing was another surprise for me too. I’d always felt lost composing at school and university and I was never inspired to write anything other than the tasks we were set, and I dropped composing modules in favour of performance as soon as I could. But after university I found I needed to write new pieces for my students to challenge a specific area of their playing and it was this that got me writing again. All of sudden I was inspired and couldn’t stop.

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?

My playing and composing has been influenced a lot by the different genres I love to play and listen too. I have a deep love of jazz, ska and classical music – especially ska and reggae! And its these styles that I like to mix together to make my own sound.

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

The greatest challenge so far was standing up and conducting the premier of my first orchestral piece I wrote in 2011. It was absolutely terrifying but I loved every minute of it!

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

My favourite piece that I’ve written do date is ‘Do Dodos Dance’ – I wrote it for the twtrsymphony who will be getting a woodwind trio to record this soon. It is quite a funny piece and it always makes me laugh listening back to it!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’ve played at all sorts of venues and one of my favourites in the Square in Harlow – nice stage, brilliant sound guy and with air conditioning :)

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

My favourite classical piece was one a friend reminded me of a couple of days ago – the wonderful ‘Song for Tony’ for sax quartet, was one piece I’ve loved performing before. My favourite piece to listen to (and play, but I don’t think I’ve every been with a group who’ve played it as good as the originals) is ‘Echo 4+2′ by Bad Manners.

Who are your favourite musicians?

One of my favourites is Ludiovico Einaudi – love his piano pieces. My other favourites are a lot of my contemporaries who I tweet with, and a big love for Mozart and things my hands will reach to play on the piano.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Most memorable concert would be performing at the Secret Garden Festival this year with the ska band I work with. It was rather muddy and hot! But an amazing atmosphere and great crowd!

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

Aspiring musicians need to be thick-skinned and not take any one else’s beliefs, comments or criticisms to heart. You need to be passionate about what you do and be happy with what you do. If you love it, someone else will. And remember to treat people how you’d like to be treated. Above all keep writing/performing/listening/reading and developing.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m gearing up to go to Italy in November and tour around for the Donne in Musica female concerts they’ve arranged. I will be performing my new solo sax piece ‘My Life in Music’. Compositionally I’m working on some new educational string pieces as well as working on a new wind band for a local wind band to play next year.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness would be to be able carry on writing music for groups of all shapes and sizes and to hear my music performed. That an a big cup of tea.

Rachael Forsyth is a freelance composer, music teacher and all round woodwind player based in North London. She has gigged extensively with bands around the UK and her main musical loves are for classical music and ska. As a composer she writes lots of pieces she knows students will love to play as well as working on large scale orchestral and piano based pieces. Rachael has been invited to Italy in the Autumn to perform a solo saxophone piece on a tour around Rome. Highlights for her for the last year have been conducting the premier of her first orchestral piece in November 2011 and being given the opportunity to write a woodwind trio piece that is due to be recorded and released later this year. Her current projects include writing material for music exam boards, writing solo saxophone pieces as well as writing a Wind Band piece to be performed next year.

Links:

www.rachaelforsyth.co.uk

www.roorecordsmusic.co.uk

www.reverbnation.com/rachaelforsyth

Twitter @rachaelcomposes or @roorecordsmusic

Meet the Artist……Cheryl Frances-Hoad

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

I heard a ‘cello being played on the radio (I can’t remember who was playing) when I was about 6, and just knew that was the instrument I had to play. I fully intended to just become an internationally famous concert ‘cellist (as you do!) but gradually composing took over.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

As a composer I think my greatest influences came from the music I played at the Yehudi Menuhin School (I studied ‘cello, piano and composition there for 10 years). But some of my favourite composers are Britten, Ligeti, Beethoven and Prokofiev, as well as many composers who are writing today.

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

Trying to get a balance between composing and life: I’ve still not quite worked it out, although, after hardly going out the house for six months whilst writing an opera, I’m determined to be a bit better at it!

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Working with any group is exciting for me. I think as long as you treat musicians with the respect they deserve, and prepare parts properly (enough time for page turns!) then they will hopefully be receptive to your music.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

To date I’ve only had one recording released: my debut album The Glory Tree. It features a lot of my chamber music and is released by Champs Hill Records. About thirty musicians were involved in the recording (most had premiered/commissioned the works) and we spent three days recording it: probably some of the best days of my composing life so far. You can read a review of it here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/23/frances-hoad-review

My second CD, of vocal works, featuring the singers Jennifer Johnston, Natalie Raybould and Jane Manning, with pianists Joseph Middleton and Alisdair Hogarth, is coming out soon, also with Champs Hill Records.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Not really, as a composer you are just very grateful that your music is being played! Perhaps I’ll get pickier about this later in life! I had a mini opera performed in park in Hammersmith – a group of children gathered round and started answering the questions the singers were posing – it was fantastic!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’ve mentioned the composers above…I’ve been so lucky and had such a fantastic time with all the performers who have performed my work: there are too many to list!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I had my Concertino for Cello, Piano, Percussion and orchestra performed by the BBC Philharmonic as part of the BBC Young Composers Competition (when it still existed, back in 1996). I think that experience more than any other convinced me that I wanted to make composing my career. It was just mind-blowing to hear something that I’d only heard in my head played by a massive orchestra.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

I don’t regularly play in public any more, but I play keyboards in a salsa band and am also learning jazz piano. I played in a rock band until recently and am soon to join a hip hop band – all very different from my composing life, and my past life as a cellist at the Yehudi Menuhin School!

Recently I’ve hardly been listening to music not directly related to my work (for my opera I listened to a lot of 1930’s dance music for instance as this was one of the main influences) because I’ve been writing so much – something I’m determined to rectify soon.

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

I think you just have to be determined to the point of utter bloody minded-ness. Part of the reason why I’ve managed to make a kind-of living out of composing is that I have always just refused to acknowledge that it might not be possible. I recently got a new composing job after applying for it twice – although I’ve applied for other opportunities up to ten times before I’ve finally been awarded them. A thick skin for rejection is very useful I think, and somewhere (however deep down) you need total self confidence in what you are writing, even if this partly achieved by self-deception…

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a big ‘cello work for David Cohen and chamber ensemble for this year’s Spitalfields Festival – quite daunting but very exciting!

What is your present state of mind?

My present state of mind is probably calmer and happier than I’ve ever been. Everything seems to be fitting into place recently and I’ve come to realise that life outside of composing is also very important (something which I perhaps didn’t when I was younger). The older I get, the happier I get, which is rather fortunate for me!

Cheryl Frances-Hoad was born in Essex in 1980 and received her musical education at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Gonville and Caius College (University of Cambridge) and Kings College London. She currently divides her time between Cambridge and Leeds, where she is the first DARE Cultural Fellow in the Opera Related Arts in association with Opera North and the University of Leeds. Cheryl won the BBC Young Composer Competition in 1996 at the age of 15 and since then her works have garnered numerous prizes and awards, including the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (UK, 2007), the Sun River Composition Prize (China, 2007), The International String Orchestra Composition Competition (Malta, 2006), The Bliss Prize (UK, 2002), the first Robert Helps International Composition Prize (University of Florida, 2005), the Mendelssohn Scholarship (UK, 2002) and the Cambridge Composer’s Competition (UK, 2001). In 2010 Cheryl became the youngest composer to win two awards in the same year at the BASCA British Composer Awards (her setting of Psalm 1 won the Choral category, and Stolen Rhythm for solo piano won the Solo or Duo category). Many of her works have been generously supported by the RVW Trust, the Britten Pears Foundation, the PRS for Music Foundation, the Nicholas Boas CharitableTrust and the Bliss Trust.

In 2008 Cheryl was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Artists in Residence Fellowship at the University of Cambridge, enabling her to investigate aspects of the mind at the Psychiatry Department, which resulted in a new work for piano premiered at the 2009 Cambridge Clinical Neuroscience and Mental Health Symposium. Also In 2008, Cheryl was awarded the Wicklow County Council Per Cent for Arts Commission (Ireland), which enabled her to compose her first piano concerto, premiered by Bobby Chen and the Greystones Orchestra in May 2009.

Cheryl’s work has been premiered in some of the world’s most important chamber music venues, including the Wigmore Hall (Melancholia (piano trio), Excelsus (solo ‘cello) and My fleeting Angel (piano trio)) and the Purcell Room (The Glory Tree (for soprano and six instruments), and The Ogre Lover (for string trio)). Her debut CD of chamber works, The Glory Tree, was released in 2011 by Champs Hill records and received excellent reviews in The Times, Telegraph and Guardian, and was chosen as “Chamber Music Choice” by BBC Music Magazine in October 2011. Her second CD, of vocal works, is due for release in July 2012.

Future works include an Olympic-inspired work for the Lawson Trio and Chamber Music 2000 (to be premiered at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, early 2012), a song cycle inspired by Darwin’s legacy (to be premiered in Leeds, 2012), a new Canticle to be premiered by the Prince Consort to be premiered on the exact centenary of Britten’s birth (at the Wigmore Hall, 22nd November 2013) and a new opera, Amy’s Last Dive, with a libretto by Adam Strickson, to be premiered as part of the Yorkshire Cultural Olympiad programme in July 2012 in Bridlington and Leeds.

www.cherylfranceshoad.co.uk

The Glory Tree