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

I definitely feel as if I came to composing music quite late in my music education. I was no wunderkind. In coming to composition at the age of seventeen, I felt that I had to catch-up with my peers: a feeling that I now understand as being totally irrational, but the weight of all that music that have come before used to make me want to walk away from the manuscript. Saying this, over the past few years, I continue to come across interviews by other composers who have said the same thing. Being a masochistic sort of bunch, I suppose we constantly – and often unconstructively – compare ourselves to what has come before. Mozart, Britten; or, more recently, Adès.

Nobody ever told me that composing music would make a good career choice. I remember seeing a concert of exclusively new music when I was 15 years-old at the then recently opened BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff. Years later I realised that it was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ New Music:Wales project in which composers from around Wales would have their orchestral works showcased, a project I ended up being part of myself. I remember sitting in the audience and thinking, “how can they get away with this?” A whole concert of NEW music. Being brought up, in hindsight, in quite a stoic and conformist area, the thought of having a concert of Beethoven and Mozart would have been very artisan, learned or even incredibly uncool. Let alone a whole concert of new orchestral music for the concert hall. It was alien to me. Alien, but the contrarian in me thought it was incredible.

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

Perhaps a cliché, but teachers have always had the most significant impact on me. The meetings that we have, often stumbled upon rather than planned in advance, are the driving force for me. It’s what gets me up in the morning.

I remember meeting my first composition tutor, Robert (Rob) Fokkens, at Cardiff University. It was like being knocked over by a bus. The wind got knocked out of you. That lightbulb moment. He had opened up a new world for me. Endless listening of composers I had not heard until then. Debussy, Crumb, Ligeti, Berio, Boulez and Volans. He provided me with the tools, made sure that I knew how to apply the cement, and then guided me through the construction of the wall. We built quite an open and honest means of communication. What worked in my music; what did not (this being the majority of cases); what to trim; what to build upon and how – I constantly questioned how I came to these decisions.

Ironically the other person to have had such an impact on me not only as composer but how I go about everyday life as a composer was Rob’s former teacher, Michael Finnissy. I met Michael only in 2014 and we have built such a special relationship since then. When talking about one of my works [hafan for orchestra; later selected for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ New Music:Wales Project], he remarked that it was “like a classy drag act and it’s screaming for the gaudy feather boa to be taken off”. Bizarrely, I knew exactly what he meant. I was going through one of those difficult hiatuses in my music. I no longer liked the music that I was writing. The honesty and frankness that our conversations were from that moment was refreshing for me. Where Rob and I would discuss how, Michael and I would discuss why. Michael and I now perform one another’s work, giving premieres and collaborating on projects. That’s what it;s all about. In turn, how Rob and Michael treated me as a young composer is the measure of how I teach students now.

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

I have already mentioned this, so won’t labour the point: playing catch-up. I remember leaving school and being so intimidated by all the ‘big, scary professional musicians’ out there who were infinitely better that I would ever hope to be. With hindsight, this is bullshit. We all have our own demons and personal agendas, and as the old adage goes, “we’re our own worst enemy”. It took me a while to shift these insecurities and the unhelpful comparisons I was pulling between myself and others who had twenty years on me. They naturally still often find itself rearing its ugly head, but I think you learn to deal with this as you get older. Perhaps because there are unfortunately bigger or more pressing things to worry about, like paying the bills? Even with much of what I do is centred on the making of music, the boring stuff always manages to creep into the periphery.

One other thing that I have reconciled myself to is the fact that having our own agenda (albeit sometimes masochistic or unrealistic) can be far healthier for us than to comply with the agendas that other people have for you. The sooner you nip the latter in the bud, the better. Be the best person you can be.

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

I actually take great pleasure in working to a brief or having a set of limitations to work with, which I have often found in the commission work I have had. I know many composers who love the freedom to let their ‘artistic juices flow’, but at the moment I could not think of anything worse. It must be all that ‘teenage’ angst (or the hangover of) still built up inside of me, but if I were left to my own devices it would be riotous. Saying this, perhaps I should let go? I could be writing very different music.

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

The collaborative aspect of it all. It seems pretty obvious, but I think composers don’t really grasp that when they start working with ensembles regularly for the first time. I certainly didn’t. Whether it’s the initial nerves of hearing your music performed live for the first time, or you are yet to discover that the way your parts are laid out is a minefield for a musician, you have to go through the rough to understand just how smooth the process can be. Having luckily worked with several ensembles on a frequent basis, now, you start to discover effective methods of communication or simply what makes them tick, with the aim of creating the best music possible. As a composer (even more so than a conductor) I see myself as a facilitator. I create the framework (the notes on the page) in which people can step into (the performer/listener). If the margins that I have created are correct or the best fit possible, then hopefully the outcome will be mutually beneficial and people begin to get on-board with what the music is trying to say.

It is the convivial nature of music which excites me. People coming together for one common cause: to create music. Full stop.

Of which works are you most proud?

Again, being your own-worst-enemy and all-that-jazz, I am only as good as my most recent piece. I take what I enjoyed or disliked from my most recent work and apply it to the next. Either as a compliment to the one gone before, or as a rebuttal.

I had the opportunity to write a work for CHROMA ensemble in 2015 and that was a real turning point for me. I feel I had hit upon something with blind bells, cry out. There is a certain economy in the treatment of musical gesture that created a sincerity and desired austerity. When they were playing it through for the first time, I turned to the person next to me (composer Helen Grime) and said “I’ll keep that!” It is now one of the only works of mine that I turn to now-and-again when I start to recalibrate or review my latest work. How did I achieve that, and can I recapture that moment? I don’t think I ever can. The music is so wrapped up in that work and the input the ensemble had in its creation.

I genuinely like the work that I am doing at the moment as I feel it actually has something to say. What I mean by that is that for the first time I am quite comfortable for this music to stand there naked without me having to dress it up in anyway or justify it (Finnissy’s words linger on subconsciously). I currently have a large-scale project entitled ‘national anthems’. It’s the first project that I devised myself and can feel proud of. I see these new works as my postcards for the world around us. More like anthems on a state of a nation, rather than something as literal as a set of verse-chorus anthems. The first was for six pianos (performed by New York-based, Grand Band, as part of the 2017 Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music); the second for solo clarinet (for Manchester-based, Chris Gibbons; a set for piano quintet and flexible ensemble (premiered by Mary Dullea, Tippett Quartet and musicians from Royal Holloway University of London at Kings Place in June 2017; and with projects lined up with Michael Finnissy and Carla Rees next year as part of it plus an anti-fanfare (for Magnus Lindberg, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Foyles Future First Players). Watch this space, I suppose.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is a difficult one, as I am still trying to establish that myself. I am fascinated with expressing myself in the clearest and most minutia way possible. I enjoy layering small cells of musical material on top of one another and often relish when these cells react with one another, sometimes creating a blanket of dense texture or of organic richness.

Friends and colleagues have said that my work is ‘minimalist’ or ‘post-minimalist’, but I am quite apprehensive with regards to labelling music. Particularly in an age where labels (not exclusively related to music but society as a whole) can be so divisive and misleading. I understand our need to compartmentalise things but I find that the fabric of my musical aesthetic is made out of all sorts of different things. Charlie Parker. Beethoven. Julius Eastman. Ligeti. Aphex Twin. Stockhausen. Meredith Monk. Victoriana. Hildegard of Bingen. Bronski Beat. My mind runs dry now, but these interests constantly change. Ironic considering many of the composers considered ‘minimalist’ categorically show disdain of this term. I am less militant in my disregard, but rarely think of myself as such.

How do you work?

As of often as I can.

I have found over the past few years, meeting all sorts of composers, of all ages, at residencies, concerts, universities, or at the bar, that the act of composing is painfully individual. Almost sacrosanct.

I use all the tools available to us today. Sometimes different variations of resources for each project. Despite being a person of routine in the everyday, there tends not to be a routine when it comes to the act of composing. Sometimes I map out the entire piece on paper, often I write out a substantial percentage of the work on manuscript before typesetting and occasionally (becoming more frequent, however unapologetically) I go straight to the computer. It’s personal to each project for me and often simply comes down to the timescale for the project.

There is a part of me that is mystified when composers living today say that they have a strict daily routine for composing music. The sort of building-block, compartmentalised, forever unpredictable career that I am shaping unfortunately doesn’t allow for this. There is no way I could carve out this sacrosanct slot every day solely for composing. I often find myself working in very intense short periods. Living with the work for weeks or months on end. Walking away from it. Allow it to rest a little. And then return to the old friend (or enemy, dependent on how the process is going). This seems to work well for me.

The one consistency that I do have however, one that I have found unmoveable, is that I need at least 25% (crassly charted) of the overall time spent on a project just living with the concept. Not writing a note. Just thinking. This always at the beginning of a project. I need to live with it for some time. Perhaps I have trust issues and I find it difficult letting this new thing into my life. Mentally rationalising it. Either way you want to think of it, this has proven an important part of the process for me.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are so many.

There are musicians and composers that I continually return to (Rameau; Beethoven; Cage; Andriessen; Lang) or I go through phases of listening to a whole back catalogue of a particular ensemble ad nauseam. I am currently listening to a lot of Anna Meredith’s work (Black Prince Fury, 2012; Varmints, 2016). I feel this conveyor-belt of listening and ‘Flavour of the Month’ model is quite common.

Likewise, and perhaps something I have already touched upon, my favourite musicians or composers are those that I am most recently working with. Certainly not in a superficial, kiss-ass sort of way. That sort of thing, or the people that inhibit these traits, I tend to stay clear of. I pump a lot of my energy in the here-and-now, and love investing time in the musicians I work with, getting to know them, what makes them tick. Get most from the process of making music.

There is also something to be said for the students that I work with. I get a lot from working with young people on new music. The immediacy. The idea that they (and I) are experiencing something totally new for the first time produces music that is so earnest and alive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are so many flicking through my mind. The first time I performed at the BBC Proms (in the Semi-Chorus I hasten to add, naturally not a solo spot). First concert that I curated. First concert I conducted. First premiere (one of the first was a real triumph as an elderly lady made a dramatic and affirmed exit during the opening 2-miniutes of a work of mine. Rather proud of that one).

However, the one that really sticks in my mind was the first classical concert I had been to. Thierry Fischer. BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Beethoven’s Fifth. I had an insanely supportive secondary school teacher. Carting me to concerts, open days and vocal workshops all across the country. As I had shown an interest in music during our classes (I must have been either 12 or 13), she had offered to take a few of us keen-beans to this concert in Cardiff. To open our eyes (and ears). And that was that. I knew instantly that I wanted to be part of something. To make music. I was unsure what that might have been at that stage, but I knew I wanted to be part of it.

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

I feel a little wary of imparting any such wisdom to aspiring musicians as I still feel like I am still finding my way through a dark room.

There are a few things that I usually find myself saying to students though.

Ask yourself why? Repeatedly. Why are you doing this? For composers, what makes this 5-minute work better than 5-minutes of silence? What are you trying to say? The more you venture deeper into the music world, you begin to realise just how small it can be. However, this is not always the case. We lose ourselves in our work and sometimes feel that this short new piece for violin and piano will simply get lost in the ether and sometimes we don’t ask what difference it can make to you as an individual or others. Embrace the product of your craft and appreciate what it may mean to you and others. Otherwise, what is the point?

In the same breath, take your work as a seriously as it deserves but the moment that you take yourself too seriously, the worse off you are. Music is a wondrous, marvellous, all-embracing thing, but we are not cardiothoracic surgeons. Thus endeth the lesson!

What is your present state of mind?

Having taken part in this interview/project and having had the opportunity to reminisce on all parts of my life, I feel lucky to be able to do what I love.

I am also wondering whether I should have another coffee?

 

Nathan James Dearden (b. 1992) is a composer and conductor, whose music is regularly performed across the UK and overseas by a variety of different instrumentalists and ensembles, from both community ensembles to internationally renowned musicians.

Nathan’s music has been commissioned, performed, featured and workshopped by a variety of established performers and ensembles including London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Tippett QuartetGenesis Sixteen, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, National Youth Orchestra of Wales, The Heath Quartet, Grand Band, the Fidelio Trio, CHROMA ensemble and The Dunedin Consort. His music regularly features in concerts across the UK and overseas, including at the Cheltenham Music Festival, Dartington International Summer School and Festival, International Young Composers’ Meeting and Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music. Nathan was an inaugural Young Composer-in-Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and Music Creator for Sinfonia Newydd in 2013. 

Recent notable performances include i sleep alone at Nagoya University/Japan (Jeremy Huw Williams; Paula Fan), anti-fanfare at St. John’s Smith Square/London (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Foyles Future First Players; Magnus Lindberg), two national anthems: it’s not working at Kings Place/London (Tippett Quartet, Mary Dullea, students of Royal Holloway University of London) and the bright morning star, commissioned as part of the Choir & Organ New Music Series (Choir of Royal Holloway; Rupert Gough).

Upcoming projects for 2018 include a new choral work for Cantemus Chamber Choir and Huw Williams, a multimedia collaboration with Carla Rees and rarescale, and a song-cycle collaboration with composer and pianist, Michael Finnissy.

Nathan has recently been awarded an Early Career Public Engagement Grant from the Institute of Musical Research in support of Spotlight Series: Finnissy at 70 and was selected as a London Philharmonic Orchestra Leverhulme Arts Scholar for their 2016/2017 season. In May 2017, it was announced that Nathan will be the inaugural recipient of the Paul Mealor Award for Outstanding Young Composers by the Welsh Music Guild.

Based in South East England, Nathan is currently Performance Manager, Visiting Tutor in Music Composition, Conductor of the New Voices Consort and New Music Collective and Postgraduate Research Scholar (MPhil./PhD) at Royal Holloway, University of London. Supervised by Mark BowdenHelen Grime and Julian Johnson, Nathan’s research interests include parody in music, and music as a form of social commentary. 

Nathan holds a Bachelor of Music (with Honours) from Cardiff University, where he was awarded the David Lloyd Music Prize for excellence in vocal studies and choral work (2012) and the Elizabeth Griffiths Award for his outstanding contribution to the musical life at Cardiff University School of Music (2013). He later graduated from Cardiff University as a Master of Music (with Distinction) in Music Composition with Robert Fokkens, Louis Johnson and Arlene Sierra, where his studies were kindly supported by Cardiff University, the James Pantyfedwen Foundation and the RVW Trust

nathanjamesdearden.com

 

(Photograph Marije van den Berg)

Photography | Marije van den Berg

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

I remember sitting in a school assembly at the age of five, hearing schoolmates perform little piano pieces, and thinking to myself quite definitely, as other children of that age surely do in their inimitable fashion: ‘I want to do that too’! It used to bother me that this initial self-generated impulse to play music was ‘sociological’ rather than ‘musical’, motivated more by the situation and ritual of musical performance than by its content. But much later I realised that what I love doing is to commune and communicate with people through the beautiful world of sound and sound structures. Thus the original ‘sociological’ motivation makes very good sense to me.

The point at which I decided to attempt a professional career in music did not come until the age of eighteen. This resolve came to me a few days after arriving at university to start a degree in Natural Sciences. As I had combined various interests for years throughout my school life, this more serious commitment to music didn’t need to divert me from my scientific studies. In fact, I found the university environment to be ideal in terms of the opportunities it offered for making music with others, broadening my study skills, and meeting colleagues with a wide range of interests. Perhaps not studying music for my degree helped avoid some potentially constraining burdens of expectation.

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

I was fortunate to have an outstanding music teacher at primary school. She brimmed with enthusiasm and energy, quickly making music a favourite topic for me. She taught me the piano until I was ten, and as I recall, more than ‘just’ the piano – there was basic theory too right from the start. Her talents extended to composing dramatic works for children – I remember taking part in one, aged eight, as an auxiliary percussionist among a small group of professional freelancers, on one occasion playing a mark tree in an inappropriate improvised manner and far too loudly.

As I became more serious about the piano, several pianists became a great source of inspiration and support, each in their own way. Alexander Kelly, Piers Lane, Irina Zaritskaya, and lastly Maria Curcio, all oversaw and supported my pianistic development. But that development was also brought on by wider musical experience. I played the clarinet, french horn, and composed enthusiastically. At the Junior Royal Academy of Music I joined a piano quartet that rehearsed and performed together for a period of four years. During the summer holidays I would often find myself at semi-staged opera performances and observing voice masterclasses. I can’t unpick what was most important and why, at least not yet.

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

Without doubt it is juggling the demands of performance with those of teaching and of family life. In addition, as someone who is curious about new, neglected, and forgotten works as well as ‘mainstream’ classical repertoire, I need to spend a lot of time learning pieces, and this can be more exhausting than the travel and performance schedule itself. Last year I was preparing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and at the same time practising the first two books of Ligeti’s Piano Études – I should probably avoid allowing those two worlds to collide again in order to preserve my sanity.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

With regard to recordings, I don’t know how to answer as I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been released. Perhaps I should, but I am inevitably more concerned with the journey ahead, asking myself how can I improve my performances and deepen my interpretative insights rather than patting myself on the back. This isn’t to say that I don’t take pride in my work, especially if I feel a concert performance or recording session has gone well, but anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t indulge myself.

One performance does come to mind: some years ago I decided to accept an engagement to play Saint-Saens Fifth Concerto at three weeks’ notice. I hadn’t played a note of the work before, but rightly calculated that it was possible to learn and memorise this piece in time. I worked very methodically to ensure I did so. The concert went very well and the performance was released as an unedited live recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I don’t know the answer – that’s up to my listeners to decide, and I trust them. I have to trust them as much as they trust me.

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

There is no set formula, and I must admit that I am reluctant to make decisions very far ahead. My guiding principles are firstly that I have to be passionate about and deeply involved with the music I am to play, so that I can share it with others effectively; secondly, I like to construct programmes that can feel like a kind of journey, even though they often traverse a huge range of music written over at least two centuries.

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

I am fortunate to perform in some beautiful halls with very good acoustics, but I love the way that each venue (even a dry speech theatre, as occasionally happens) creates a particular set of challenges that demand engagement from performers and listeners alike. For me the moment of communication and the content of the music are much more important than the venue, even though a comfortable venue helps performers and listeners alike.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are several: Krystian Zimerman at the Royal Festival Hall performing Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, Chopin’s Ballade no 4 and the Sonata in B flat minor incomparably; Yo-Yo Ma playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony; Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony at the Barbican; Simon Rattle and the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing Parsifal at the Proms (yes, I stood up for the entire opera, and didn’t feel even a slight ache); Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting a small ensemble in Franco Donatoni’s Hot.

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

Live your life to the full and never stop searching. You can never know enough, be experienced enough, ‘finish the work’, or be truly satisfied! This is potentially frustrating but also liberating because the process leading up to each performance is what becomes important and enriching. Aspiring musicians should gain the widest possible musical experience, get to know and engage with other art forms, read widely…. You never know where an idea or an inspiration might be lurking, and behind every seemingly simple answer lies a multitude of questions.

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

Doing what I do now, hopefully quite a lot better.

 

British pianist Danny Driver trained with Alexander Kelly and Piers Lane whilst studying at Cambridge University, with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music in London, and completed his studies privately with Maria Curcio. As a student he won numerous awards including the Royal Over-Seas League Keyboard Competition and the title of BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year.

Read Danny Driver’s full biography

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

I started composing of my own accord at about the age of 8, without anyone particularly inspiring me or suggesting I do it. I just started writing things down on bits of manuscript paper lying around the house. I remember once making up a key signature which combined sharps and flats and showing it to my father, who said there was no such key signature. I didn’t understand why that was, or why I wasn’t allowed to make up my own key signature. As to making a career from music, that was never intended. Most people who write music stop at some point, and I just never stopped.

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

I had an influential music teacher called Gwynne Lewis when I was about 10. He didn’t especially inspire me to compose, but he communicated a love of music and the joy of being involved in music. I have had a number of excellent teachers along the way, but the inspiration above all has been Igor Stravinsky. I didn’t discover his music until the shockingly late age of 16 or 17, but once I heard the Rite of Spring I never looked back in my devotion to his music. First hearing the Symphony of Psalms was an unforgettable experience.

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

As with all composers, the challenge is to have your music heard. In this I have been pretty lucky, but every composer wants more and higher profile performances and commissions.

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

Having a particular occasion or performed in mind can really help to shape a piece. I had a commission that got more and more precise; in the end it had to be a wordless choral work based on a visual work of art by an artist I knew. And the piece turned out to be quite unusual as a result.

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

I’ve been lucky to work quite often with the BBC Singers. When you have a piece sung by them you can be confident they will get it right – working with children as I do much of the time, there is always the possibility for a collapse. But technical expertise is only half the battle; it is particularly fun to work with groups and individuals who enjoy the challenge of new music.

How would you describe your compositional language?

A question composers tend to dread. First, I would certainly say that my language is different from piece to piece, depending on the circumstances and context. Next, I would say that I am interested in using tonal materials in a non-tonal way, if tonality is interpreted narrowly as meaning music that has a sense of home key and a hierarchy of other keys, and that modulates away from and back to the home key. Under this narrow definition, Steve Reich’s music, for example, is not tonal, although it uses diatonic chords. This is a fertile ground for me (although my music sounds nothing like Reich). For example, my choral pieces often use diatonic chords, but I am rarely able to write a perfect cadence. I am also interested in the use of modes, such as the octatonic collection, or invented modes. In summary, my musical language tends to be a bit ‘safe’ for those who like hardcore modern music, and a little bit tricky for those who like straightforward ‘classical’ music.

How do you work?

I use a mixture of pen and paper and computer. I am at the tail-end of the generation trained pre-computer notation – I first got Sibelius in my 20s, when it was a new (and by today’s standards, primitive) software. I now don’t know how I ever managed without a computer. First thoughts for a piece usually come on my feet, either walking round the block or in the shower. Notes will often first come at the piano, sketched onto manuscript. I also often print out music at an intermediate stage and write onto the printout with amendments. I think it is so useful to have visible drafts – one of the downsides of a computer is that once you change a note, the original is gone. But the main use of the computer is for checking the pacing of a piece – which is, for me, the ultimate challenge. Do the events of the piece happen at the right psychological moment?

Which works are you most proud of?

It would have to be the two large-scale pieces I have written for the BBC Singers. ‘The Death of Balder’ in particular, is an original conception – a ‘radio opera’ for choir on a Norse myth – and I am happy with how it turned out, after a great deal of uncertainty while composing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

As mentioned above, I am a huge Stravinsky fan, and always will be. Of contemporary composers, I really love Judith Weir’s music (she is also an extremely kind and generous person), Magnus Lindberg, Thomas Adès, Julian Anderson and a French composer called Guillaume Connesson, who I only discovered through reviewing a CD.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was lucky enough, as a child living in Berlin in the 1980s, to be taken to hear the Berlin Philharmonic a few times. The two occasions I particularly remember were hearing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and – the first time I went – Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21. I was about 10 and both completely blew me away, just the sound of the orchestra, and I still love both pieces. I also remember, at one of those concerts, the second half being a Shostakovich symphony, which I hated; Shostakovich symphonies still don’t do it for me.

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

I think it is a responsibility of composers to listen widely, and to music that is not necessarily instantly amenable. I think too many people, young people in particular, are too narrow in their range of listening. In one sense there is no excuse for not listening widely – my excuse as a youngster was that it was difficult to access music, apart from Radio 3 and my local library’s tape collection. But the flip side is that there is so much music available now that it can be difficult to wade through it all. But it is important for composers to have open ears.

‘I Am The Song – Choral music by Bernard Hughes’ was released in April 2016 on the Signum Classics label. More information

‘The Knight Who Took All Day’ from the book by James Mayhew with music by Bernard Hughes will be performed on Sunday 29th January 2017 at Hertford Theatre, Hertford, conducted by Tom Hammond. More information

Bernard Hughes studied Music at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, graduating with a first-class degree. He subsequently studied composition at Goldsmiths College, London under Peter Dickinson, and privately with Param Vir. Bernard Hughes was awarded a PhD in Composition from Royal Holloway College, London, studying with Philip Cashian. Bernard Hughes is Composer-in-Residence at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London.

Bernard Hughes’s music has been broadcast on Radio 3 and King FM in Seattle, and he appeared as a conductor on the Channel 4 series Howard Goodall’s Twentieth Century Greats. Bernard writes regularly for theartsdesk cultural review website.

More about Bernard Hughes here

1f-xbxgwWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I started composing as soon as I started learning the piano. Going to the theatre as a child was an important inspiration – I wanted to write theatre music, and still do. Serious composition started when I went to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester for 6th form and I suppose I have never looked back.

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

Influences have come and gone over the years, but Stravinsky and Wagner have loomed large – somewhat disparate figures but as with most music there are connections under the skin. The early Stravinsky ballets naturally had a huge influence on me as a teenager, though now I would take Symphony of Psalms any day. Wagner came later. There is nothing like the sense of immersion you get from being in the middle of Tristan or Parsifal. In terms of teachers, each has had an important impact on me in different ways, although I’m especially grateful to Giles Swayne for teaching me to cut the crap – he is that rare thing, a composer completely without bullshit.

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

While I can’t think of anything specific, the sense that a piece hasn’t lived up to what I wanted it to be is always agonising. On the other hand, that’s what leads me to write the next one. They’re all steps along a road and I have no idea where it leads.

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

The greatest challenge and the greatest pleasure is that there is a deadline. The piece would never get finished without it.

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

More pleasures than challenges – knowing who or where I am writing for provides a focal point.

Of which works are you most proud?

I feel the work which has come closest to what I wanted it to be was a piece I wrote for a very good friend of mine, pianist Philip Sharp, called ‘Five Anatomical Sketches’. The music is unusually austere for me, but I felt that I was able to boil the material down to its expressive essence, and Phil performed it superbly.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Communicative without compromise.

How do you work?

I compose whenever I can, I have no special routine. Time and space always yield better results. I also take frequent long walks to work ideas through. Many compositional breakthroughs have come on those long walks.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I’ve already mentioned Stravinsky and Wagner as influences, and other musical loves include Chopin, Mahler, Adès, Beethoven, Adams, Britten, Monteverdi, and so on, and so on… In terms of performers, while I don’t have any particular favourites, I have recently been enjoying Boulez’s Mahler symphony recordings and also luxuriating in the voice of Iestyn Davies.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a performer, it was singing in the chorus for Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ at the Royal Festival Hall with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Hill – who brought along the Bach Choir too. It is a silly piece in many ways, and yet it works so incredibly well and the ending is wonderfully ecstatic. As a listener, I will always remember my first Prom fondly, which was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles performing Adams, Mozart and Strauss. I was swept away by the wonderful atmosphere and the wonderful repertoire.

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

I don’t like the phrase “be yourself” – I would rather say “do what you must do”. Have something to say and discover the best way in which to say it – that is the communicative impulse. I don’t mean communication in the lowest-common-denominator sense, I mean the sharing of music between humans on any scale. Writing and performing music is a way of saying “HERE I AM” and “HERE WE ARE”, nothing more and nothing less.

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

Writing music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Companionship.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Hearing great music with great people in great places.

What is your present state of mind?

Existentially drowning.

Jonathan Woolgar is the joint Cambridge University Musical Society Composer in Residence for 2016-17. This includes writing a piece for the Cambridge University New Music Ensemble, which will be premiered on 2nd February 2017 and conducted by Patrick Bailey

Composer Jonathan Woolgar is particularly interested in music as drama and music for the stage, and his work draws from a wide range of musical experience, aiming to engage every kind of listener.

Jonathan has had works performed at the Bridgewater Hall and the Royal Albert Hall by ensembles such as Manchester Camerata, Onyx Brass, Aurora Orchestra and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2010 he won the BBC Proms Young Composers’ Competition. His music has been recorded for commercial release by the choir of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and he also enjoys close associations with contemporary music ensembles The Hermes Experiment and Khymerikal. Jonathan is Composer in Residence at Eton College for 2015-17, and will be Composer in Residence for the Cambridge University Musical Society in 2016-17. His one-woman opera, Scenes from the End, ran in London and Edinburgh this summer, while future projects include performances at St Mark’s Basilica, Venice and St John’s Smith Square.

Whilst currently based near London, Jonathan originally hails from Pontefract in West Yorkshire. He attended Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester from 2008-10, studying composition and conducting with Jeremy Pike and Gavin Wayte. From 2010-13 he read music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge where he graduated with First Class Honours and studied composition with Giles Swayne, going on to study with David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music.

jonathanwoolgar.com

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My mother was the one to introduce me to the wonderful world of music. I grew up in communist Romania, where kids didn’t have piano lessons as an after school thing but my Mum saved up lots of money and bought a beautiful mahogany upright. I got into the specialist music school in Iasi age 7 and had my debut with an orchestra 2 years later with Mozart D major concerto. I remember walking on stage, surrounded by adults, tripping over, conductor panicking, music stands falling, scores flying all over the place. My mum freezing in the first row. But I stood up, smiling and loved every single second of that performance. I came out and said “I want to become a concert pianist!”. I feel blessed to have had very encouraging people in my life, who believed in me and gave me a chance. I learnt from a very early age that hard work will always take you a long way. I don’t come from a musical family, therefore I didn’t have any expectation on how things should go. I didn’t set myself a target, I simply followed my intuition, learning from every situation and felt grateful for every opportunity that came my way. And the same as my falling, I learnt I can always stand back up and keep going.

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

My teachers have had the greatest influence on me, starting with my high-school teachers in Romania, to the late Mark Ray, Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Dina Parakhina, Ronan O’Hora, Andras Schiff and Imogen Cooper. I have been incredibly privileged to study with fantastic musicians, who taught me not just about music, but enriched my life through advice on staying true to myself and always discovering new things. The thirst of knowledge and curiosity is one of the most beautiful things in life.

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

I believe we all find ourselves at crossroads at some point in our lives. The greatest challenge is to take the right path for you. I usually analyse and over-analyse and once I have taken a decision, that’s it! I try to never look back and believe in the power of instinct- after a lot of research has been done!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Every recording I have ever made is the result of hard work, a long time planning, creating a vision and sticking to a plan.This year saw the release of my concerto debut disc- Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Signum Records coupled with the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ arranged by Pletnev. The joy of having my first concerto disc out is not easily put into words- honestly, a dream come true!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I try to identify myself with whatever piece I am playing. I like reading about the story behind the music, I like to find out about the political situation of that time, where the composer was at the point in his life, what were his fears, his joys. The notes on the page are just the start of the journey.

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

I think long term. I like creating projects and putting programmes together that make sense. I am working on my Trilogy of Preludes at the moment, a project supported by the wonderful team at Champs Hill Records, who have very enthusiastically welcomed 3 CDs of complete preludes: vol I Chopin and Dutilleux, vol II Szymanowski and Shostakovich (both released) and vol III Fauré and Messiaen coming out next year. I enjoy introducing my audiences to new pieces, I like to challenge them with something they might not know they would love.

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

Every venue has its own personality, the same as pianos do. As a pianist, one has to adapt very quickly – I simply cannot describe how thrilling it is to step into a hall where so many of the great legends have played. There’s a huge pressure but in the same time there’s something humbling and magical about it.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing the Nutcracker Suite. I feel the versatility of the piano makes it possible to recreate the orchestral sound and it allows me to imagine all the magical world the story tells in a very intimate setting. I love listening to everything, from jazz to folk, pop to classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Goodness me, where should I start?! Every concert is memorable, from a little hall in the middle of nowhere to the big giants. My first time at Carnegie Hall will always be the icing on the cake (and lots of the readers will know I love cake!). Getting a standing ovation at the Concertgebouw was quite something. My Buenos Aires concert in front of a packed 5000 seat hall (at lunchtime!) had me on my toes (I was told Beyoncé performed there the night before- make of that what you will!). Performing with youth orchestras is always truly rewarding- we all learn from each other and I always feel happy amongst them.

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

Always be true to yourself. Never give up. Always follow your dream- patience and perseverance will get you a long way. Never stop learning, from anyone and from every situation!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to enjoy each moment as it comes, living in the present. Making a difference, standing up for what I believe in. Change lives through music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Play my piano, communicate, bake, cycling with hubby, being with people.

What is your present state of mind?

I am truly grateful for everyone and everything I have around me. I feel blessed to be able to follow my dream.

 

From London’s Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall in New York, the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, recently named as one of 30 pianists under 30 destined for a spectacular career (International Piano Magazine), dazzles audiences worldwide with her effortless musicality and captivating stage presence.

Read more about Alexandra Dariescu here

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

It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!

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

I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!

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

The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!

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

Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.

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

I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!

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

In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!

Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West.  Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.

Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.

Read more about Natalie here