Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My chosen instrument is the voice, but I actually began my musical journey playing the flute. I was 14 years old when I was sitting in a corridor playing, then humming the passages back and fourth. The choir tutor heard me humming and asked me enthusiastically “why aren’t you in choir? you have a great voice!”. (At my school, you could only choose either band or choir because they clashed.) Soon after, the choir teacher created an after-school choir, and I joined. Inevitably, the choir fell apart but I continued to sing and she began to teach me privately. It was in our private lessons that she would teach me about Italian art song, folk song, lieder and eventually, opera. A few years later, I went to Cleveland Heights High School and received great guidance from my choral director. By the time I was 18, I was apart of every singing ensemble at the school, except Men’s Chorus! It was at this point that my choir director said “you were born for this” and I knew I had to become a professional singer.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been many, many influences and wonderful people in my life who’ve helped to cultivate my musical career. Early on, my high school choral director Craig Macgaughy influenced me the most. He opened my eyes to all different types of music and always encouraged me to audition for solos, to stand tall and to be proud my performance. “You must bow!” he would yell from the wings, as I leaned forward, feeling like I was going to crumble – but I never did. He didn’t allow it. Later in life, I went to the Manhattan School of Music and began to study voice with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell, whom I still study with. This is where I truly began to find my voice and my confidence as an opera singer. It was here that I learned about the bel canto technique, specifics about how the voice and breath are always connected, and how to truly breathe life into whatever I’m singing. I learned how to be a professional opera singer and I recognized I am an artist in my own right, which redirected my approach to music in its entirety.

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

One of the things I find challenging is the lack of time I have to spend time with family and friends. I think in any competitive career, striking a work-life balance can be difficult. With opera, the travelling makes dates and deadlines fairly inflexible. I’ve missed a couple of weddings and baby-showers because I have a rehearsal or a performance far away. As I get older and more experienced, I am finding ways to make time for both work and my personal life, but I believe that being an artist in the professional realm requires a lot of focus and dedication. This is a small sacrifice, as the pros heavily outweigh the cons in this business. As a result, my friends have started giving me dates more than a year in advance, to ensure my attendance!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve had the privilege of performing at Buckingham Palace singing Strauss’ Morgen with orchestra for a gala sponsored by HRH Prince Charles of Wales and The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD). That performance sticks out to me because I met a lot of wonderful people, including Shirley Bassey, who enjoyed my performance and later gave me a scholarship to help with tuition while at RWCMD. I’ve also had the pleasure of singing for HRH Prince Charles of Wales at private events, singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff and singing Verdi’s 4 Sacred pieces under Sir Mark Elder with the Hallé Orchestra. Favourite opera to date: definitely Falstaff as Alice Ford under Maestro Carlo Rizzi at RWCMD. She is such a fun, witty character to play!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Generally, I enjoy to singing Opera and lieder from the romantic period. I find that the texture and colour of my voice fit the characters, and naturally pick up on the nuances of the repertoire. Composers like Puccini, Verdi, Strauss, and Donizetti really speak to me. All clearly different and distinct in their own right, but it’s something about the words. The way these composers set them to music, develop a story within a story, paint the music with the words and the vocal lines – it’s like magic to me. I recently did a performance of Strauss’ Opus. 27 and I believe this music is all encompassing. It shows, musicality, difficulty in keeping the legato line always shimmering, and all the while thoroughly expressing the meaning of the text. I get to take the audience on a journey, rather than give them a performance of songs. There are, however, many composers that I adore outside of this period, including Beethoven and my beloved Mozart, who wrote some of the most beautiful and timeless melodies I’ve ever encountered. I am also passionate about American Negro Spirituals and I enjoy singing works and arrangements by Moses Hogan, Margaret Bonds and most recently, Ricky Ian Gordan.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Each year, I have a point where I sit down and evaluate where I am in my career and my singing. I am very aware of my constant development and of what is required to sustain and longevity in my career. I work with my teacher and my coaches to create 3 categories: Repertoire that shows what I can do now, rep that I am working on/will do in the next few years, and rep for the further future. After I’ve got my three categories, I then decide whether to accept or decline offers based on the criteria above and I do not waiver. I feel strongly that once I’ve decided a role isn’t appropriate, it is not a good idea to go for it anyway. I believe you do yourself more harm by singing a role or piece of work prematurely, rather than waiting until the time is right. I understand that sometimes exceptions must be made, and that’s OK. However, there is a difference between doing something well and doing something so well that it exceeds expectation. “Can I do this?” “Can I do this well?” “Can I knock this out of the park?” The answers to all of these questions should always be “yes” before you take the work.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’m not sure that I have a favourite venue to perform in because I get excited anywhere I get to sing. That being said, I love singing at St. Martin-in-the-Fields because the church is beautiful and the audience is very diverse, being right in central London. I also love singing in intimate recital venues, where I can see and interact with people in the audience. For opera, I love the big stages/opera houses like the London Coliseum at ENO and the beautiful grounds and theatre at Glyndebourne. Quite excited for The Met next season!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Whitney Houston, Leontyne Price, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, Vladmir Horowitz, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Enya, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gellespie – to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did performance a long while ago at Oberlin in Italy from a scene in I Capuleti e i Montecchi and I remember finishing the performance and one of my friends who played in the orchestra was sobbing uncontrollably. When I asked him what was wrong, he said it was “the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen”. He’d never really heard opera or been a fan of the type of singing we do, but he was forever changed after that seeing that one scene. From then onward I learned just how powerful music is and how important it is for the betterment of our society.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Performing all over the world, making connections with all walks of life, moving something within someone’s soul, empowering women and men alike, inspiring those who’ll follow in my footsteps, creating a life that is filled with love, laughter, good food and beautiful music – this is what success looks like to me.

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

I like to keep things simple. So:

Be prepared. Be on time. Be a good colleague. Love what you do. Even if you don’t actually love it, find something in it that excites you. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. Trust the process, but also know that it’s perfectly acceptable to go the road less travelled. Trust yourself and trust your instincts. No one knows you better than yourself. Every once in a while, Stop. Relax. Smell the flowers and experience all that life has to offer. Seems cliché but most musicians need to be reminded from time to time that we are human, and that’s OK.

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

In ten years time, I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing now: Singing at amazing opera houses and venues all over the world! I also hope to expand my efforts to help introduce classical music to children and adolescents, particularly from rough backgrounds. I want to start a foundation that serves as a gateway to the art form, and provides lessons and coaching to kids, regardless of their parents’ financial ability. Second to singing, this is a passion of mine and I am quite excited to see this through over time.

What is your most treasured possession?

It’s not particularly treasured, but one thing I travel with is place mat that I bought from Paris when I was 20 years old. It was my first time going overseas and I’ve had it with me on every trip since. Also quite handy, since I usually have an herbal tea at my bedside. I’m never ruin the antique tables, dressers etc. that I come in contact with at some of my amazing house and hotel stays. Simple but it gives me a sense of comfort, which is nice when you’re away for months on end.

What is your present state of mind?

I have this feeling of eagerness, or readiness bubbling in me. I’m excited to get my hands dirty and to delve into new projects. I am ready to take my artistic skills to the next level and I wake up every day thinking of new ways to challenge myself. I carve through my rep, paying close attention to the small details. I feel a sense of jubilation, like every day is a new adventure. I feel grateful, humble and blessed to be able to do what I love for a living. I live in a state of blessed assuredness.


Praised for her attractive singing by the New York Times, American soprano is the newest sensation on the international opera scene. Engagements this season include her debut with Welsh National Opera as Anna Gomez in The Consul, and her upcoming debut at The Metropolitan Opera as Annie in Porgy and Bess. She returns to St. David’s Church for a performance of the Mozart Requiem with Cardiff Philharmonic Choir, under Maestro Alun Guy. This season also marks the premier of Chanae’s original composition “My Words in People’s Ears” commissioned by contemporary artist, Anna Falcini in her latest exhibition, In Between the Folds are Particles.

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(Artist photo: Harlequin Agency)

246x0wTido Music, the innovative music learning app, has partnered with prestigious conservatoire the Royal College of Music (RCM), London. Committed to supporting music education, Tido will fund RCM student subscriptions to the app until 31st March 2020. Throughout the course of their subscriptions, students will use Tido Music to assist their studies and will be asked to give feedback on the app, contributing to its future development. The initiative will be extended to the RCM Junior Department next month.

Available as an iPad app or via desktop browser, Tido Music provides almost 10,000 piano and vocal scores from world-leading publishers, including Urtext editions from Bärenreiter and Edition Peters. Students will be able to find and access repertoire instantly and listen to professional audio recordings synced to the notation.

Piano accompaniment recordings are included with the vocal repertoire, enabling singers to practise with the piano part at any time, and innovative pitch-shift and speed-shift tools allow the accompaniments to be adjusted for individual needs. Additional audio tools such as looping will further enhance practice sessions. Tido’s proprietary technology means that the app can even listen to and follow pianists as they play, turning the pages of the score automatically.

Students will also discover rich educational materials such as video masterclasses from concert pianists and scholarly commentaries on the music. The practical and artistic insights offered in the masterclasses may help inform students’ understanding and interpretation of their repertoire.

Stephen Johns, Artistic Director of the Royal College of Music, said: ‘We are delighted to be collaborating with Tido Music, giving our students the chance to be at the cutting edge of music learning technology and benefit from the app’s many innovative features. Working with digital scores is a valuable experience in itself as the music sector becomes increasingly digitally focused. Through the Royal College of Music’s various digital development initiatives we are ensuring that our students are well equipped for 21st century music careers.’

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Brad Cohen, Founder of Tido, commented: ‘Using technology to enhance music education is at the heart of what we believe in at Tido. We’re thrilled to be partnering with such an illustrious institution as we continue to develop our product and further tailor it to the needs of music students. We look forward to working with RCM students directly throughout the course of their free subscription.’


Tido Music is a revolutionary digital subscription service for pianists and singers. Available as an iPad app or via desktop browser, the service provides sheet music, audio recordings, videos, interactive practice tools, written commentaries and images. For students, teachers, and amateur to professional performers, Tido Music offers unparalleled guidance and inspiration.

Tido was founded in 2013 when conductor and editor, Brad Cohen, collaborated with one of the world’s leading music publishers, Edition Peters. Kathryn Knight, former Publishing Director at Faber Music, joined the company as CEO in 2014. In 2015 Tido partnered with Faber Music to create the award-winning ‘Mastering the Piano with Lang Lang app’, and Tido’s flagship app Tido Music was released in late 2016.

Tido works with renowned publishers, artists, exam boards and institutions across the world including Bärenreiter, Edition Peters, Faber Music, Trinity College London and Wellington College International Shanghai.

Tido Music costs £4.99 per month after a 30-day free trial as standard.


Source: Tido Music press release

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

Unless they’ve been living in a cave for the past 30 years, most people have heard about mindfulness. I offer piano lessons in Portland, Oregon, and it’s difficult to go for long in my West Coast city without hearing about a new application or research study related to it. Mindfulness – bringing intentional awareness to one’s experience in the present moment – is said to reduce stress, improve one’s relationships, diminish chronic pain, improve productivity at work, and much more.

Gigantic corporations such as Google, hundreds of hospitals, schools and colleges, and even the military are all touting mindfulness. If mindfulness is good enough for Google, might it be useful in piano pedagogy? I believe the answer is yes.

In fact, I believe there are numerous potential applications of mindfulness in the piano studio that are only now beginning to be considered. Learning to play an instrument as multifaceted as the piano requires so many faculties (cognitive, emotional, kinesthetic) that cultivating a deeper awareness of our present moment experience is sure to help. Piano students (and teachers!) can easily become stressed. One of the primary functions of mindfulness (particularly in healthcare settings) is reducing stress. Piano students need to acquire a high degree of concentration. Mindfulness is most often taught with a focus on developing concentration. Pianists need to be able to feel their emotions deeply in order to express the emotional content of the music. Paying attention to one’s emotional experience is a vital element of mindfulness practice.

But mindfulness of the body, of one’s somatic experience and movements – which coincidentally is how mindfulness is usually first taught to beginners – is perhaps most relevant for most piano students. Mindfulness has immense efficacy in its capacity to enhance our awareness of our physical well-being and, not unrelated, our piano technique. In order to remain healthy by avoiding injuries due to faulty technique or overpracticing, awareness of the body and the impact of our practice habits is bound to be beneficial for most serious students. And since piano technique essentially boils down to how we situate ourselves and move the body to play, enhancing our awareness of the body (posture, position etc.) and how we move is sure to expedite improvements in our technique.

After all, the statistics are alarming. A large percentage of serious pianists, such as college music students or professional musicians, will be compromised physically at some point, most often due to a repetitive stress injury (RSI). Changing practice habits and routines, taking better care of one’s overall health, and even learning injury-prevention techniques such as the Taubman technique – which I have studied intensively – are all bound to be useful for the injured pianist, or the pianist who wishes to avoid injuries. Each of these strategies can be enhanced by practicing mindfulness. How?

One of the most common applications of mindfulness, as I explained above, is to reduce stress, and disorders and ailments aggravated or brought on by stress. Reducing one’s stress is likely to minimize the impact of playing, even with inferior technique – on one’s body.

In addition to stress reduction, mindfulness can help pianists become healthier and better players. Like athletes, musicians require some degree of body awareness simply to learn the instrument. Cultivating body awareness can help players become aware of habits of tension that may lead to injury down the road. Body awareness is also necessary for becoming a better player, i.e. for learning new techniques (ways of moving). Most musicians can be more “body aware” than they are. Mindfulness, in my experience, is one of the best ways to enhance body awareness and secure the benefits that brings.

How can piano teachers bring mindfulness into the studio? Just as piano teachers are expected to “practice what they preach” – i.e. play the piano well before teaching it – it’s also useful for teachers to practice mindfulness before teaching it to others.

Mindfulness is most often taught with an orientation on the body, in particularly towards the natural rhythm and “bare” physical sensations of breathing. “Bare” means awareness of one’s actual felt sensory experience. So a good way for music teachers to begin is by practicing “mindfulness of breathing” or “mindfulness of the body.” There are numerous free audio meditations online, and I offer a set of my own guided audio meditations for piano teachers and students on my blog.

After you’ve practiced mindfulness for awhile, and begin to understand how it works (or if you have already done that) you might be eager to try introducing mindfulness to a student to support their musical health, or when teaching technique. For example, say a student is struggling to learn a new way of moving, and they keep falling back into old habits. You might say:

Would you be willing to try a brief body awareness exercise that may help? OK…close your eyes for a moment, rest your hands on your lap, and tune into the rhythm of your breathing.” (Note: You, the teacher, might want to follow your own instructions by practicing mindfulness with your student as you lead them.)

(pause)

Be aware of the bare sensations of breathing wherever it’s easiest to feel them.

(pause)

Let your breathing do its own thing. Allow the breath to be as it is. You don’t need to change anything.”

(pause)

Now tune into your body. Feel your whole body, sitting here on the bench. Notice any tension or contraction in any part of the body. Let it be as it is.”

(pause)

“Now tune into your right forearm. What sensations do you notice? Be aware of any tension or contraction. If it relaxes or melts away, great. If it doesn’t, just let it be.”

(pause)

Now tune into your right hand. Notice what it feels like to have a hand. Notice the life in your hand. Notice energy flowing, tension, and any other sensations, pleasant or unpleasant.”

(repeat for left forearm and hand)

Now open your eyes and practice the technique we’re working on, with mindful awareness of your body and the movements you’re making.”

This brief exercise can help students to become more naturally aware of their body generally and playing “equipment” specifically (in particular the arms and hands). From this awareness, students may begin to notice that they are habitually moving in certain tense or less-than-efficient ways, which sets the stage for naturally dropping these habits and learning new ones.

Mindfulness offers much more, of course, but a gentle introduction with a specific orientation towards the piano is often the best way to start.


Doug Hanvey taught an undergraduate mindfulness class, The Art of Meditation, at Indiana University Bloomington from 2007-2014. He currently teaches piano in Portland, Oregon.

Guest article by Joanna Wyld

In anticipation of the premiere of our new opera, The Gardeners, on 18 June at Conway Hall, Robert Hugill has written about the genesis of the work

The story of how I came to write the libretto, and the significance of that experience, starts a little further back. When I was studying music at university, I loved writing about it, but I also loved writing it – under the guidance of Robert Saxton – to the extent that I went on to take a Masters in Composition, taught by George Benjamin, Rob Keeley and Jonathan Cole. But I also had to make a living, and composing is a notoriously precarious profession, so I channelled my creative instincts into writing about music. Soon, I felt pretty confident that I’m a better writer than composer, and have loved writing every programme note, every CD liner note, since. Yet alongside that experience there has always been the urge to produce something original for its own sake, so when a friend asked if I might be interested in writing a libretto for Robert Hugill, not only did I jump at the chance, I also felt rather stupid that the idea hadn’t occurred to me before. ‘Librettist’ seemed the perfect fusion of my interests, my loves – but was I up to it?

I met Robert Hugill at his house and he welcomed me with tea in his sunny kitchen. Absurdly, this is the only time we’ve met in person, but there’s a long history of composers and librettists working together remotely and through correspondence, so we’re in good company. Robert’s vision for The Gardeners was clear from the outset. He had read an article about a family of gardeners tending war graves and felt that this subject was ripe for operatic treatment, exploring issues of radicalisation as well as family dynamics. The Dead themselves were to feature, audible only to the Old Gardener – at first. The written style was to be pithy, using short phrases, and adapting lines from poetry by A.E. Housman and Rabindranath Tagore.

Before starting to write, I ordered myself a volume of Tagore’s texts and started to get to know them, as well as re-reading the article. I’d originally envisaged poring over other libretti – I’m a bit suspicious when I encounter writers who don’t also read extensively in order to learn from others – but Robert’s ideas were so clear that the first scene came naturally, and it felt right not to muddy the waters with too many other voices. I wanted Robert’s voice to come through, as well as my own and those of Housman and Tagore. That seemed enough.

However, I did have an idea of what I was aiming to avoid. Ronald Duncan’s libretto to Britten’s chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia (in which I’d played the flute years before in a production directed by Ryan Wigglesworth), has come in for some criticism for its rather trite sewing up of a complex and sensitive subject. My aim was to dodge where possible the same pitfalls, by allowing tensions to surface and ambiguities to breathe without neatly resolving them. As a result, The Gardeners asks more questions than it answers, but with issues such as radicalisation this seems appropriate; this is a contemporary problem with no easy solution.

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For the choice of language, my experiences as a composer came into play. I love setting words to music (I still occasionally write songs for my band), and it helped me to remember that process whilst writing this libretto. Words which, when combined, sit well together and possess a musicality, a distinct rhythm, inevitably lend themselves to musical treatment. I also remembered reading letters between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath discussing the weight and density of words, and how the energy of two paired words needs to be complimentary rather than overly similar. Hughes wrote to Plath about her poem, Touch-and-Go: ‘… there is a traffic confusion I think in “Fierce flaming game of Quick child” – do you think “Quick flaring game Of child, leaf or cloud” because the “Fierce flaring” are two consecutive likenesses, and have been too often the double tap of the hammer… Well in verse the tendency is to follow an adjective that’s working with an idle timing one, so that adjectives tend to go in pairs. Well in “fierce flaring” an old couple has come up…’ Plath changed “fierce flaring” to “quick flaring” and the difference is palpable. I bore this in mind and tried to avoid ‘traffic confusion’ or ‘the double tap of the hammer’.

As for characterisation, I hoped to give a clear sense of each personality without resorting to types, allowing room for each of our artists to bring their own interpretation to their character. The Angry Young Man’s frustration can be damaging, but we also understand why he resents the invaders of his country, and he grows during the course of the opera. The Old Gardener casts a long shadow over his family, and the Gardener is caught between these two strong figures, trying to keep the peace. The Mother and Grandmother offer insight and wry observations in their attempts to mend relationships; both do their share of peace-making and eye-rolling, but neither is spared the sardonic wit of the other.

I sent each scene to Robert at regular intervals. He would tweak the text as needed, and in turn would send back his composition as it unfolded – and I would enjoy listening as The Gardeners grew. At each stage we discussed the direction of the plot, and although the whole process took some time – we’re both busy people with other commitments – it felt remarkably straightforward. I hope to have the chance to write more libretti in future, but in the meantime, I loved working with Robert Hugill, I’m really proud of The Gardeners, and I look forward to its premiere. See you there.

The Gardeners by Robert Hugill with libretto by Joanna Wyld receives its world premiere at Conway Hall, London, on Tuesday 18 June 2019, conducted by William Vann

Further information and tickets

© Joanna Wyld, April 2019


img_0904Joanna Wyld was born and educated in London before reading Music at New College, Oxford, where she was an Instrumental Scholar. She was listed as one of the Women of Distinction in 25 Years of Women at New College.

Joanna established Notes upon Notes in 2004 and has been writing liner notes, programme notes and other copy for a wide range of artists and record labels ever since. She also worked on Stop The Traffik for Steve Chalke and Cherie Blair, a book used as a resource by the UN.

Joanna won the 2014 OUP spoof Grove Dictionary article competition, as well as both second and third runner-up slots.

She curates playlists for classical streaming service IDAGIO, and recently appeared in a Southbank Centre video introducing a concert at the new Queen Elizabeth Hall. Joanna is Editor at Odradek Records, and has written her first libretto for an opera by Robert Hugill.

Notes upon Notes

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

One of my earliest memories is going to our neighbour’s house to play on their piano. Irene had been a professional singer and I remember spending a lot of time making up music – I must have been 4 or 5 – and she was really encouraging.

I got hold of a recording of Debussy’s La Mer when I was 11 or 12. I grew up a few minutes walk from the beach and I remember being absolutely blown away by Debussy’s ability to paint pictures with sound. The piece is still one of my favourites.

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

I went to the Royal Academy of Music junior department when I was 14. I was at a very sporty comprehensive boys school and those Saturdays opened up a whole new world of opportunity. My lessons were supported by a county council scholarship and it saddens me that these specialist opportunities for ‘normal kids’ from ‘normal schools’ are now so scarce. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that experience.

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

I had a real crisis of confidence about my composition at university. There’s a real pressure nowadays to have everything sorted early on I definitely feel that it took me until my 30s to write music which I was happy with and which I felt was honest and representative of me. Some composers do get themselves sorted very early on and the composing and publishing world perpetuates that, but through my teaching work, I’m aware how off-putting this can be for those who need to develop their creativity more slowly.

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

I always feel that the rough guideline of a commission helps to put a few marks on the terrifying blank piece of paper. Some ideas of timing, instrumentation and occasion do help to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write some pieces for special occasions [wedding anniversaries/birthdays/weddings] and it’s lovely to be reminded in this context that music is a gift: we are as composers giving music to an audiences and performers and its important to be mindful of that when we’re composing.

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

It’s a real treat to write music for musicians we’ve got to know. I wrote quite a few pieces for the Schubert Ensemble and it was a real pleasure to develop a real working relationship with an ensemble. The concerto I wrote for Simon Blendis [From Crystal Heav’ns Above] grew out of my relationship with the Schubert Ensemble and it feels like a very personal piece because of that.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’ve written a series of concerti over the last while. Aside from the violin concerto for Simon, I was commissioned by the Presteigne Fetival to write a new concerto for pianist Tom Poster [Laments and Lullabies] and wrote an oboe concerto [The Rider from Artemision] for Magdalen College School in Oxford last year. There’s something about the concerto genre which I love – the inherent narrative and drama seems to suit me.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

So this is the question I’ve been dreading. I mentioned the crisis of confidence I had in my late teens and twenties and it was due in part to spending time with composers with a very clear idea about what was ‘good contemporary music’. I’m delighted that many of the composers I teach now have a delightfully broad and eclectic outlook but I really felt a bit suffocated by what I felt was a very narrow band of composers writing music which didn’t speak to me.

People often describe my music as lyrical, a label which I’m happy with. And I always consider audiences and players when I’m writing – that triangle between composer, audience and performer is the holy trinity of composition as far as I’m concerned!

How do you work?

I was the slowest composer I ken for a very long time but I do write more quickly and more instinctively than I used to. I think you get better at trusting your own judgement.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I mentioned Debussy earlier and my interest in his music is a constant. Michael Tippett has always been a big inspiration: his music is so full of energy and colour and he was someone who very much ploughed his own furrow: the music is very distinctive, adventurous and creative. In the same mould, perhaps, is Judith Weir. I know a piece of hers after I’ve heard 2 bars: her musical language is not really like any one else’s and I’m always drawn into her sound world immediately. I’ve shared my life for many years with composer Alasdair Nicolson and he’s a great inspiration personally and compositionally. His music has real clarity and he’s one of the finest orchestrators I know.

I grew up in a music-loving household. Mum and Dad spent their 20’s at concerts of all of the jazz greats [Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong]. I know the great American songbook recordings back to front and Nelson Riddle’s orchestrations are second to none.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’m delighted when an audience member pops up and says how much they got from a performance of one of my pieces.

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

Be yourself, trust your instincts.


David Knotts first came to public attention as a finalist in the 1994 Young Musician of the Year Competition when the London Sinfonietta premiered his first large scale work, Songs of Parting. The exceptional warmth and lyricism of these Whitman settings brought interest from many quarters and a string of commissions from some of the country’s finest soloists, orchestras and chamber-music ensembles followed.

These have included the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Endymion Ensemble, English National Opera, the Composers Ensemble, the Britten Estate (to celebrate the re-opening of Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall) and a series of pieces for the Schubert Ensemble.

Born in West Sussex in 1972, David Knotts began formal piano tuition at the age of seven. His interest in composition soon followed and he studied for five years as a junior exhibitioner at the Royal Academy of Music. He went on to study with Robin Holloway at Cambridge University, Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and completed a doctorate in composition with Martin Butler in 2004. In 2007, he was made an honorary associate of the Royal Academy of Music where he has taught since 1994 and is also a member of staff at Trinity College of Music.

The genesis of David Knotts’ intensely lyrical and personal style can be traced back to his early settings of Walt Whitman. Since their première, he has been preoccupied with poetry and prose as a source of inspiration. Many of his titles reflect this interest in writers ranging from Virgil (Secret Gardens) to Viginia Woolf (…and fall and rise, and fall and rise again…/To the Lighthouse) and Tasso (Adorni di Canto) to Zhang Dai (Nightwatching: ways of looking at the moon). There is also a keen interest in folk poetry: Albanian laments in A Sea Green Partridge of April, Cretan love poetry in Bring Down an Angel and Spanish ballads in The Count Arnau.

David has also been drawn to compose for the stage. He has worked extensively with writer, Katharine Craik, a relationship which has produced two chamber operas, Stormlight and Bake for One Hour. His 2006 opera, Mister Purcell – His Ground was premièred at the Royal Opera House and his latest operatic venture, a macabre cabaret opera with writer and singer, Jessica Walker entitled An Eye for an Eye was premièred at the 2013 Bath and St Magnus International Festivals.

Recent highlights have included The Count Arnau for Bassoon and Orchestra, commissioned by the BBC and performed by all of the BBC Orchestras and a new piece for the Schubert Ensemble, On such a night as this is! premièred at the South Bank in a concert to celebrate the birthday of composer, Howard Skempton. This piece was subsequently featured in a tour of the US and was featured in the BBC’s festival of the music of Judith Weir and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Recent commissions have included a collaboration with Barnsley poet, Ian McMillan for Robert Ziegler and the Matrix Ensemble, (Outstruments: A Sound Adventure)The Long Way Home for the Lawson Trio (recorded on the Prima Facie label) Tsirana for Pipers3, Fossegrimmen for cellist Gemma Rosefield and a violin concerto for Simon Blendis, From Crystal Heavn’s Above. Recent commissions have included Laments and Lullabies, a piano concerto for Tom Poster for the 2015 Presteigne Festival,Toads on a Tapestry, a large scale cantata with poet John Gallas commissioned for the nationwide Magna Carta celebrations and Grimm Tales for guitarist, Craig Ogden. Future plans include an opera based on Shakespeare’s late romance, Pericles.

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(Photograph by Alasdair Nicolson)