Meet the Artist…… Morgan Hayes, composer

photo: Malcolm Crowthers

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?  

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

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

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

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

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

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

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 

Cheerful

Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.

One thought on “Meet the Artist…… Morgan Hayes, composer”

  1. Morgan Hayes’ Violin Concerto is a phenomenal piece: powerful and yet translucent.

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