Meet the Artist……Errollyn Wallen

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

There were several triggers — playing the piano, hearing Chopin in my ballet class, twiddling the knobs on the radio and discovering the range of classical music, a history teacher at school suggesting it as a possible career. My uncle told me I was a composer when I told him about the sounds in my head.

Eventually it became an inner necessity to compose.

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

J S Bach is my greatest inspiration. Gemini (founded by Ian Mitchell) gave me my first commission and I am continually learning from the musicians, collaborators and institutions I work with.

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

The greatest challenge is always how to manage one’s time —and finances — in order to do the work.

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

The challenge is to create a work which extends my range of musical thinking whilst also satisfying the brief of the commission.

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

I relish composing for specific performers — it always shapes the music. In composing Hawks and Horses I had the sound of Peterborough Sings! In my mind. I had already spent time in Peterborough so was able to get to know the personality of these special choirs and their brilliant conductor, Will Prideaux.

Every performer is unique and the challenge is to compose a work which lets the performer/s shine whilst bringing them something fresh and new.

Tell us more about your new work ‘Hawks and Horses’

What was the inspiration behind this work?

The inspiration was twofold — the sound of the range of voices (from young to old) and the way in which I came across Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91. Last year I was going through my Uncle Arthur’s house after he died and found a small book of sonnets which had an inscription in the front noting that that Sonnet 91 was about the giver and the receiver of the book. Was my dear uncle the intended recipient or was the book a second hand book? I will never know; but I was reminded of the power of words, the power of love and friendship. This is true for us at any age — which is why I decided to set Sonnet 91 for Peterborough Sings! which comprises a youth choir, a male voice choir and a women’s choir. As I was setting the poem I began to imagine the Peterborough landscape centuries ago.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE Sonnet 91

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force, Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill; Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse; And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure, Wherein it finds a joy above the rest: But these particulars are not my measure; All these I better in one general best. Thy love is better than high birth to me, Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost, Of more delight than hawks or horses be; And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:    Wretched in this alone, that thou may’st take    All this away, and me most wretched make.

How has working with Peterborough Sings! influenced the way you have composed the work?

I have never composed a work for children and adults singing together and am very excited to hear how the combination will work. It was invaluable spending time with Will and the choirs beforehand as that has had a profound influence.

Which works are you most proud of?

I have composed so much music. I am fond of all my works and am constantly surprised how the circumstances in which they were composed can have no influence on the finished work. I am very proud of my opera, the Silent Twins (librettist April de Angelis) which was performed at Almeida Opera Festival in 2007.

I also favour some of my simple songs which I perform at the piano myself. What’s up Doc? is a one-off and composed in a matter of minutes. I love performing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Ella Fitzgerald, Daniil Trifonov, J.S.Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel. So many more..!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing my works performed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, knowing that they were being broadcast simultaneously to a billion people around the world was overwhelming. The work which also provided total concert experience was the première of Carbon 12 : A Choral Symphony for Welsh National Opera at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Carbon 12 is an oratorio about the history of coal mining in South Wales. The librettist, John Binias and I felt that we had achieved something bigger than ourselves. Everyone in that concert hall was somehow part of the story we were telling onstage.

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

When you think you’re done, give it 10 per cent more.

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

In sensational health after representing Belize in the 100m at the Olympics

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being by the sea or in the sea. Preferably with family and friends.

What is your most treasured possession?

I’m not very good at treasuring possessions. I do always need a piano however and I have a very nice Steinway upright. I also love my copy of the CD, ERROLLYN, framed by NASA. It orbited the earth 186 times.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Thinking, composing, playing the piano, singing, eating. I ADORE recording too!

What is your present state of mind?

Juggling the present with the past and the future.

This August will see the premiere of Hawks and Horses, a new work by internationally acclaimed composer Errollyn Wallen, the “renaissance woman of contemporary British music” (The Observer), best known for her works Principia and Spirit in Motion which featured in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Commissioned by music education charity Peterborough Sings!, the work was written for the city’s award-winning choirs Peterborough Male Voice Choir, Peterborough Voices and Peterborough Youth Choir, who will perform it for the first time with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at St John’s Smith Square in London on Sunday 30th August, with a regional premiere to follow at Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre on Sunday 6th September.

www.errollynwallen.com