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

I had a sort of mundane epiphany when I was sixteen, the realisation (while sitting on a cramped coach with fifty other sweaty and tired musicians) that I could spend every day for the rest of my life doing music and not mind. This was quite a big deal considering that I minded the possibility of pretty much anything else being a serious pursuit; my attention span was very unpredictable, and I didn’t tend to truly persevere at much except doodling ferociously in lessons.

We were touring Holst’s The Planets in Sweden, I was playing first oboe with my youth orchestra and over those ten days I just fell helplessly and unglamorously in love with music, having spent twelve years coasting along at the piano and at rehearsals without ever fully committing. I also fell a bit in love with a cellist which may have helped the decision-making process…

I subsequently had a weird spiritual experience back home in Newcastle where I felt that composing was my one true calling and that I had no option but to pursue it obsessively. The first piece I wrote was a strange and dissonant duet for violin and cello, and the second was a terrible ‘Chopin-with-a-hangover’ piano sonatina. I had no concept of structure, form, or large-scale harmony, so these pieces are still my most, and least original compositions.

It was necessary to learn the ‘big picture’ at university first before specialising. Oxford was a slightly mad choice, as the workload left rather little time for creativity, but I learned a lot there, and I started my string quartet which I have just finished this year! The career bit came during my Masters at RNCM as I needed time to work out how on earth people made it work full-time. Sometimes I look back at eight-year-old me, dancing around in bizarre, one-woman musicals on the living room stage for her dear parents, and wonder how she got here.

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

The biggest milestones so far have probably been: hearing Shostakovich’s 8th Quartet at a concert with my mum when I was seventeen; discussing one of my first compositions with Nicola LeFanu at St Hilda’s; meeting Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and sending him one of my scores (he replied); getting my first professional commission with Streetwise Opera after my Masters; working with Rambert Dance Company as the Music Fellow last year.

Streetwise Opera showed me the power that music, and new music, can have in people’s lives, and how collaborating with performers can inspire me to make something completely different. Working alongside everyone at Rambert taught me more in a year that I think I’ve learned in the other twenty-three. My teachers gave me the tools to write and helped to equip me with the resilience and the perspective you need as a professional musician.

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

Undoubtedly the first summer was the hardest. I was juggling eight different jobs/commissions and I was still broke because none of them were going to pay me until September, so I got a café job on top of that. I had just moved house and all of my friends were away, I was ill every week so lost a teaching assistant position, I hadn’t had any holiday in over a year, my mental health was awful and I had zero inspiration for any pieces. It was hard to see how it was going to work out, but it did! I think it was J.K. Rowling who said “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” I don’t think I was anywhere near rock bottom but I wasn’t feeling very confident about the future, and it has all seemed less bad since that August.

The other greatest challenge was that of producing my chamber opera, which was a much bigger task than composing it! I spent a whole year on it with RNCM musicians, and it resulted in a collaboration with choreographer Dane Hurst at Tete a Tete opera festival, funded by the Arts Council and by the generosity of individual sponsors. I was very, very nervous before the August performance and barely slept for a week, but my team were amazing so I shouldn’t have worried so much.

It’s always frustrating when you get rejected from things, but I’ve made a ‘folder of failure’ that helps me to find the pitfalls funnier. If you want to know the really good anecdotes, you’ll have to ask me in person!

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

I love commissions as they give you restrictions within which to be creative! Sometimes they verge on being too restrictive, and if you don’t get to choose your collaborators it can be tricky at times, but generally I find it easier to write when I have a clear brief. Context is all. It’s also really lovely, every time, to be asked to write something for a special occasion or exciting new project.

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

It’s their unique tastes, characteristics, personalities, strengths and weaknesses that give me my musical language for that piece, and the collaboration process generally produces something more original and exciting than I would have made on my own. Working with amateurs provides great variety as every group is different. Most of my pieces are tailored quite carefully to the ensemble that I am working with, but I also aim for some adaptability for future performances.

As well as working with other musicians, I love collaborating with writers, dancers, and artists with different specialisms. This work can be challenging in terms of communication and teamwork, but I love these messy and dynamic processes and their results.

Of which works are you most proud?

The chamber opera-ballet, Citizens of Nowhere, my string quartet, Antiphony, my choral piece, Fall, Leaves, Fall, and my two electronic pieces made with choreographers Carolyn Bolton and Julie Cunningham, Solo Matter and Imaginary Situations.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Sometimes it’s like Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Britten, Machonchy and Sibelius in a blender, and sometimes it’s like Sondheim and Bjork got drunk together and fell asleep on my keyboard.

How do you work?

If you could tell me that, I’d hire you immediately.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

That changes every month, but I will always love the four old B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Britten and The Beatles, and the lieder/piano pieces by Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann and Josephine Lang are just gorgeous. I grew up listening to my parents’ ceilidh band, my granddad’s jazz favourites, my grandpa’s bassoon practice, the best of Simon and Garfunkel on LP, and my siblings’ CD collections. I have not yet heard a piece by Stravinsky that I didn’t like. My contemporary playlist changes every week but it usually involves some classical, some electronic music, some pop, some jazz, and some silence…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Putting your heart into your music so much that other people can hear it beating, without exhausting yourself or exploiting anyone else. Success at the expense of others looks empty to me.

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

Everyone will tell you that it isn’t easy or sensible, but life isn’t easy or sensible, so think about whether you are happy for music to cause a lot of those problems for you, or whether you want it to stay safe as a side profession. Be prepared to fail as it will help you improve, and be prepared to compromise but not so much that you lose sight of your boundaries. Surround yourself with musicians and artists who can help you and whom you can help in turn, don’t be afraid to walk up to interesting people at drinks receptions and ask them about their work, but also have some friends outside the music world who can help you to have time off!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Something completely spontaneous like going for a long walk and taking photos of weird things that I see, or dancing full-whack after sitting at my desk for hours, or eating a huge homemade curry and playing pool with my housemates, or talking about life until the small hours, or praying / meditating / reading when I’ve realised that I have lost perspective, or looking at the sea when I visit my parents in the North East, or going to an art gallery in a new city, or getting on a train to meet an ensemble that I’m about to work with and then becoming part of their community for a time. And then, really, the two things I enjoy most of all are starting a piece and finishing a piece.


Anna Appleby is a multi-award-winning composer based in Manchester and is part of both the RSNO Composers’ Hub and the Making Music / Sound and Music ‘Adopt A Composer’ scheme for 2017/18. Anna has been the 2016/17 Music Fellow with Rambert Dance Company. She has written for artists including the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the Cavaleri Quartet, the Hermes Experiment, the BBC Singers, Manchester Camerata, Jonathan Powell, Het Balletorkest and A4 Brass. Her work has been performed on BBC Radio 3, and in venues including the Holywell Music Room, the Southbank Centre, RNCM Concert Hall, HOME theatre, RADA Studios, the National Theatre River Stage and the Sage Gateshead. Anna has recently been a composer in residence with Streetwise Opera, Quay Voices, Brighter Sound and the Cohan Collective.

Originally from Newcastle Upon Tyne, Anna has a great love of folk and jazz, and now specialises in writing contemporary classical music. Her work often consciously revolves around the human voice or body, with opera and dance being particular interests. Collaboration is at the heart of her creative practice.

Anna has worked with numerous choreographers including: Dane Hurst, Michael Naylor, Jacqueline Bulnes, Nina von der Werth, Igor & Moreno, Peter Leung, Pierre Tappon, Julie Cunningham and Carolyn Bolton. 

www.annaappleby.com

paul

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

I always wanted to be a musician. My grandparents on my mother’s side were both opera singers – my grandmother was a soprano and my grandfather a tenor, both were principals in the D’Oyly Carte and sang with Carl Rosa. My mother was an artist, an outstanding painter. So I was brought up surrounded by music and art, a lot of it surrealist. I went to some dreadful prep schools, but my mum got me to a Rudolf Steiner School, and there, at Michael Hall, I met the inspiring Mr Masters – Brien Masters. He was a wonderful teacher, musician and poet. He urged me to compose seriously and taught me how to notate, so I have him and that beautiful school to thank especially.

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

Many people and things have influenced and inspired me and I have seriously eclectic taste. My childhood and grandmother’s stories about Gilbert and Sullivan productions no doubt triggered my passion for opera. Oscar Peterson inspired my teenage years. As a trumpeter, I initially wanted to be a jazz musician, then turned to the baroque natural trumpet and was hooked on Maurice Andre. My student years at the Royal College of Music were the best musical years of my life! Edwin Roxburgh had a profound impact on me, and every lesson was a masterclass in composition. So too did John Wallace, who was an utterly inspirational trumpet teacher and support. But I also learned much from Joseph Horovitz and Richard Blackford, and Michael Finnissy at Sussex – all very different composers. In my twenties I became obsessed with the art and architecture of South East Asia and spent a good twelve years writing pieces directly inspired by Angkor and Javanese temples. I could instil a clear design and adorn it with colourful fantasy – just as the temples are so direct in proportions yet so ornate in final result. In a curious way, that ties in with my love of jazz and spontaneous and effervescent lines. Symbolism too. I love saying things in music that I cannot dare to say in public.

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

I remember Ken Russell’s film about Delius. Towards the end, Delius grumbles that his music is only played on BBC radio once a fortnight when it had been on every day. It said at a stroke that composers/musicians/humans can often be unsatisfied with their lot – even lucky Delius! Personally, I have a hugely fulfilling creative life, which encompasses so many aspects of musical endeavour. However, I always wish for more time to compose. That is a general frustration. I would also say that the contemporary music scene can be too closed. When I ran Sounds New, I believe we broke the mould. We embraced contemporary music of a wide variety and were proud to do so. As a result we attracted ever-growing and increasingly engaged audiences. I think that in an attempt to appear ‘modern’ and ‘of the moment’, too many contemporary music platforms favour hard, gritty and sometimes ugly and dull music. Other more ‘mainstream’ organisations can choose the ‘soft focus’ and ‘easy listening’ approach, which achieves little in the long term. I don’t say that as a fuddy-duddy, traditionalist or dye-hard, just as an aficionado and devotee of all types of contemporary music who wishes to see it more widely appreciated, understood and regularly incorporated into concert life. I know very many who quietly agree with me.

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

I am impelled to compose, irrespective of whether or not a work is commissioned. And… Commissions are not always easy to fulfil. They can be for forces or subjects that doesn’t immediately get the creative juices flowing. So one has to ‘make’ inspiration out of that challenge. That said, my last serious commission, for the London Chamber Orchestra and around 150 young people (performed May 2017), was something I’d always dreamed of doing – a substantial piece of music that was uncompromising yet totally ‘educational’. That was exceptionally rewarding to do, but hugely challenging in that I had to be totally flexible and continually write a range of parts that embraced the easiest possible – a challenge for us ‘complex’ souls.

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

Working with a special musician, artist or ensemble in mind can be deeply inspiring. To be able to take into account a specific human voice, for instance, understand its most special characteristics and incorporate those into the creative process, can be a beautiful thing. However, I would say that I think of particular musicians even when I am writing for personal pleasure. And when writing operas (my crazy passion) I do think of specific voices as I compose, indeed create a character or role. I think it’s fair to say that every mezzo-soprano part I have ever written has had Sarah Connolly in mind. Hers is the mezzo voice of perfection!

Of which works are you most proud?

At the time, I was very proud of my first opera, ‘The Fisherman’, which was (and I believe remains) the only full-length student opera that the RCM produced in many decades. I was told since Vaughan Williams. That said, VW’s first opera was written after he left the RCM, so I can’t work that out. Maybe it was someone else? However, I now see shortcomings in that early piece. Of other works, there are two specific operas: ‘Bayon’ (totally impractical, in five acts with an enormous cast and vast orchestra) and ‘La Belle et La Bête’ (just completed one act opera, for two voices and another foolishly large orchestra). Both are unperformed and may probably remain so, but I’m most proud of them. Of performed works, I’d cite ‘Three Old Gramophones’ (highly autobiographical, and not without humour) and ‘Don – a Cello Concerto’.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

People tell me that my music is strangely accessible. Often they say that in a surprised way, because it is often so complex, and they had anticipated it to be daunting. That pleases me. I like complex musical webs, yet I like music to be understood and to directly impact on people. Fundamentally, I believe that so-called hard-edged contemporary music can be beautiful and can beguile. I don’t ascribe to compromise, yet I do want the listener to be absorbed ‘within’ a musical voyage that has an effect on them and – for want of a better expression, ‘moves’ them.

How do you work?

In blocks of weeks – ideally uninterrupted, usually in the summer months as university work allows. I create in the morning, setting a rigorous routine. Then in the afternoon and often long into the night, I refine, orchestrate, develop the material I established at the start of the day. Ideas flow that way, and there is continuity to the creation. During the period of composition I am basically totally lost to all others! I write very quickly as a result.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Mahler, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Strauss, Mozart and Bach are among the composers I most adore and whose sound worlds continually inspire me. Exceedingly close behind are Beethoven, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Xenakis. Oscar Peterson is at the top of the first list too. If a genie ever granted me one musical wish, I’d choose to be able to play the piano like that. ‘OP’ had a profound influence on my development in my early years and I never tire of listening to him.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Creative fulfilment and the ability to make a positive impact on others.

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

Be open minded, hard working, focussed, creatively ambitious and giving. We are all vessels through which art passes, and we have a duty to nurture it, support it, create it, foster it and develop it. In other words, be a full part of the creative cycle.


 

Paul Max Edlin has a career that combines composing, conducting, trumpet playing, lecturing and artistic direction.

His compositions have been performed both nationally and abroad by many leading artists, ensembles and orchestras. He has a particular interest in opera, and his first opera, The Fisherman, was premiered to wide critical acclaim in a production for the London International Opera Festival. Opera Magazine described Paul as ‘our latest operatic prodigy’. His most recent full-length opera is an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding in the translation by Ted Hughes. In 2013 he completed an operatic monodrama, Frida, a setting of the diaries of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Recent commissions include a new work for Sarah Connolly (Wigmore Hall, 2014), the UK Society of Recorder Players (Kings Lynn, 2015). In 2015 he completed a new work for orchestra, Five Illusions. In 2016 he succeeds Cheryl Frances Hoad as Composer in Residence for London Chamber Orchestra’s Music Junction programme.

Edlin’s works have received broadcasts on BBC 2, BBC Radio 3, as well as on Radio and Television abroad.

He was a founder member of the Artistic Group of Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival, of which he was Artistic Director from 2007 to 2013, a period in which it flourished. In 2005 he was asked to become Artistic Director of the Deal Festival of Music and the Arts, following on from the cellist Steven Isserlis and composer David Matthews. He stepped down in 2010, but was once again asked to return to this role in 2014.

He has many years of experience in university lecturing and teaching and is currently Director of Music at Queen Mary University of London, one of the country’s leading universities and in the Top World 100 (THE 2015). Formerly, he was Professor of Music at Canterbury Christ Church University from 2009 to 2012 having worked there in a series of roles for almost thirty years. In 2011 he was elected President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

As a conductor, Edlin tends to focus on contemporary repertoire. He has conducted many premieres of new works as well as UK premieres of such pieces as Beat Furrer’s Ensemble II and Ernst Krenek’s Sestina. In 2010 he conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Malta, allowing him an opportunity to explore the more romantic repertoire of Puccini and Verdi. As a trumpet player, he particularly enjoys the ‘clarino’ repertoire of Bach, Handel and Purcell and has played in many performances of works such as the B Minor Mass, Christmas Oratorio, etc.

Paul Max Edlin studied at the Royal College of Music (composition with Edwin Roxburgh, Richard Blackford and Joseph Horovitz; trumpet with John Wallace and Richard Walton, and conducting with Christopher Adey). He has won many composition prizes including the IX Premio lnternazionale Ancona. He received a Leverhulme Studentship for further postgraduate study at the RCM. He continued his studies with Michael Finnissy at the University of Sussex where he took his doctorate.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, he has served on the boards of several music and music education organisations and charities, including Cantoris Charitable Trust, which supports Canterbury Cathedral choristers. He is Chair of the Board of Ora, one of the UK’s most prestigious vocal ensembles, and he sits on the board of the newly formed East London Music Group. Paul Max Edlin has two musical sons. Peter, an artist, photographer and designer, plays lead guitar in the progressive rock group The Boot Lagoon, while Timothy is a bass-baritone.

paulmaxedlin.com

Composer Paul Burnell has compiled a playlist of “everything that meant something to me with a keyboard connection“. The result is an intriguing and eclectic compilation with “a lot of stuff from the 60s and 70s, including tv themes and a sprinkling of classical, contemporary


 

Meet the Artist – Paul Burnell

rimz-zwy

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

I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.

– David Braid, composer

Welsh-born composer David Braid is something of a rebel himself. In his music, he eschews the atonality, dissonance, and complexity which are so often hallmarks (and clichés) of contemporary classical music in favour of a personal compositional voice which draws inspiration from Sweelinck and Dowland to Britten and Messiaen, but which is in itself hard to categorise. It’s melodic and tonal with a spare lyricism and simple harmonic language which recalls early music and the distinctly “English” soundworlds of Vaughan Williams and Britten, as well as folk music with occasional jazz-infused harmonies, but this is most definitely not “crossover” repertoire.

Beautifully crafted and performed with elegance and expression by an ensemble of fine musicians, including mezzo-soprano Emily Gray, flautist Claire Overbury, and clarinettist Peter Cigleris, with David Braid himself on archtop guitar, the music on this album is accessible yet sophisticated. Braid’s archtop guitar, a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic instrument with a full body and an arched top (hence its name), brings a clean, lute-like sound to the music, redolent of Dowland’s songs and Lachrimae, and the perfect foil for Emily Gray’s translucent mezzo voice. The combinations of instruments are original and intriguing – piano and archtop guitar work together surprisingly well, the piano sympathetic to the smaller voice of the guitar. The refined simplicity of Braid’s music is really captivating and it is a real pleasure to hear music which is immediately engaging to the ear.

With comprehensive liner notes written by David Braid and an excellent sound quality which is both direct and intimate, this album comes highly recommended.

cover28575

Catalogue No: MSV 28575
EAN/UPC: 809730857522
Artists: Claire Overbury, David Braid, Elena Zucchini, Emily Gray, Peter Cigleris, Rossitza Stoycheva, Sergei Podobedov
Composers: David Braid
Release Date: October 2017
Total Playing Time: 76:35

Further information

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

I came to composing by a rather unusual route. I was studying cello at Birmingham Conservatoire and during a musicianship course was asked to compose a piece in the style of Bartok. I quickly realised how much I had enjoyed doing this and within a few weeks had an interview to change onto the composition course. In the following couple of years I became familiar with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music and this inspired me to keep going and find my own voice. Two years later, after accepting to teach me for my Masters Degree at the Royal College of Music, Mark continued to inspire me, this time in person.

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

My family have been the most significant influence. Without their continual support and understanding I am sure I would not have a career as a composer.

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

I find the greatest challenge to be balancing my time between composing and all the other things a composer must do to maintain one’s career. Being able to do this successfully whilst still finding the concentration and imaginative space one needs should not be underestimated.

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

Imagining the sound of the musicians and the process of working together with them on a new piece is something that I find incredibly motivating since this is a highlight of the whole process. When the ideas are flowing, I find the working process of composing very pleasurable.

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

Building a long relationship with a particular ensembles make the experiences of working together all the more pleasurable. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group stands out for me in this regard. I got to know the ensemble and organisation as a student, received opportunities to develop my compositional voice through working with them, and continue to have a strong relationship now in my career as a professional composer. Their virtuosity and brilliance makes every encounter special.

Of which works are you most proud?

When I achieve something in a piece that is ‘new’, adventurous or challenging for me, that is when I am most proud.

How do you work?

I start composing first thing and work through until I feel my concentration diminishing. I work with pencil on paper for much of the process, moving to Sibelius when I feel I have enough of an idea about the piece. I use a keyboard and sometimes my cello too, especially to try things out later on.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My friends. I find nothing more enjoyable that hearing and watching a friend perform or a friends’ music being performed; feeling their sound, expression and interpretation, each time knowing them a little deeper.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My Proms debut in 2012 with ‘At the Speed of Stillness’. I’ll never forget the feeling of standing on that stage for the first time to take a bow.

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

Write the music that you want to hear.

And performers?

Play music that is being written now, before it is too late.

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

Somewhere unexpected.

The composer Charlotte Bray has emerged as a distinctive and outstanding talent of her generation. Exhibiting uninhibited ambition and desire to communicate, her music is exhilarating, inherently vivid, and richly expressive with lyrical intensity. Charlotte studied under Mark Anthony Turnage at the Royal College of Music and previously under Joe Cutler at the Birmingham Conservatoire. She participated in the Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition Course with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Magnus Lindberg, and at the Tanglewood Music Centre with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read-Thomas.

Read Charlotte’s full biography

(picture © Michael Wickham)