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.

Tell us about your upcoming performances at Tête à Tête Opera Festival?

Tonight my multimedia song-cycle Hearing Voices will be performed at the festival at King’s Place. I first performed the piece in 2012 and have reworked it for a second performance this year. I’ll be joined again by director Emma Bernard and mezzo-soprano Melanie Pappenheim for this performance in addition to Laura Moody, Susi Evans and Preetha Narayanan. The piece focuses on the topic of mental health and I used recordings of my mother, Bobby Baker and Julie McNamara as well as videos by Dragan Aleksic. It’s a very personal piece for me as my family have been touched by mental illness for three generations.

Tomorrow night is my vocal work Anxiety Fanfare and Variations which is also about mental health. I’ll be joining the Nottingham People’s Choir and my Jocelyn Pook Ensemble to perform the work with soloists Donna Lennard, Melanie Pappenheim, Jonathan Peter Kenny and Richard Morris. Anxiety Fanfare looks at the day-to-day feeling of anxiety which affects so many people now.

What else do you have coming up?

The west-end play King Charles III is transferring to Broadway in October at the Music Box Theatre which is hugely exciting – I’m off to New York for rehearsals in September. It was a great project to work on and it’s amazing to see how far it’s come, I can’t wait to see what the American audiences think too!

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

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.