Thomas Hewitt Jones

Who or what inspired you to take up composing and make it your career?

I have composed ever since I was a child. My maternal grandfather was a nuclear engineer, but the grandparents on my father’s side were both composers: Tony was a good craftsman; he studied with Nadia Boulanger and predominantly wrote choral music. His wife Anita was very adept at composing fantastic educational music. I suppose having composition in the family contributed to my experimentation with ‘finding sounds’ at a young age, originally writing purely on one’s own terms. I later learned that being able to fulfill a brief is a prerequisite to being professional composer.

Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?
At 9 years old I was playing hymns at school assemblies and I think this taught me a lot about harmony, melody and basic structure – you have to learn the rules before you break them. My father, a cellist in the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, took us to see dress rehearsals on Saturday mornings from a young age and I love the emotional depth of 19th Century orchestral music. I’m a lover of great melody, and I try to write music that speaks in a direct way but is underpinned by complex harmonic movement. This extension of a neo-romantic approach is very compatible with the cinema, which is probably why I’ve landed up doing that as well as standalone instrumental and choral music.

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

Getting commissioned as a composer is about diversity, and being able to turn one’s hand to whatever projects come in. You can’t afford to be choosy, especially at the beginning. I feel lucky to have had some great early commissions – from a carol ‘Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth’ published by Oxford University Press and three ballet scores for Ballet Cymru, through to a piece for full orchestra at a Richard Stilgoe Concert at the Royal Festival Hall. On the commercial side, my first scores were very low-budget, written for children’s audiobooks. I did them under a pseudonym, and would recommend this approach to composers starting out; it enables you to gain writing experience and confidence before having to own up! If you go into any Waterstones there are rows and rows of them by someone with a silly name – but I’m not telling you who it is!

Which compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
I have very much enjoyed writing for ballet, and two out of my three ballet commissions for Ballet Cymru have been recorded and released on CD. Writing for dance is very refreshing because dancers think about music in a completely different way. Unlike composing for film where the musical narrative is tightly dictated by the picture, with ballet you can tell a story through a series of scenes or tableaux, and the narrative musical journey can be more fluid.

Alongside instrumental music, I particularly enjoy writing choral works. Recently I completed ‘The Same Flame’ for Boosey & Hawkes; an exciting new choral work written in collaboration with poet and lyricist Matt Harvey. It’s a positive song-cycle focused on humanist values that will receive its premiere in July in a concert conducted by choral director David Ogden.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?
For a small venue the Cadogan Hall isn’t bad. I’m going there on the 1st May when my old school will be premiering my ‘Psalm 150’. It’ll feel a bit like going full circle, because it was singing Benjamin Britten’s setting of the religious text that left a real impression on me and encouraged me to compose when I was a kid. I was delighted when my alma mater commissioned a new setting.

Who are your favourite musicians?
I couldn’t say; there are so many fantastic ones around. The best musicians are those who lift the music off the page, translating the mere dots into something with real shape. Like composers, they have to be able to understand emotion, and really be able to tell a story. Players with a good personality always convey this through the music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?
In December 2010, my carol ‘Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth’ received two joint premieres within a few minutes of each other – by John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, and over the road at the Royal College of Music by members of the Junior Department chamber choir and orchestra. There’s nothing as exciting as a first performance – especially when two happen at the same time!

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
I was an organ scholar at university and enjoy playing Bach – counterpoint doesn’t get better. I was fortunate to be a member of the National Youth Orchestra in my teens, and Jill White, then Director of Music, was intent on offering us a rich palette of the very best of 19th-century orchestral music. The highlight of my 8 years as cellist and latterly principal composer with the NYO was playing Mahler 8 with Sir Simon Rattle, and the same year conducting a premiere live on Radio 3 with NYO players.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
I’m going to be blunt here. Music enjoyment/participation is for everyone at all levels, but don’t rely on making a living from the music profession unless you are so genuinely passionate about it that you would give up everything for it.

What are you working on at the moment?
Having just put the finishing touches to the score for the final animation of the 2012 Olympics Mascots film series, I am currently working on two further commissions. Hopefully they will be finished by 1 May, which is when I am scheduled to start work on a large-scale commission for choir and orchestra for Sloane Square Choral Society who are premièring it in December 2012.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In a composing hut somewhere remote by the sea. With a tolerant wife and kids, if I’m lucky.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The little things. Despite the emotional complexity of being a composer, I’m a simpleton really.

What do you enjoy doing most?
I think an exciting answer would be ideal here, but I am ashamed to say that I’m very happy when composing. When I was about 3 or 4, I remember being in a toy shop and looking up in awe at all the toys that were there to play with. For better or worse, composing feels the same, and I never get tired of it. Maybe I will one day.

What is your present state of mind?
Tired. I’ve recently delivered the masters for the score to the new 2012 Olympic Mascots film, ‘Rainbow to the Games’, which is being released in UK cinemas on 5th May.

Origonal interview date: April 2012

Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of both concert and commercial music. Winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition, he studied music at Cambridge University where he was also organ scholar of Gonville and Caius College.

His concert work has been heard on BBC Radio, Television and in many of the major concert halls in the UK, including the Royal Festival Hall, London’s South Bank centre and the Royal Albert Hall. Thomas has worked with numerous acclaimed ensembles such as the Britten Sinfonia, Sounds Positive, Members of the Royal Opera House orchestra and the Carducci Quartet. He has had pieces published by Faber Music, ABRSM, Novello & Co, Universal Music and Oxford University Press.

Thomas has worked in Hollywood assisting on the film scores for the films ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ (the Kung Fu epic featuring Jackie Chan & Jet Li, dir. Rob Minkoff) and ‘Town Creek’ (dir. Joel Schumacher), and has written music for radio and TV stations including BBC Radio 4 and ITV.

Thomas has written extensively for ballet, including the 2008 Welsh Independent Ballet commission ‘Under Milk Wood’, and an adaptation of Llewellyn’s novel ‘How Green was my Valley’ in 2009.

Thomas recently composed a new ballet, ‘The Lady of the Lake’, based on the Welsh folk tale for a UK tour of the Welsh national ballet company, ‘Ballet Cymru, that toured throughout 2010 including Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadlers Wells, London in November.

Other recent commissions include composing and recording the music for the London 2012 / LOCOG Mascot Animated Films for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games the latest instalment of which was ‘Adventures on a Rainbow’ (performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and conducted by Thomas).

www.thomashewittjones.com

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

My parents didn’t come from a musical background but bought an upright for my two older sisters to learn so I am eternally grateful for that decision. For some mysterious reason I was drawn to the sound of the piano as an infant. I finally got my way and started piano lessons at the age of 5. It was my own choice and by the time I was 12, I had decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My amazing teachers: Heather Slade-Lipkin, Eleanor Sokoloff and Nina Milkina. I feel very fortunate to have studied with the right teacher at the right time in my development. My playing is also very inspired by my wife, the artist Anna Paik. As she works hard on achieving a subtlety of different colours and nuances in her studio upstairs, I’m not that far away from these creative concepts in my own studio downstairs.

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

An artistic career will inevitably have its ups and downs and often many aspects of it are out of one’s control. The greatest challenge is remaining true to oneself, to forge an individual path without any compromises and not to be shattered by any frustrations that one may experience along the way. I feel so fortunate that I am pursuing my childhood passion and making my living out of something that I thoroughly enjoy. When I face any challenge, I always remind myself of this.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

With every recording I feel I am growing and learning more as a musician, as in every concert season. Recording the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for Avie Records in 2006 was a huge undertaking and I am very glad to have accomplished this early in my career. I am happy to have a wide variety of repertoire in my discography: Barber, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann to the less familiar Hans Gál and British composer Ronald Corp. I have two more discs out this year of Brahms solo piano works (Somm) and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (Naxos).

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

We have so many good ones in the UK so it’s hard to single out one. I love Wigmore Hall, The Sage Gateshead, King’s Place and Symphony Hall Birmingham to name but a few. I have happy memories of playing in the Rudolfinum in Prague and also the fine acoustics at the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

From the past, I aspire to the pianism of Sergei Rachmaninov and Artur Rubenstein. I’m a great fan of Murray Perahia and always try and attend his concerts in London whenever I can.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing at the Musikverein when I won the Beethoven Competition in Vienna back in 1993 is high up there. Also the sheer thrill of walking out on stage at the vast Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms is special.

What is your favourite music to play?

I love the music of Schumann and am currently wrapped up in his glorious Carnaval. As a pianist there is endless scope and I am constantly updating my repertoire from season to season.

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

Concentrate on your own goals and try not to be affected by all the pressures around you or make unhealthy comparisons with other musicians.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Lounging on the sofa with my cat on my lap!

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring: a gold band with a blue sapphire, designed by my wife.

English pianist Leon McCawley leapt into prominence when he won both First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of nineteen in 1993.

Since then, McCawley has given highly acclaimed recitals that include London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Lincoln Center New York, Prague Rudolfinum and Vienna Musikverein. McCawley performs frequently with many of the top British orchestras and has performed several times at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 in recital and with many of the BBC orchestras. Further afield he has performed with Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Symphony among many others. Conductors he has worked with include Daniele Gatti, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur and Simon Rattle.

McCawley’s wide-ranging discography has received many accolades including two “Editor’s Choice” awards in Gramophone and a Diapason d’Or for his boxed set of The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.

McCawley studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also worked with Nina Milkina in London.

Leon McCawley is a professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music and is married to the painter, Anna Hyunsook Paik.

www.leonmccawley.com

(Original interview date: April 2012)

 

Several people have asked me to complete the ‘Meet the Artist’ questionnaire myself – so here is my version!

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

I was a very young child when I started playing the piano (around 5 or 6). There was always music in my home as I was growing up: my father played the clarinet in an amateur orchestra and with various ensembles, and my parents regularly attended classical music concerts and operas (the Welsh National Opera had a residency in Birmingham in the 1970s when we lived there). My paternal grandfather had a wonderful Victorian piano (complete with candelabra) on which he played Methodist hymns and bits of Beethoven (whom he adored) and Haydn. The piano stool was full of songs from the 1930s and 1940s, all speckled with age with that special musty smell. I used to sit next to my grandfather as he played.

The piano, or rather piano teaching, has only been my career for just over 5 years. I worked for 10 years in specialist art bookselling and publishing before I had my son. And I didn’t play the piano for a long time after I left university. Coming back to the piano as an adult was hard, and when I started having lessons again in 2008, I realised how much I hadn’t been taught in my teens. I’ve crammed a great deal of study of technique into the last three years: as a result my playing has improved hugely.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My music teacher at school was enthusiastic and encouraging, and my friend Michael, owner of a magnificent Steinway Model B, has always supported my playing: he often leaves music on the rack of his piano for me to look at when I visit. Last time it was Schumann’s ‘Kriesleriana’. A few years ago, I would have looked at it and thought “there’s no way I’ll ever be able to play that!”. Now, when I pick up new music, I think “where shall I start?!”.

My current teacher is very supportive and encouraging, and has taught me confidence and self-belief. Through her courses, I have met other pianists and piano students who have helped to broaden my musical horizons.

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

Setting up my own piano teaching studio from scratch and learning “how to be a piano teacher”. I have no formal training as a teacher, but when I started teaching I knew how I didn’t want to do it! (remembering dull lessons as a child). Overcoming my lack of confidence about my own playing, trusting my musical instincts (I am horrendously self-critical), and learning how to become a performer have also been important, positive challenges.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The Wigmore Hall is my spiritual home, but I also like Cadogan Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. St John’s Smith Square is a beautiful venue, but cold in the winter! Each has its own distinctive atmosphere.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I particularly admire musicians who are able to stand back from the music and allow it to speak, who do not place their personality/ego before the music, and who are able to get to the very heart of what the music is about. My pianistic heroes/heroines are Sviatoslav Richter, John Lill, Mitsuko Uchida (especially in Mozart and Schubert), Murray Perahia (Bach, Chopin and Brahms), Maria Joao Pires (Schubert), Claudio Arrau (Beethoven), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Messiaen and Liszt). Surface artifice, “look at me” antics, and flashy piano pyrotechnics do not interest me.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

British pianist John Lill playing Chopin’s B-flat minor Sonata at the Southbank Centre in the early 1980s. Lill was in tears as he took his curtain calls, and members of the audience actually threw red roses onto the stage.

A concert of Baroque music in a tiny Byzantine church in Zadar, Croatia, c.1985.

As for my own performances (which are growing more frequent), my Diploma recital in December remains memorable: the setting (a lovely 18th-century room in Trinity College of Music), the pianos (both warm-up piano and concert instrument were fine Steinways), and the recital itself. I was surprised at the tricks one’s mind can play in such an intense and very concentrated situation like a performance: I had several “out of body” moments as I played, and at the end of the Schubert E-flat Impromptu, I recall thinking, “halfway through now – we can go to the pub soon!”.  I enjoyed every minute of it, including the river bus trip to and from the college in Greenwich, but the actual performance was very special for me: it confirmed and endorsed all that I do at the piano, day in day out.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

At the moment, I am working on music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninov and Messiaen. As a pianist, I feel it is essential to always have some Bach somewhere in one’s repertoire as his music offers so much: instructional and intellectual. Liszt is a fairly recent discovery for me: I’d avoided learning him for years, fearing it would be just too difficult (not true!). I’ve stayed clear of the more flashy, popular, virtuosic works, preferring to explore his more intimate, spiritual and intellectual music. Likewise, Messiaen is very spiritual and intellectual, and his music puts us in touch with concepts that are far bigger than us. He was also a synaesthete (as I am) which interests me.

My tastes change quite frequently, and I am often inspired to learn something after hearing it in concert or on the radio. I listen to a wide range of music, and my reviewing role for Bachtrack.com has enabled me to enjoy even more fine live music. I feel it’s important to keep one’s ears open to as many musical influences as possible.

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

A love of the instrument and its repertoire; that one should strive for accuracy and musicality at all times; that music is for sharing.

How has blogging informed your teaching/playing?

I started this blog originally as a place where I could set down ideas and thoughts I had while at the piano, but it has gradually expanded into something more wide-ranging. I enjoy the exchange of ideas that comes when people leave comments, and the opportunity to share thoughts about music and teaching with other pianists and teachers around the world. The ‘Meet the Artist’ series is proving fascinating, with so many varied, and sometimes very honest, responses.

What are you working on at the moment?

Bach – Concerto in D minor after Marcello BWV 974

Mozart – Rondo in A minor, K511

Debussy – Images: ‘Hommage à Rameau’

Liszt – Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

Messiaen – Prelude No. 2

Rachmaninov – Etudes-Tableaux, Op 33, nos. 2 and 7 (sometimes listed as No. 4 – in E flat)

Read my reviews for Bachtrack.com here

The ‘Meet the Artist’ series continues on this blog: the next interviewee is pianist Leon McCawley.

How music is catalogued

To help us identify and organise pieces of music by a particular composer, individual compositions or sets are usually given an “Opus” number. The word “opus” is Latin and means “work” or “work of art”. The abbreviation is “Op.”, or “Opp.” in the plural. The practice of assigning an “opus number” to a work or set of works when the work or set was published began in the seventeenth century. Opus numbers were not usually used in chronological order and did not necessarily denote when a work was actually composed. Unpublished works often were left without opus numbers.

From the 1800s onwards, Beethoven in particular assigned opus numbers to individual works and sets (including piano pieces, songs and other short works) as they were completed and published: low opus numbers indicate early works, while high opus numbers (for example, the Piano Sonata Opus 110) are works composed and published at the end of Beethoven’s life. Works published posthumousaly (after death) were also assigned high opus numbers, while some works were not given an opus number at all, and were later catalogued in the 1950s as WoO (Werke ohne opus/’works without opus number’). These include the three ‘Electoral’ piano sonatas, written when Beethoven was a very young man, which are not usually included with the main body of the Piano Sonatas (32 in total, whose opus numbers range from Opus 2 to Opus 111).

Not all music has an opus number. The music of Bach is given a ‘BWV’ number, which is an abbreviation of “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” (literally, “directory of Bach’s works”), and was the cataloguing system for Bach’s music used by Wolfgang Smieder in the 1950s.

Similarly, Mozart’s music is catalogued with “K numbers” from the name of the cataloguer, Köchel. A low K number indicates a piece written when Mozart was very young, while a high number indicates a piece written at the end of his life. Some people know the works by their K numbers alone.

Ralph Kirkpatrick catalogued the numerous works of Domenico Scarlatti in a facsimile edition, and so these pieces are also given a K number, usually written “Kk” to distinguish it from Mozart’s Köchel number. To make matters slightly more confusing, Scarlatti’s works also have a “Longo number” after Alessandro Longo’s edition for the piano. The Kk and Longo numbers do not correspond, which can make identifying a particular work by Scarlatti tricky; fortunately, there are tables of Kk and Longo numbers available online to help clear up such discrepancies.

Confused? Read on…..

Haydn’s works are generally referred to by their Hob or Hoboken numbers, after the cataloguer Anthony von Hoboken’s classification, though some have Opus numbers alone. The works are also grouped into categories, for example, I for symphonies, or XVI for the piano sonatas. The Piano Sonatas have both a work number and a Hob. number, which, like the works of Scarlatti, make identification more confusing.

Schubert’s works have both Opus and “Deutsch” numbers (after Otto Erich Deutsch’s catalogue). The first set of Impromptus for piano, for example, are both Opus 90 and D899. (I tend to refer to Schubert’s piano music by its D number, because that is how I have always known it.)

Music specialists and academics often also refer to the “autographed score” or “autograph version”. These are original scores, written out by the composer, or transcribed by an assistant, and represent the first finished version, and are important historical documents in the scholarship of a particular composer’s works (over the years, music is subjected to editing; in recent years, scholars have gone back to autographed editions to understand the composer’s original intentions or to clear up questions of attribution or interpretation). Very occasionally, an original autographed score will come to light, which was previously thought to be lost, or non-existent, which can create a lot of excitement amongst music specialists and academics, as well as fetching significant sums at auction. In 2009, researchers unearthed two pieces of music thought to have been written by Mozart when he was still a boy, and earlier this year a ‘new’ piece by Mozart was premiered, after an autographed notebook was found in the attic of a house in Austria.

Autograph score sheet of 10th Bagatelle Opus 119 by Ludwig van Beethoven

This post first appeared on my piano studio blog www.franspianostudio.wordpress.com

This is not a post about how to transcribe piano music for a full orchestra, or ensemble, but rather some thoughts on how imagining certain instruments and visualising sounds can help shape piano music, creating an exciting and contrasting sound world.

I often remind my students that the piano can be “any instrument you want it to be”: a trumpet, a cello, a bass drum, shimmering violins, mellow woodwind, a pure soprano voice. And beyond, to the sounds of the natural world: rain dripping, ice creaking, birdsong, fluttering wings, sighing trees, a dog barking, a horse’s hooves. Some students just look blankly at me – and then at the piano. “It’s just a piano”, they seem to be thinking. “How can it be anything else?”. Others are quick to embrace this idea, and a short exercise in which we “imagine the sound” before we play can make a huge difference to the kind of sound produced. This exercise has been particularly helpful in two pieces I am teaching for Trinity Guildhall graded exams, Fanfare for the Common Cold (Grade 2) and Song of Twilight (Grade 3), about which I have written on my piano studio blog (see posts here and here). The piano is a percussive instrument: the sound it produces comes from the mechanical action of a hammer hitting a string, a set of actions initiated by the finger striking a key. The balance, timbre and quality of the sound is controlled by the pianist; the suggestion of other instruments comes from the imagination of the pianist.

A great deal of piano music naturally lends itself to “orchestration”, and you can easily hear within its measures the other instruments the composer had in mind: bright, shiny trumpets in the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableaux Op 33 No. 4 (sometimes also listed at No. 7); tremolo strings in the repeated triplet figures in the exposition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 31 No. 2, the ‘Tempest’, the purity of the human voice in many of Chopin’s work, and particularly in Schubert. Such effects are not only to imply other instruments, but also to help create atmosphere.

Sometimes, a piece is a direct transcription from an orchestral work, such as Bach’s D minor Concerto after Marcello BWV 974, which I have been studying. Bach obviously knew the original work and his transcription for keyboard retains many of the features and textures of Marcello’s original concerto, while also taking advantage of the textural and sonic possibilities of the harpsichord. One makes another leap of interpretation when playing this music on the piano: I don’t try to imitate the harpsichord because that is impossible, but there are certain textural gestures which suggest a harpsichord.

French composer Olivier Messiaen often includes directions in his scores to help the pianist imagine and recreate the sound he wanted: “xylophone” and “oiseaux” (birds) both appear in my score of the Vingt Regard IV. (Messiaen also annotated his scores with colours, but that is another blog post…..!)

I gave this post the title “Orchestrating Mozart….” because it is Mozart’s A minor Rondo K511 which has received the most detailed “orchestration” from me in the course of my study of it. This late work offers so many of the key elements of Mozart’s music in the microcosm of a piano miniature: the beautiful aria of the Rondo theme; later on, string quartet textures and articulation, solo violin and ‘cello, grand operatic statements, even trumpets and woodwind. With all these different sounds – coming together, answering one another, or playing solo – a most interesting and contrasting piece of music is created. This “orchestrating” of the music does not make it any more complicated to play; if anything, it has simplified the music for me, bringing what I hope is a purer, more ‘musically aware’ interpretation.

Alongside this orchestration exercise, it is always worth listening around the piece you are studying to set the music in context of the composer’s other works. For the Mozart Rondo, the following pieces are particularly helpful:

from The Magic Flute, Act II – ‘Ach, ich fühls, es ist entschwunden’ (Pamina)

Piano Sonata, No. 8 in A minor, K 310 – II Andante Cantabile

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K 485 – II Adagio

Here is Mitsuko Uchida in the Rondo in A minor, K511, for me the best performance of this work (link opens in Spotify):

Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K.511

 

“Die Bildung des Ohres ist wichtiger, als die der Hand.”

(“The cultivation of the ear is more important that that of the hand”)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?

My grandfather was a coal miner who loved music. He encouraged me to get involved. He and my mum talked music a lot, and I gradually began to find out about composers. From the first day I picked up an instrument I knew I wanted to be a composer, although at that stage I did not know what that would mean.

Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?

As a young boy it was Beethoven and Wagner. Later it was the great contrapuntalists like Palestrina and Bach who taught me about complexity. In the 20th century it was my fellow Catholic Messiaen.

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

I have never thought of it as a career. I have a wide range of interests, including politics, which sometime impinge directly on my work. Being a ‘public figure’ in Scotland can bring unwelcome aggression, and while it may have nothing to do with music, it can’t help interfere with my life and work sometimes.

Which compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am pleased with all the recordings I have made but I only regard them as a secondary activity to composing. I am usually most absorbed in the most recent works, which are a new orchestral work for Marin Alsop, a setting of the Credo for this year’s BBC Proms and a new work for the Edinburgh Festival.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have a special admiration for choirs, and especially those choirs which have children on the top line, producing music of the highest quality and complexity. Therefore some of the British ‘church’ choirs like Westminster Cathedral and King’s College Cambridge, who have sung my music recently, are near the top of my list.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Conducting my St John Passion in Copenhagen, Brussels and Liverpool.

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

They should learn how to handle complexity – study Palestrina and Bach!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished a brass band piece for Black Dyke Mills, and I have now embarked on a setting of the St Luke Passion.

What is your most treasured possession?

An actual relic of Blessed John Henry Newman.

What is your present state of mind?

Fulfilled and chilled!

 

James MacMillan is one of today’s most successful living composers and is also internationally active as a conductor. His musical language is flooded with influences from his Scottish heritage, Catholic faith, social conscience and close connection with Celtic folk music, blended with influences from Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European music. His major works include percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which has received more than 400 performances, a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, large scale choral-orchestral work Quickening, and three symphonies. Recent major works include his St John Passion, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Boston Symphony and Rundfunkchor Berlin, and his Violin Concerto, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Concertgebouw Zaterdag Matinee and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris.

James MacMillan at Boosey & Hawkes