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

Both of my parents are musicians, and while neither of them work in the classical world, I was always aware that music was a very valuable and worthwhile thing to make and listen to. I was certainly (thankfully!) never pushed, as evidenced perhaps by my deep reluctance to practice the trombone, my first instrument. This reluctance meant that my achievements on the instrument peaked at about grade six, though I was a lot more engaged with the guitar in my late teens. I had a somewhat healthier relationship with this instrument, which also, through various bands, led me into writing music of my own. As time went on, I wrote more and more progressive stuff for my band, meaning that when I started writing for classical instruments aged nineteen it wasn’t too much of a leap, stylistically or technically. I think I came to realise that writing the music was a lot more enjoyable for me than playing it, or, crucially, the practice time required to play it! As a composer you get to practice by just composing, and that seemed like much more fun to me.

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

There are two composition teachers to whom I owe an enormous amount: Dmitri Smirnov, and Edmund Finnis. Dmitri was my first composition teacher, and a lot of the lessons he imparted upon me have stayed within my consciousness to this day, whether I decide to follow them or not! Using examples from Bach and Beethoven to Webern and Ligeti, he stressed the importance of balancing a logical, systematic method with a more intuitive approach. Edmund, who I studied with for two years at the Royal Academy of Music, taught me the importance of following my ears, and the importance of sound in a tactile, perhaps experimental sense. He was always keen to introduce me to the music of composers with a similar sensibility like Rozalie Hirs, James Tenney, and Jonathan Harvey.

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

I actually quite enjoy the strictures of a commission, especially when this means I end up with an instrumentation I never would have thought of or chosen of my own devices. For some examples, my piece ‘Zorthern’ for Sound and Music/NMC’s Next Wave 2 scheme, which was for the rather odd and somewhat imbalanced lineup of oboe, trumpet, horn, percussion, solo accordion and two violins, or my trio ‘Kalimotxo’ for clarinet, harp, and double bass for the Hermes Experiment. In both of these cases, I feel like the challenge of finding my own way into the world of the ensembles lead to some unexpected results that I ended up enjoying a lot. Often, writing for established, well known ensembles like string quartets or orchestras can lead to a certain comfortable (yet dangerous) sense of how things should be done, so usually I will try and find a way to approach a piece as if it’s a more unusual ensemble (for example, by having a string quartet that imitates howling dogs as in my piece ‘Samoyeds’).

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

It’s really wonderful to work with players and ensembles you know well. This particularly applies to The Hermes Experiment and The Ligeti Quartet, both of whom I worked with last year and both of whom I’ve been lucky enough to see in performance many times. This kind of connection not just to the musical personalities of the players, but also to them as people, can make a world of difference in how I approach a piece. To work with such gifted professional musicians is a real privilege, but I also really enjoy getting to write for young people or amateurs. When writing music for non-professional musicians, I put a lot more thought into how much the performer will get a sense of fulfilment from what they’re playing, which of course has to be balanced with my own musical aims. I find that writing for both ends of the professional to non-professional spectrum can really inform my work as a whole.

Of which works are you most proud?

I wrote a short comic opera called ’The Man Who Woke Up’ in 2014, and I still consider that to be my earliest piece that I’m still happy to put to my name. This felt like a very big statement at the time; more than twice as long as anything I’d ever written before at thirty minutes, my first time writing for an orchestra, and I even took on the challenge of writing the libretto myself. That original version had its problems, such as some rather inelegant orchestration, but over the years I’ve refined it a bit, and the more compact version for an ensemble of six players will be getting premiered in Chicago with Thompson Street Opera Company in April this year. Across its three versions, it’s my most performed piece, which seems paradoxical as its also my longest; I can only extend the deepest thanks to Thompson Street for continuing to champion it, and Jules Cavalie and Goldsmiths Chamber Opera for commissioning it in my undergraduate years.

The other piece would probably have to be ‘In Feyre Foreste’, a piece for five recorder players that I wrote in 2016 for a project at the Royal Academy of Music. This was my first collaboration with recorder player Tabea Debus, who I’ve since written two more pieces for, ’Twenty One Minute Pieces’ and ‘Aesop’, both with the LSO’s Soundhub Scheme. I think that ‘In Feyre Foreste’ was one of the first pieces where I started to shake off some of the very serious, no-nonsense contemporary music sensibility that I think had been dragging my music down somewhat. In this piece I was finally able to get back into the fun of composing and music in general, and this is something I’ve been trying to continue in all of my pieces since, even if they sometimes do take a more serious tone. A few weeks after completing my masters degree I got news that this piece was nominated for a British Composer Award, which was a very big shock; it was even more of a surprise when I found out the piece had won a few months later!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that I have a preference for simplicity of sound, though this often manifests itself in music which is still difficult to play! I try and make my music clear in terms of what’s going on where; I have a great admiration for composers who create incredible complex textures by layering things up, but that’s not for me. My philosophy is, would there be genuine musical value in dividing the violins into eight independent parts, or could I make music that is just as good with a solo, or the section in unison? Much of my recent music has taken the form of fast dances, usually jigs; this is something that just crept into my music around 2016 when I wrote ‘In Feyre Foreste’, and it has just stuck around since. In the last year or so I’ve simplified my harmonic palette a bit to mostly triadic chords, dominant 7ths, diminished chords; essentially the makeup of common practice harmony. This is usually to try and evoke a memory of some other kind of music, which I’m really interested in. Harmony made by spinning hexachords around is great when used by great composers, but it’s difficult to use that kind of harmony to evoke anything that doesn’t relate to 20th and 21st century classical music.

How do you work?

Almost all of my composing is done on the computer, on Sibelius. A very small amount might be done on a big of loose paper; a structural diagram for example, but other than that the entire process takes place within my laptop. Sometimes my music is based on transcribing things, so I might begin by transcribing something onto Sibelius and then just mess around with the material until I find something interesting and go on from there. The actual moment to moment work once I get down to it consists of me putting things in, listening to them on playback, and then changing them until they sound or feel ‘right’. This is exactly the kind of composition process that lots of professors tell their students specifically not to do, and that is probably very good advice for someone new to composing. I’m quite happy to work like this now because I’m confident I know how it will sound played by real performers, and because I know I’ll write better music this way than I would if I was just working on paper.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

These days, I’m really into composers like Gerald Barry, Cassandra Miller, Richard Ayres, Sky Macklay, and Andrew Norman. These are all people whose music has a close connection to triadic harmonies, but always executed in a way that turns things upside-down somehow. I’m also really into orchestral light music composers at the

moment; David Rose, Angela Morley, Clive Richardson; it’s such joyous, spirited, rhythmically charged music for orchestra, which is not something we hear a lot of nowadays, and always wrapped up in a neat three minute package! I also have a huge admiration for the multi-genre multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, whose music can be profoundly complex in its rhythm and harmony but always in service of an appealing sonic exterior. I really like that idea of there being so much going on “under the hood” which you can’t see, all for the purpose of (in this complex and extended automotive metaphor) making the “car” run as efficiently as possible.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For a piece to be successful means, to me, that I like it, and that other people like it. A lot of composers say they don’t care what anyone else thinks about their music but for me, it has almost always been about a desire to write something that people would connect with and want to listen to again. This isn’t to say that I sit there thinking “how do I appeal to this or that demographic?”, rather I write music that is as much as possible what I like, and hope that there are people out there who value what it is that I as an individual have to say.

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

Something I always try to do as a composer is think about whether the way I’m doing something is in service of the music, or a result of fitting within a certain norm of the genre. Have I used that rhythm because it’s the rhythm I really want, or just because it’s the rhythm that’s expected of me? Did I pick this chord because it’s makes the most compelling musical sense, or did I do it because it’s like the chords I’m used to writing, that I spent a lot of time analysing in my early twenties? It can be really hard to sit down and question those moment to moment decisions, and I know I should do it more, so I encourage all composers to try doing the same.

My advice for performers is, simply, to play music by living composers as much as possible! This probably is an obvious and expected piece of advice coming from a composer, but I still want to get it out there. And you don’t have to get the money together to commission new things, while that’s a great thing to do, as one of the biggest hurdles can often be raising those funds; composers have tonnes and tonnes of existing pieces which have never been played past the premiere just itching to be taken for a spin. I know if I were a performer I’d get great fun out of browsing through composers’ websites looking for interesting repertoire. With pieces like that, you have the opportunity to really put your stamp on what could be a great piece of music that you then get to introduce to your audiences as well.


Robin Haigh is a composer from London. In 2017 he became one of the youngest ever recipients of a British Composer Award at the age of 24. As well as being commissioned by the UK’s most prestigious ensembles and institutions such as the LSO, Britten Sinfonia and Sage Gateshead, he has collaborated closely with leading ensembles of his own generation including the Ligeti Quartet and The Hermes Experiment.

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Guest article by Wendy Skeen

A friend of mine attended András Schiff’s two concerts with the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment earlier this week in which he performed and directed Brahms’ two piano concertos. Here she shares her thoughts on the concerts – less a review, more a report informed by Wendy’s own experiences as a pianist, piano teacher and performance coach.

These two concerts were unusual in three key respects…

First, Sir András Schiff was both conductor and pianist. It’s not unusual these days to find concerts where the pianist directs the orchestra from the piano, but it’s rare to see that with Romantic repertoire such as these Brahms piano concertos. You might wonder whether it’s possible for a pianist to successfully direct an orchestra whilst also playing such fiendishly difficult repertoire. Well… it is possible… but it takes a pianist with colossal technique, musicianship and presence of mind (Schiff) and an orchestra comprising musicians of such high calibre and bravery (the OAE).

Secondly, these concerts involved much smaller orchestral forces than we’re used to hearing in Romantic repertoire. In a modern symphony orchestra, aside from the regular complement of wind and brass, there’s usually 16 first violins, 14 seconds, 12 violas, 10 cellos and 8 double basses. For these two concerts the string department had just 10 first violins, 9 seconds, 6 violas, 7 cellos and 4 double basses. One might have thought this would detract from the overall effect yet it engendered a much more intimate, personal and transparent ambience, even within such a large concert space. This allowed us to hear so much more in the music than we’re used to hearing. In fact, at the start of Monday night’s concert, Schiff gave a short speech where he told us that “we think we know this music, but we don’t know it well enough!” I think that everyone who was there knows exactly what he meant by that!

Thirdly, the use of period instruments, the most notable of which being the Blüthner grand piano which Schiff had selected for these ‘historically accurate’ performances. This instrument, which was built in Leipzig around 1867 and restored in 2013 by Edwin Beunk, had been transported from Berlin especially for these concerts. In a short introduction before Tuesday night’s concert, Schiff explained that the instrument was contemporary with when Brahms’ piano concertos were being written and performed. He also explained that it was straight-strung rather than having the bass strings running diagonally in the middle and upper register strings, as with a modern grand piano. As such, it offers pianist and listener “distinct registral differences”, rather like a choir, from bass, tenor and alto through to soprano. In the hands of a master like Schiff, this resulted in a beautifully broad palette of tonal shades and colours, allowing many more distinct lines to peak through the texture as a result of Schiff’s masterful voicing and phrasing. It felt like the musical equivalent of seeing a work of art after it’s been restored… the craftsman’s work revealing the beauty that lies beneath hundreds of years of time and history!

This is not to knock the modern-day concert Steinway. It’s just an entirely different experience hearing music played on period instruments. I confess it did take my ears a few minutes on Monday night to adjust and attune to that different kind of sound and balance. But oh my goodness… what a joy to just let go of past experiences of these pieces and allow the ears to open up to a different, equally valid approach.


Wendy-Skeen-200x300.jpgWendy Skeen is an enthusiastic amateur pianist. She is also an experienced piano teacher, performance coach, workshop facilitator and fully qualified Cognitive Hypnotherapist with a particular interest in the topic of performance anxiety. She studied piano at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and holds a diploma in Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Master Practitioner in NLP qualification from the Quest Institute. She also holds a CIPD Certificate in Training Practice and TAP Certificate in Learning Management. During the early part of her career Wendy worked in arts administration. After that she spent a short while working in sports management and PR. She then spent over twenty years working in adult education in a variety of learning & development and coaching roles before setting up her own piano teaching studio and hypnotherapy practice. Wendy regularly participates in performance workshops, performs in meet-up groups and accompanies instrumentalists and singers whenever she can. She also develops and performs music for her village’s theatre club productions. She is particularly interested in the topic of performance anxiety, especially as it applies to musicians, actors and athletes as well as business people who have to ‘perform’ (e.g. when giving presentations). Her focus is on helping people to find practical strategies that will work for them based on a tailored approach that takes account of each person’s specific ‘way of doing their performance anxiety’. Her one-day and weekend ‘Panic to Poise’ workshops are particularly popular with instrumentalists and singers.

Contact Wendy Skeen

 

Cellist and composer Sophie Webber shines a new light on Bach’s iconic and much-loved solo cello suites by combining solo cello with a choir.

it has been my dream to present this gorgeous music in a new context and to challenge listeners who may think they don’t enjoy Bach with an alternative presentation that does allow them a “way in.” My cello teachers would all tell me to “hear the implied harmonies” in the music… the idea of combining the solo cello suites with choir always seemed very natural to me… a realization of what is already there

– Sophie Webber

The ultimate goal of the project is to record a CD of the first and third cello suites alongside an original choral arrangement performed by the choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral.

To find out more and to support this interesting and valuable project which aims to bring classical music to a wider audience, please visit Sophie’s kickstarter page here.

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Sophie Webber

ireland-england-cover-resizeGuest review by Adrian Ainsworth

A fascinating work to review, this. A deliberate hybrid of artforms: the soundtrack element combines features of electronica, classical composition and sound art, while the video it accompanies is more verbal than visual, a series of facts and figures displayed over an unchanging, neutral background colour.

As Clancy is first and foremost a composer, I paid most attention first time through to the music. It is described as ‘drone-based’, so –repeating and sustained patterns of notes and chords, occasional percussion… here, all created on synthesisers. It’s an intense listen: the rhythmic taps near the start reminded me of Reich’s ‘Drumming’, and the flurries of ‘blips’ which follow increasing the sense of bustle, agitation. Even at its most stretched-out, there are often elements of dissonance or slight distortion that underline this unsettled vibe.

As this composer was new to me, I listened to some of his previous work, in particular the album ‘Small, Far Away’. In many ways, much of that record seems to capture – in bite-size tracks – an approach that Clancy is pushing to almost ‘concept album’ limits on ‘Ireland England’. The music suggests to me a grounding in an ambient, freeform soundworld, invaded by more industrial, hyperactive influences… where a Brian Eno recording might be respectfully – but not too reverently – taken apart by sonic disruptors like Aphex Twin or Shackleton.

I’ve now mentioned the ‘concept’ – and this is where ‘Ireland England’ in fact becomes a multimedia proposition, as you watch the text video while listening. Like art in a gallery, then, the interpretation is provided to us – we’re not left to our own devices. There are two key strands running through the piece. As ideas, they are linked, but as the music plays through, they run more or less in parallel without meeting.

The whole work represents the flight Clancy regularly takes from Dublin to Birmingham. He has divided it into seven sections (“safety announcement / taxi / take-off / cruise / descent / landing / taxi”). This is all explained in the opening stages of the video, which then pursues the second strand, detailing other journeys made by Irish travellers to England, and their reasons for doing so. My impression is that while the stages of his own commute have given Clancy a framework, his composition really takes flight with this second idea – as the intensity levels of the piece seem to increase at points where the migrations are at their most heart-rendingly stressful (fleeing unrest, seeking abortions).

I suspect that if the visuals had pushed into even artier territory – maybe found some way to illustrate the commuter flight alongside the statistics – the piece could have soared higher. But that is to review something the work isn’t, rather than focusing on what it is.

In the face of such emotive subject matter and such a strong folk tradition, it’s fascinating in itself that a composer has sought to express these scenarios through the ‘colder’ medium of electronics. There are ghosts in the machines.

I like to think that ‘Ireland England’ – outside its mission, so to speak – will find a future as an opportunity for electro-classical musicians and groups to experiment with levels of extremity across single, extended performances. The score Clancy has prepared for the work (some instructions and a single sheet’s worth of notation) seems to allow players to re-interpret almost every element, including its length. The composer’s own 35-minute recording is as precision-tooled as it gets, with the sheet music allowing for performance times of up to an hour or so. It would be interesting to hear a ‘cover version’ and see where someone else might take this blueprint.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking out with interest for whatever Clancy decides to do next.

ireland england by Seán Clancy. Released 1 February 2019

Album available to stream/download here


Seán Clancy is a composer and performer who writes music for electronic and acoustic instruments. Through defamiliarisation, repetition, fragmentation, and the use of drones, his music tries to reach out to people and say hello… He lives in Dublin and is a senior lecturer in composition at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK.

Sean Clancy’s website


Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Twitter: @adrian_specs

Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist

prodigy
ˈprɒdɪdʒi/
noun
noun: prodigy; plural noun: prodigies
1. a young person with exceptional qualities or abilities.
“a Russian pianist who was a child prodigy in his day”
synonyms: child genius, genius, wonder child, wunderkind

We’ve all seen them on YouTube – the tiny child at the vast piano playing technically and musically advanced repertoire. We marvel at their prowess, their facility and, more often than not, the extraordinary fleetness of their little fingers, as they rattle off Chopin’s most challenging Etudes or entire piano concertos.

Musical prodigies are not a new phenomenon – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn were all described as prodigies – and so these modern “mini Mozarts” are following in a long tradition.

Daniel Barenboim, himself often described as a “child prodigy”, has suggested that these remarkable children are prodigies only in the eyes of their parents, and it’s true that some parents regard a special aptitude in a particularly young child as a sign of “giftedness”. This is in part due to a certain “Olympics syndrome” – a competitiveness amongst parents to push their children to greater things and to compete against other children, and their parents.

Why do prodigies, and specifically musical prodigies, fascinate and provoke so much awed attention? Fundamentally, it’s the incongruity of seeing a child, especially a very young child, engaging in what is generally regarded as an adult activity for which substance, maturity, emotional depth and artistry are essential ingredients. True prodigies are able to function at an advanced adult level in a facility such as music, maths or chess before the age of 12, and so we marvel at these talented young people who seem to demonstrate, at their tender age, the heights of human achievement.

Meanwhile, others may display a cynicism towards prodigous children: the critic Philip Hensher has commented that “serious art music could never be written by a child”, and some point to the fact that young children lack the requisite knowledge, emotional intelligence or life experience to bring interpretative depth, meaning or insight to the complex music they play; that they simply imitate others. For some, the parading of prodigous children on chat shows and talent contests, where they might be required to perform “tricks” such as improvisation on random notes pulled out of hat, is akin to watching a circus act.

Whatever one’s view, there is no question that prodigies and gifted children are different. Many are homeschooled, which immediately sets them apart from other “normal” children (whatever that means). For some, the school system simply cannot fulfil their needs: exceptionally gifted children need specialist support just as children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia do, and some child prodigies also have Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Asperger’s. A heavy responsibility may thus fall upon the parents of prodigious children to ensure they thrive, are supported, allowed as normal a childhood as possible, and avoid burnout. Equally, parents who do not support their child’s talent may deprive that child of the life he or she craves and is happiest in, which can lead to problems later on.

The latest “new Mozart” is Alma Deutscher, an apparently very bright and sweet British girl, who plays the piano and violin to a high level, and who, more remarkably, had by the age of just 12 composed concertos for violin and piano, a full-length opera and numerous other works. Her love of “beautiful music” is evident in her own works which hark back to the “galant” style and the romantic music of composers such as Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Alma herself sensibly dismisses the comparison to Mozart, but it’s a convenient tag for those who find her fascinating or marketable. Her musical abilities have been widely praised by leading musical doyens Sir Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta, and also Stephen Fry, but also criticized for their derivative and unadventurous character. Yet when you listen to Alma Deutscher’s music it is perhaps exactly the type of sweet, tuneful romantic music one would expect from a girl with a vivid imagination and a penchant for elaborate fantasy, who perhaps has had little exposure to more avant-garde music.

The anxiety over children such as Alma Deutscher is that they are missing out on a “normal childhood” and that as a consequence of too much exposure may burn out in their teens or twenties, and then fade into obscurity. As well as parental support, there is a responsibility on the media, artist agents and concert promoters to ensure prodigious children are not cynically exploited and are allowed to mature and develop as artists. The transition from child prodigy to grown up artist can be difficult, especially if one has spent much of one’s childhood confined to a practice room instead of playing with other children, and the older the child, the harsher the criticism, and the harder the fall from grace.

Of course, the real challenge is whether the child prodigy can truly stand the test of time and is enjoying a successful career 20-plus years later. Notable examples include Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, and Anne Sophie Mutter. Others simply retreat from the limelight into a contented ordinary life. One can but hope for happiest outcome for prodigious children like Alma Deutscher…..


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Help Musicians ShootWho or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I didn’t have a lightbulb moment with deciding to follow a career in music. It was more the accumulation of many joyous and happy moments right from when I started to play the clarinet, and from there it seemed a natural thing to keep working and enjoying what I did. As I was growing up and playing more and more, nothing else appeared that seemed more attractive as a career, so I simply stuck with it!

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

My first clarinet teacher, Vanessa, who got me started on this crazy journey. After that, I had lessons with Joy Farrall who remains a wonderful colleague and friend to this day. Other than that, more generally: everything! I take great pleasure in listening to what other people have to say. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt – one of the greatest mistakes we can make is passing judgement before we form our own opinion. (This is especially true, I think, as we exist in an era where peoples’ attention spans and tolerances often seem shorter and lower than ever before.)

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

A continuous challenge is sitting with uncertainty, and knowing that you’re only as good as your last performance. Of course, we all make mistakes (and whoever created this obsession with perfection in our industry has a lot to answer for), but it can be hard to feel like you are always being evaluated, compared, ranked. On the other hand, to do a job which keeps me on top of my game constantly is a challenge that I relish. The thought of having a job where I can become stultified and get away with constantly being mediocre is frightening.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Truth be told, I don’t really listen back to many recordings I do – once I’ve done something I move on pretty quickly to the next thing. Any performance or project that I walk away from knowing I learned something or gave everything to I am proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Anything where you get a lot from the score or the collaborators. I draw a lot on what is right in front of me in the moment – the more there is to bounce off, the more involved I become.

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

I don’t really choose a lot of repertoire myself – this often comes down to the orchestra’s schedule. With freelance work you get booked and the repertoire is always decided in advance – you just turn up and play. With The Hermes Experiment, we always look to do new and different things, be it commissioning a certain composer, playing at a certain venue, or exploring a different theme (or all three!), and so our repertoire grows around this.

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

Before Christmas I took my bass clarinet along to a pub in Stoke Newington and joined in a blues jam at the invitation of a friend. I am pretty sure I was terrible but it was by far the most fun atmosphere I’ve played in for months.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Anyone who has flair and says things in an interesting way that also make sense. I think Joni Mitchell is a genius. I am discovering Kate Bush. A friend introduced me to the wonderful music of Brad Mehldau.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Some of my most treasured memories come from my time in the National Youth Orchestra – playing at the BBC Proms with Vasily Petrenko as the culmination of months of delving so deeply into repertoire and forging wonderful friendships is something I’ll never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is asking the two questions ‘What do I want my life to be right now’ and ‘What do I actually have in my life right now’ and having as narrow a gap between the two as possible. There’ll probably always be a small gap, but it’s a good thing to aspire to. As a musician, as a person, it’s all the same thing. I’m not talking about wanting to own a nice car or winning the lottery or something. I’m talking about doing things that leave you fulfilled, that are true to your values. That is success. And being able to pay the rent. That’s also nice.

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

Firstly: Listen to as much music as you can. Try and get a flavour of everything, and then find what you’re passionate about and investigate it as much as you can. Be obsessed. Find what makes you happy and follow it relentlessly.

Secondly: Listen to other people. If you think they’re a moron. Listen to them. Everyone has something worth saying. Even if you walk away thinking ‘I definitely wouldn’t do it that way’, you were present and you listened and made the active decision to do things your way, rather than walking away out of close-mindedness, arrogance or laziness.

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

I still ask myself on a regular basis if I want to do this, if this is something that I want to be doing. As soon as the answer is ‘no’ I am out of here! Music is something that you do because you want to, because you are passionate about it and it brings you happiness (as well as happiness to others, of course). Why do it if these things don’t happen? To do something as personal as music for a living, but be empty or cynical inside just doesn’t make sense to me. Go and become a banker or something. Or a consultant (I still have no idea what consultants do). In 10 years’ time I will be wherever I am.


Oliver Pashley is a young London-based clarinettist and founding member of contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment. He holds the position of Sub-Principal Clarinet with Britten Sinfonia and plays regularly with orchestras and ensembles at home and abroad, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia, The Riot Ensemble, Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and the Haffner Wind Octet. Highly in demand as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, he has played guest principal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, London Mozart Players, and English National Ballet.

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