Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I started as a jazz bass player having become very interested in jazz as a teenager. I had studied classical piano from the age of 5, but took up the bass when I was 18. I only started to compose in my early twenties and for this move it was the work of John Cage that was the key inspiration.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Initially it was Cage.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There have been many, but perhaps writing my first opera, a setting of Euripides’ Medea in Ancient Greek was the most challenging as it was the first thing I’d ever written for orchestra, for the stage, for the human voice and I’d only ever seen one opera live. In addition I was my own publisher and I had only 8 months to write it while teaching full time…
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
The main challenge, which is in fact a pleasure, is to get to work with many very different artists – both with performers, choreographers, opera directors etc.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
It is, again, the encounter with artists of real quality and I have to find what works best for them; that is to say, I always take account of their characters both musical and otherwise.
Which works are you most proud of?
I’m not really proud of any of them! There are works that I think are of greater significance but I never proud of my own achievements though I take pride in the successes of others – my children for example.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
My favourite musicians are the members of my own ensemble, who are the finest singers and chamber music players I know, and with whom I have chosen to work. There are many composers whose works I enjoy and admire but none would be “favourites”!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are many, but I would single out two. One was a concert performance of my first opera by BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra 11 years after the opera performances. The other was touring an old piece of mine, The Sinking of the Titanic, during the centenary year of the sinking, when I included my four children in my ensemble (my three daughters on viola, two cello; my son on double bass)
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
There are two:
Always keep and open mind and a spirit of enquiry (so as not to develop predictable routines) and make sure that you have a secure musical craftsmanship ( so that you are able to express your ideas without difficulty of technique).
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to be still alive and well, and in our home with my entire family on the Pacific coast of Canada (where we live for part of the year)
What is your present state of mind?
Alert and as serene as possible
Gavin Bryars presents ‘The Bass in My Life’ with Daniele Roccato, double bass, who performs works by Stefano Scodanibbio, Giacinto Scelsi, Ivan Fedele, Franco Donatoni, Daniele Roccato and Gavin Bryars at the Italian Cultural Institute London tonight. The event is part of the Suona Italiano residency to promote Italian music. Further information here
“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” –Michael Ondaatje
Gavin Bryars’ full biography