Meet the Artist……Robert Hugill

Robert Hugill, composer

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

I started writing music when I was at school, it was just something I did. I once read a quote about only writing music if you have to and for years I composed songs, but never wrote anything down. It was only when working as a musical director and arranger for a choir (The Pink Singers), and for a number of cabaret groups (e.g The Insinuendos), that I started to write music down, finding it profoundly satisfying to create something and to craft it to suit someone. For me, writing music is a little like archaeology, you are not so much creating as exploring and excavating something which already exists. The trick is to get it right.

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

  • Writing and arranging music for the cabaret group, the Insinuendos in the 1980’s
  • Learning and singing Gregorian chant, which I now do regularly as part of the Latin Mass choir at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street Chelsea
  • Learning that Kurt Weill did his own orchestrations for his Broadway musicals, and that Tchaikovsky was present at the rehearsals for his ballets so that he not only wrote and orchestrated the music, but made all the changes to suit the dancers

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

Getting my music performed

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

My most recent composition is always my favourite. I also have an abiding weakness for my cantata The Young Man and Death, based on Rabindranath Tagore poems, about a young man dying of AIDS in dialogue with death. I am also very proud of my opera When a Man Knows which we staged at the Bridewell Theatre in 2011.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Frankly, it depends on what is being performed, you can’t do a symphony concert in the Wigmore Hall, and different acoustics suit different pieces. Also, if you ask a singer you’ll get a different answer to an audience member. Venues which are lovely to sing in, are not necessarily ideal when it comes to what the audience hears.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I have a weakness for performing plainchant, and Renaissance polyphony particularly Palestrina and Victoria.

Listening, I am happy to listen to anything by Handel, and the music of Vaughan Williams still has the power to move me that I discovered when I was a student in the 1970’s.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My current favourite band must be Arcangelo, a very talented young group. I still have wonderful memories of singers like Janet Baker, Geraint Evans, Jon Vickers, Gynneth Jones and Rita Hunter. But there are so many wonderful young singers out there at the moment it is difficult to select a favourite, though perhaps Carolyn Sampson and Sarah Connolly come pretty close.

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

Be true to yourself. Decide whether you are doing it for love, or for money. Always bear in mind your audience: a composer who writes in a vacuum is in danger of producing merely masturbatory fantasies.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am trying to get to grips with the final 20 motets in my collection Tempus per annum, which when complete with contain 72 motets covering the entire church’s year, setting the Latin Introits for Sundays and the major feasts. I’ve done the first three volumes, and am a little bit stuck at the beginning of volume four.

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

Listening to my music being performed on Radio 3.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing music, creating something new that feels just right.

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Robert Hugill writes attractive, accessible contemporary classical music in a variety of genres. Recent performances have included sacred motets, orchestral music and a one-act opera. In 2008 the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble, conductor Paul Brough, issued a CD of Robert’s music on the Divine Art label.

Born in Cleethorpes, UK in 1955, Robert Hugill is a mainly self-taught composer. In the 70’s and 80’s he was the musical director of the Church of St. Andrew and St. George, Rosyth, Scotland, musical director of London’s first Lesbian and Gay choir, The Pink Singers and acted as composer and arranger for a number of cabaret acts in London and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

As a singer, he is currently a member of London Concord Singers and the Latin Mass Choir at St. Mary’s Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, London. Robert’s motets and mass settings are in use St. Mary’s Church, Chelsea (Roman Catholic), the Oxford Oratory (Roman Catholic), St. Woolos Cathedral, Newport (Anglican), All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, London and St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London (Anglican).

In 1994 Robert founded FifteenB, the choir which gave the first public performance of Robert’s cantata Vocibus Mulierum – Women’s Voices. In 1998 FifteenB was awarded a grant, by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England, to give the first performance of Robert’s cantata The Young Man and Death – A Dialogue, for choir and wind octet. In 2000 the choir premiered Robert’s Requiem for unaccompanied choir at the Chelsea Festival. They returned to the Chelsea Festival in 2002 to give the first performance of The Barbarian at the Gate with Philharmonia Brass. The choir returned to the festival in 2004 and 2006 with programmes of liturgical music including a number of Robert’s motets.

In 1999 Robert was commissioned by the early music group, The Burgundian Cadence, to write Passion a 40 minute unaccompanied setting of the passion story from St. John’s Gospel interpolated with poems by the American poet, Carl Cook. The Burgundian Cadence performed Passion on a UK tour in 1999 and subsequently recorded the work. The recording received its first broadcast performance on Vatican Radio as part of the Jubilee celebrations in 2000. Robert’s Choruses from Passion was premièred by FifteenB in 2008, and the work received its Polish premiere in 2009 when Chor Mieszany Caecilianum performed it in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Katowice.

Robert’s motet Here Be Angels was commissioned by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, musical director David Temple. The chorus gave the first performances of the motet in March 1998 and the revised version was premiered by London Concord Singers in December 2002. The Black Dragon, inspired by a science fiction story, was premiered by London Concord Singers in 2000 as part of their Millennium celebrations. In 2006 London Concord Singers premiered Robert’s Ubi Carmina as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

In 1999 Robert wrote the incidental music to ‘Candle Dancing’, a play by the Pittsburgh based playwright Coni Ciongoli-Koepfinger and the music was performed in Pittsburgh as a part of the first run of the play. In November 2001 Robert’s song cycle Songs of Love and Loss received its first American performance at CMU in Pittsburgh. Robert’s opera, Garrett, based on a play by Coni Ciongoli-Koepfinger, was staged in London in June 2001. An audio book of the play CandleDancing, with Robert’s music, is being issued in 2009.

A number of Robert’s orchestral works have been premièred by the Salomon Orchestra. In March 2006 the orchestra, conducted by Adrian Brown with baritone David Greiner gave the first performances of Robert’s Elegy for Baritone and Orchestra and the tone poem In the Barbarians Camp.

As a complement to his amateur group, Robert founded the professional choir, the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble in 2005. They gave their debut performance at St. Giles Cripplegate, premièring Robert’s cantata The Testament of Dr. Cranmer. They repeated the performance in March 2006 as part of the commemorations for the 450th anniversary of Cranmer’s execution at Oxford University Church. The ensemble, conducted by Paul Brough, recorded The Testament of Dr. Cranmer as part of a new disc of Robert’s choral and vocal music recently released on the Divine Art Label.

In 2003 Robert was on the jury judging the liturgical category of the first British Composers Awards organised by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters and he returned as a judge in 2004 in the choral category. Robert’s songs came 2nd and 4th in the English Poetry and Song Society’s Ivor Gurney competition in November 2007 and another song came 3rd in the Society’s A.E. Houseman competition in February 2009.

Robert is new motet for Alistair Dixon and the Chapelle du Roi will be performed in December 2009. His 2nd volume of motets for the church’s year, Tempus per Annum, was published in autumn 2008. Robert is currently working on new opera based on a play by Alan Richardson.

Robert’s Passion is published by Bardic Edition and the remainder of his catalogue is available on-line from Spherical Editions.

Robert writes CD reviews for MusicWeb and writes CD reviews, Opera reviews and feature articles for Music and Vision.