Who or what inspired you to take up composing?
My mum was performing in Les Miserables in the West End while I was in the womb, so I think music has always been somewhat inescapable! My parents have always broadened my experience of different types of music, and that, in effect, is what inspired me to try and make music of my own. It then seemed natural to me to want to write music down as soon as I’d started learning the piano. I guess it’s that classic scenario of neglecting scales practice in favour of making ‘nice sounds,’ and before I had the slightest idea what I was doing I was at least trying to write down my efforts!
Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?
I’m influenced by anyone whose music moves me in some way, where there’s a tangible relationship between the music that’s been created and its audience – it doesn’t matter what idiom they’re working in. For example, in the next fortnight I’m going to see the Madame Butterfly production at ENO and the Keane gig at Brixton Academy, both of which should offer that connection in equal measure.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I’ve just written a fanfare for the Royal Opera House orchestra with Pappano lasting 30 seconds, and I think it’s the brevity which made it so challenging. The material came quite quickly, but trying to grapple with a full orchestra over such a tiny amount of time, whilst also trying to make it memorable and special, really was a challenge!
What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?
Whenever a group of musicians play my music it is a thrill and a pleasure, so I find it above all very exciting. I do get slightly stressed preparing scores for larger ensembles though – if you get one tiny detail in any of the parts wrong, if the score isn’t clear for the conductor, if there are any conflicting messages, then the rehearsal could be ruined!
Which recordings are you most proud of?
Last year my first substantial choral piece was recorded at Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge by Phoenix Chorale, and that recording is very special to me. It’s my first professional recording, and I learnt a huge amount from the process, and I am now in awe of people who specialise in production.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
I have three: Barbican, Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Snape Maltings Concert Hall. All absolutely beautiful, and I’ve had some unforgettable experiences at those places.
Who are your favourite musicians?
The members of the National Youth Orchestra that I’ve met over this past year are all absolutely incredible – it’s such a huge melting-pot of fantastic musicians that it would be impossible for me to say anything else!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Oh, there are so many! Something that springs to mind immediately though is Nico Muhly’s opera Two Boys at ENO last year, which I found absolutely spell-binding both musically and visually.
What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
At the minute I’m really into playing the Beethoven sonatas on piano – they’re so physical and explosive. I’m listening to lots of Thomas Adès and James Macmillan. I think what links everything I’m into at the minute is these really powerful ideas which just grab hold of you. Pieces like Adès’ America: A Prophecy or MacMillan’s Magnificat grab me every single time I hear them.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
I still am an aspiring musician! Having said that, I can’t think of a time when I won’t see myself as aspirant musically. Maybe what I would say then is that a thirst and desire to constantly discover more about the art form is the most important thing of all.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a piece for the Aldeburgh World Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder at the minute, which is really exciting! It’s quite tricky, because I’ve got to create 2 versions of the same piece, one for indoor concert performance and one outdoor, unconducted version for the Olympic torch relay. It’s a great challenge though!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness for me is simply to have achievements to be proud of, new challenges to look forward to, and great people to enjoy them with.
Alex lives in Cambridge, and is a composer with the National Youth Orchestra and an Aldeburgh Young Musician. In the last year, his music has been performed at venues such as the Southbank Centre, the Sage Gateshead and the Britten Studio, as well as in Holland. In June this year his Fanfare will be premièred by Sir Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, and will be heard as an alternative to the interval bell at each opera/ballet of the 2012/13 season. His choral work Phoenix was recorded in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge last year, and his music will feature at this year’s Snape Proms, as the Aldeburgh World Orchestra première a new piece to celebrate the London 2012 Olympics, conducted by Sir Mark Elder. He studies with Jeffery Wilson, and also receives tuition from Anna Meredith, Larry Goves and Charlotte Bray. He is winner of Cambridge Young Composer of the Year and the NCEM Young Composers Award 2012. His NCEM competition piece is being sung by the Tallis Scholars as part of a Jubilee Concert at Durham Cathedral on 2nd June (further information here).