Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?
I’ve always enjoyed making things, whether from Lego, words or whatever, and I always wanted to be able to live from the things I made or thought about. At times it feels like a pathology. If I didn’t write music I’d probably have to find something else to do that required making something, or thinking. Latterly I’ve felt the need for a ‘problem-solving’ element to my work in that I see my music as addressing an artistic need.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My teachers (Ben Lamb, Malcolm Singer, Gary Carpenter, Ken Hesketh and Joseph Horovitz) have had a huge influence on my work. Ben (my piano teacher in secondary school) was the first person to encourage me to take composition seriously, but I owe a debt to all of my teachers. They have been very kind, and generous with their thoughts. After them it is probably all of mistakes I’ve made. When a piece goes wrong in front of lots of people, and I know it’s my fault, it’s a powerful way of ensuring I never make those mistakes again. If I never failed at writing music I don’t think I’d ever make any progress.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Failing, and starting again. I think this always takes a certain amount of courage to start over because you have to disown things that you’ve spent a lot of time on and begin as if from nothing. But it’s always worth it because you become better than you were before.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Feeling connected to a larger network of musicians. Composing (for me) is a very private activity, and as a result it’s often very solitary. But working on music for someone else always feels less so. There is a dialogue that you naturally enter into about what shape the piece should take, or a discussion of what emotional or artistic resources to draw on which is always exciting. What is normally a very private experience for me becomes something I can share with the person I’m writing for. It feels very intimate.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Every ensemble or musician I’ve worked with has brought their own aesthetic to a new piece, and I think that has been one of the most significant factors for me in the development of any new work. I always want the performers to look (and sound) really good when they play my music, so I naturally want to tailor new pieces to suit what they do in their performance practice.
Which works are you most proud of?
I wrote a piano trio that I wrote in my last year at college which is probably my most technically accomplished piece. It took me 14 quite substantial drafts before I could get anywhere with it, and I think that allowed me to iron out a lot of wrinkles. I wrote a violin concerto for Henning Kraggerud not long ago and that is certainly my most substantial piece. There are harmonic and thematic ideas that I was able to bring to fruition in that piece in a way that I hadn’t been able to achieve before; in particular marrying quite a spontaneous and improvisatory solo line with a more systematic approach to thematic development.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
Cadogan Hall. I had my best premiere there, and the acoustic is wonderful.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
William Byrd, Beethoven, Ravel, St. Philip Neri, T. S. Eliot, Henri Dutilleux, Evelyn Waugh, Nadia Boulanger, Frederic Rzewski, Gerard Grisey, Alasdair MacIntyre, Gilbert and George, Billy Corgan, Rebecca Saunders, Esbjorn Svensen. I know some of these aren’t composers but I feel the influence of all of them.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Grisey’s Les Espace Acoustique when it was performed by the London Sinfonietta a couple of years ago, and any performance of Ravel.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Music that comes out of speakers or through headphones is always different to music that’s performed live by a person.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently finishing off a piece for Christopher Guild for piano and analogue radio. We’re giving the first performance on 17 December at The Forge in Camden. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed composing as much as I am at the moment. Once that’s done I’ve got pieces to write for Notes Inégales, and for the flautist Carla Rees.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Teaching people who want to learn, and writing for people who want to play, but more so, and solvent.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I don’t know.
What is your most treasured possession? I don’t know.
What do you enjoy doing most? I don’t know.
What is your present state of mind?
I’m currently wondering why I don’t have a most treasured possession, why I don’t know what I enjoy most, and why I have no idea of perfect happiness. I think if I knew the answer to these things then I wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t enjoy anything and I wouldn’t treasure anything.
Piers Tattersall will perform two works for piano and analogue radio with pianist Christopher Guild in a concert at The Forge, Camden, on 17th December 2013. Further details and tickets here
Piers Tattersall was born in Salisbury, and his composition teachers have included Malcolm Singer, Gary Carpenter, and Joseph Horovitz.
His works have been commissioned and performed by various ensembles including The Orpheus Sinfonia, The Warehouse Ensemble, and the Composers Ensemble. After completing his studies he took up a residency at La Ville Matte in Sardinia working with violinist Valentino Corvino, and pianist Peter Waters. In 2011 his ballet Rumpelstiltskin was performed at the Peacock Theatre (Sadler’s Wells), and his violin concerto Kreisler, l’entre deux guerres composed for the violinist Henning Kraggerud and the Britten Sinfonia was toured and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.