Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My parents and especially my granddad have always been very supportive and encouraging. My granddad always wanted to be able to play the piano and compose, but he wasn’t offered any opportunities to learn when he was younger. I think that’s what drove him to encourage me: he saw that I enjoyed it, and made sure I took all the opportunities I could.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
It may sound obvious, but my parents. I couldn’t have been offered the opportunities I have been today without their help and support.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
I think it’s important to learn how to fail ‘productively’. As a freelance composer you are never going to get every single opportunity you put yourself forward for. It’s important to try and remain positive. Take criticism on board where you think it’s fair, but remember that your music should ultimately be defined by you. There have been times when I have felt it was right to reject criticism. Knowing when to do this can be tricky to navigate when you’re starting out.
With every performance you get better at communicating the music in your mind’s ear to an audience. This process is a very personal one. It operates on many levels between transcription and translation. No-one can tell you whether it has been successful other than yourself. Do not be too self-critical when you make a mistake, because that’s how you learn.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
It’s great when you can shape a piece around a specific group. I always try to feed off the energy and enthusiasm of an ensemble when I write.
You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award holder, tell us more about this?
It’s very exciting because it’s the first year that this scheme has been opened up to composers, so I am thrilled to be able to take this opportunity! I am also looking forward to being able to better advocate Contemporary Classical Music, and work with the young people involved in the scheme.
Who will you be composing for as part of your LMM Award?
I’ll be writing a piece for a YCAT (Young Concert Artists Trust) musician through the LMM/YCAT partnership. I’ve been given a hint as to which musician it may be, and I can already say I’m very excited about it!
Of which works are you most proud?
I love the recording of my BBCSO orchestral piece ‘Digital Dust’. Also, the multi-part choral piece ‘Islands (Ynysoedd)’ I wrote for what became a celebration of Sir John Tavener’s life in Southwark Cathedral, following his death. More recently I wrote a piece for Côr Aduniad called ‘We Have No Right To The Stars’. This is a translation of a poem by Hedd Wyn, and I think it’s one of my favourite choral settings to date.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I like to describe my style as emotional and accessible. When I was first getting inspired by music I used to get the ‘tingle factor’ (when the hairs on the back of your neck used to stand up) when I listened to music I loved. I have tried to find a compositional language which allows others to feel a strong emotional attachment to my work.
How do you work?
I like to write straight into the computer if I am working on a piece. I usually work at a piano to sketch ideas, and when I am happy with them, notate them straight away.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Kaija Saariaho, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Tippett, John Tavener, Benjamin Britten, Tori Amos, Björk.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I can’t remember the exact details but I watched Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ when I was very young. I can remember the music having a profound impact upon me.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Learning how to listen is probably the most important part of becoming a musician. It takes time to develop and is fundamental to your success in all areas of the business.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In a studio which would make Hans Zimmer jealous!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being truly grateful for everything you have.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you enjoy doing most?
What is your present state of mind?
Jack White studied music at Somerville College, Oxford. His postgraduate studies have been undertaken solely at Cardiff University where he has recently finished his PhD in composition. His research interests are in electroacoustic composition and the combination of this media with traditional ensembles in ‘live’ performance. He is also interested in the scoring methods used by electroacoustic composers and the relationship between such methods and a work’s identity.
Jack White is the recent recipient of a London Music Masters award