Meet the Artist……Gavin Higgins, composer

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

I grew up surrounded by a family of musicians. Everyone played in the local brass band and my grandparents were really my first teachers. When I was 15 I received a scholarship to study at Chethams School of Music in Manchester and whilst there a friend and I sneaked out of school one day to see a production of the Rite of Spring. It was the first time I’d experienced orchestral music and dance performed live together and I found the whole experience hugely overwhelming. As soon as I left the theatre I knew I wanted to write music.

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

Early on in my career it was brass bands that provided me with a way into music. I grew up playing the tenor horn and moved onto French horn when I started at Chethams. It was here that I experienced orchestral music for the first time. The music of Stravinsky, Turnage, Prokofiev, John Adams really struck a chord with me. Even now I find those early influences really underpin what I want to do as a composer. My music is often very fast, driven and rhythmic. It’s immediate, and for me that’s important.

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

I’m about to start working on an opera. I think this will be my most challenging project, but I can’t wait to get started on it.

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

For me the aim of the process is to hear my music performed. I’ve never been good at writing music without a performance in mind. The process is hard, long and at times frustrating but to finally hear the music performed is what drives me. Of course when you are working to a specific commission or brief you can’t necessarily write whatever you want, but the restraints that come with a commission are good for me; it gives me structure and a guide.

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

I love collaborating with other artists. As a composer you spend a great deal of time alone and this can sometimes be counter productive. So the opportunity to actually create music with other musicians, artists or choreographers is something I thrive on. I really work my best when I’m working with others, so when I’ve collaborated with choreographers or librettists I feel I’ve written some of my strongest pieces. When you know the ensemble you are working with so well it can help drive the creative practice. I have a great relationship with Tredegar Town Band, for whom I have written two large works now. Since I know the players and conductor so well we can just get straight the heart of the music. It’s wonderful.

Your new work receives its world premiere on 23 October 2015. Tell us more about how this work developed and the particular pleasures and challenges of creating it and working with LMM’s Bridge Project children and the LPO 

I’ve been fascinated by dance suites for some time now and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to explore this kind of music. When I was approached by LMM to write this new work I thought this would be the perfect vehicle for it. So the piece very much follows the structure of a baroque dance suite. There are four movements: Allamande, Courante, Sarabande and finally a very lively Gigue.

It’s been one of my most challenging commissions to date, not least because of the involvement of the LMM students. Writing music for a combination of professional and student musicians is a difficult thing to get your head around. I had to write the LMM student parts out before I’d written any of the orchestral music so I had to know how the rest of the music would fit around these lines a long time before I’d had chance to really get stuck into the material.

It’s been hard to write but I hope it’s fun to play!

Which works are you most proud of?  

That’s a tough one because I am very self-conscious about the music I write. In most of my works there are moments that bother me, either because listening now I find it naïve or I feel I could do it better if I was able to write the piece again. But I suppose the two pieces I’m most proud of are Dark Arteries, a ballet I’ve just completed about the miners’ strike, and Velocity, which was commissioned to open the Last Night of the Proms in 2014. It was such an honour to be asked to write that piece, the whole experience was just incredible.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A few years ago I heard the Berlin Philharmonic play Brahms 2 in Oxford at 10:30 in the morning. I have never heard such an incredible sound in my life. Every single player, from the front desk to back, played like they were leading the orchestra and the performance was thrilling. I heard them play the whole of the Firebird score last year at the Proms and I was in tears at the end. They’re such an incredible group of musicians.

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

A career in music is tough and is full of challenges and frustrations and so you have to work hard and practice your craft every day. Go to lots of concerts and listen to lots of different kinds of music. Take what you do seriously and be self critical, but don’t be self critical it impedes on you improving, know when to give yourself credit!

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

Happy, comfortable, maybe taking a walk in the Blue Mountains.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having a lovely time on my roof with my London family…. Also eating sushi….

What is your most treasured possession? 

My pictures of my friends and family.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Time in London. I love this town and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening to it at the moment. I just hope that we can get it back on track, it’s the most amazing city in the world and we shouldn’t allow greedy, corporate villains to take it from us. It is the centre of cultural universe and we must fight to keep it that way.

What is your present state of mind? 

Slightly tense! I’m trying to finish Tänze for the performance at the South Bank Centre in October!

Gavin Higgins’ Tänze will be premiered at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and children from London Music Masters’ Bridge Project at 6pm on Friday 23rd October 2015. Further information here

Described as ‘boldly imaginative’ and ‘extraordinary’, Gavin Higgins has been consistently praised by critics for his distinct and visceral compositional style.

The early stages of his career saw Higgins receive substantial commissions for some of the country’s leading orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Northern Sinfonia and the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain. He has worked with soloists and ensembles such as Mark Simpson, the Flotilla Saxophone Quartet, the Tredegar Town Band, Rambert Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and the Fidelio Trio.

The Gloucester born composer comes from a long lineage of brass band musicians, dating back to 1895. Growing up in the Forest of Dean, he followed an initial musical training in the family brass band, with studies of french horn and composition at Chethams School of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal College of Music with Gary Carpenter and Ken Hesketh.

Higgins has continued this heritage with high profile commissions and performances of vigorous, daring brass band pieces including Freaks (2007), Tango (2008) – both recorded by Black Dyke Band’s principal trombone, Brett Baker; Fanfares and Loves Songs (2009) for the National Children’s Band of Great Britain and, Destroy, Trample, As Swiftly As She, commissioned for the 2011 European Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland.

In 2010 he was appointed Rambert Dance Company’s Inaugural Music Fellow. This appointment has led to the ‘blasting, warping score’ (The Guardian) of, What Wild Ecstasy, and more recently the innovative and ambitious Dark Arteries. This music of ‘such ingenuity, flair and skill’ was premiered at Sadler’s wells by the Tredegar Town Band.
What Wild Ecstasy was nominated for a British Composer Award in the stage works category 2012. This follows on from nominations for, A Forest Symphony (2009) and, Diversions After Benjamin Britten (2013).

A Growing collection of ensemble and orchestral works have been featured at major festivals, such as the saxophone quartet, ENDGAME, commissioned as part of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival; and his ‘boldly imaginative response to last summer’s riots’ (The Times), Der Aufstand, which was commissioned as part of the 2012 BBC Proms.

Recent successes includes performances of music theatre piece, Uncle Dima, by the London Sinfonietta; the premiere of his ‘striking’ (The Guardian) piano trio, The Ruins of Detroit – commissioned by the Britten Pears Foundation and performed by the Fidelio Trio at the Cheltenham Festival; and the premiere of the ‘fast, exciting and brilliantly scored’ (The Telegraph), Velocity – commissioned by the BBC to open the Last Night of the 2014 Proms.