Guest review by Karine Hetherington

I don’t go to the British Museum as often as maybe I should. My education in ancient civilizations sadly ceased the minute I left primary school. However I still love the Greek myths. I have happy memories of fashioning the Greek gods and heroes from papier-mâché and chicken wire in class and recall my felt tip drawing of Prometheus writhing in agony as an eagle pecked out his liver!

When I received an invitation to attend a talk and musical concert at the British Museum about the Parthenon Frieze in June, it seemed the ideal opportunity to renew my interest and to learn something of the precious exterior ornamental band which ran around the 2,500- year-old Parthenon temple.  I also wanted to know what all the fuss was about, why lawyer Amal Clooney, one month after marrying superstar George, was taking up the Greek cause to return the priceless marbles to Greece. Today, around 60% of the frieze is housed in Room 18 of the British Museum, the majority of the remaining 40% resides in the Acropolis museum.

The Parthenon Freize at the British Museum (picture source: Wikipedia)

So I set out on a gloriously sunny evening in June with the words of my friend Molly Borthwick (generous supporter of that day’s event) whirling around in my mind: “You haven’t met Ian (Jenkins), you haven’t heard him speak! He’s the world expert on Greek and Roman sculptors. You’ll lurvv him!”   When Molly says these things, I listen.

An hour later I was in the back row of the lecture hall. Without any ceremony a silver-haired Ian Jenkins walked on stage, looking the part of Victorian gentleman and flamboyant academic in his slightly creased, pin-striped suit and a silver watch chain, from which hung his museum key. From his lectern he perused the audience. I scanned the room myself. My gaze flitted across the packed lecture hall composed of suited men and women in heels and summer dresses, over to a younger crowd nearer to where I was sitting, in jeans, sneakers and dark tee-shirts, some of whom, started to canoodle the minute they sat down.

I went back to reading the programme: “Ian is the curator of the Museum’s critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art”. “The body” I thought to myself, a theme which is bound to get the punters in at the British Museum. Tonight however, Ian’s angle had changed. We were being offered: ‘The Parthenon Frieze: a symphony in stone’. As I am a great classical music lover and a Wigmore Hall regular, I was intrigued by the musical connection. This, coupled with the fact that we were going to be treated to a live UK premier of newly commissioned work entitled Panathenaia which had been inspired by the Parthenon frieze.

Ian explained that the frieze was the decorative sculptural upper band of marble, which originally ran off the entrance to the Parthenon temple.  The frieze evokes the ‘Great Panathenaia’, the festival held every four years to celebrate the birth of Athena. Here we had to imagine it in situ: two parallel processions progress along opposite sides of the building towards their finishing point on the east wall. We see horsemen, chariots, animals for sacrifice, young women and magistrates or tribal heroes. There are chariot races that day and music competitions, the prizes special jars, filled with olive oil, with a depiction of the event on them.   The high point of the ceremony is the presentation of the peplos or sacred cloth, newly woven, to adorn an ancient olive statue of Athena.  Presiding over these festivities are the gods and goddesses. The interesting thing, Ian tells us, is that there is a question mark over whether the gods are viewing these events from on high – that is from Mount Olympus – or down at the Temple in Athens, suggesting perhaps the merging of the human and the divine. Have humans become godlier or have the gods become more plebeian? There is a pause whilst we take this in. A man in front of me stops tapping the screen on his iPhone and looks up, as if he has just woken up to this momentous question left hanging in the air.  He looks around vaguely then bows his head again and resumes his silent tapping.

Ian’s talk becomes more and more fascinating as he draws all sorts of modern artistic parallels with the frieze. He sees the same arrangement of horses in a work painted by the great artist Mark Gertler in 1916, ‘The Merry go round’ and so on. And then comes Ian’s tour de force. “The symphony” which is to be found in the Parthenon Frieze. Ian starts to show us slides of his transcription of the frieze, which he has converted into a sort of Braille, in which the numerous figures seen from above, are represented by simple shapes. And here I quote from the Panathenaia librettist Paul Williamson, as I’m not a musicologist : “The heads of the horsemen, for example, are shown as ovals, laid out in rows to indicate the depth of field. The effect of the semibreve-like ellipses arranged on staves, as it were, is incredibly like musical notation.”

Oh my! My brain is now reeling, I am eager to hear the music to give it a rest.

Full of anticipation we leave the lecture hall, and make our way up a grand staircase to Room 18, the Parthenon frieze viewing gallery.

Twenty minutes later, having finally settled in our seats, we are able to admire the frieze for real; we stare at the sections of white marble sculptures on the walls, beautifully lit, looking so clean, the figures so beautifully fluid and lovingly preserved, though incomplete. It is hard to believe that they are so ancient. The TV camera is there with Patricia Wheatley, formerly with the BBC and head of the BM Broadcasting unit, the photographers with their telescopic lenses, all now aiming at the stage, for the choir, two sopranos, the orchestra and lead violinist Hugo Ticciati (soon to be playing at the Wigmore I noticed with interest) has just stepped in. The enthusiastic Ticciati starts speaking a little fast on the stage, but it doesn’t matter, all I need to know is in the programme, namely that it was he who had the idea of commissioning this work in the first place.  Ticciati enlisted the services of award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones (Winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition) and they chose Paul Williamson to write the libretto. Ticciati and his orchestra performed the finished work once in Sweden last summer, at a summer festival he organises, and instead of the Parthenon, a rock-balancing artist was called in to reconstruct his own frieze with some stones from a nearby lake. Apparently the last irregular diamond of stone was put in place as the music ended.

Wow! I thought, not bad, not bad at all. But even a rock-balancing artist cannot compete with these beautiful smooth, sculpted warriors running along the wall.

A young bearded conductor steps up on stage with tight corkscrews curls, followed by two late musicians, who, cowering with embarrassment and grasping their violins quickly find their seats.

Panathenaia is a Cantata in eight movements for string orchestra, timpani, soloists and choir. The hugely talented composer, Thomas Hewitt-Jones drew his inspiration from certain figures from the frieze and temple statues.

The instrumental Prelude opens with the tense plucking of strings and jagged rhythms, then the full orchestra enters into a slow lumbering movement of strange, mysterious sounds marking the start of the Athenian procession or is it the wars that preceded the building of the Parthenon temple, as there is the rumble of drums.   We are transported back to c. 495-429 BC, where the instruments one imagines to have such different discordant sounds.

In marked contrast, the following “Temple” movement with the Choir, is one of beautiful high, ethereal voices, denoting the harmony and beauty of the land and holy building where justice reigns: “This ancient land’s an orderly/Arrangement, wrought from flowing forms”.

“The Weaver’s Song” following, sung with great feeling by the fine blonde soprano Paulina Pfeiffer is both mournful and serious in tone – serious because she is weaving the sacred cloth which will clothe the statue of Athena, therefore a great responsibility – mournful – because she is alone, separated from her warrior boyfriend who is taking part in the chariot races during the festival: “Eros, has made me dull”. Apparently in rehearsals, Paulina, was disturbed by her voice ricocheting off the frieze in Room 18. She was, I was told, holding back tonight, and I noticed her shoulders stiffen a little as one particular high note echoed around our heads. The effect however was thrilling!

I loved “The Lyric Suite”: Hugo Ticciati’s achingly beautiful violin, sometimes so haunting and then the unsettling bassoon, plucking of strings and tympani which crescendos into a full-blown orchestral swell setting things up for Prometheus and his challenge with the gods.

In “Prometheus” we had the gorgeous pairing of the blonde soprano and dark mezzo-soprano, Karolina Blixt. Blixt looked very striking in her Grecian ivory dress and liquid eye liner eyes which flashed at the audience, causing quite a ripple amongst the male members who looked up at her in complete reverence (I see a star in the making). “Ah but the gods have lost their spark” they sing signifying the decline in the influence of the gods, making way for Prometheus who “…freed the agent of change/That far-seeing rascal”. The sopranos snarl the word “rascal”

In “Shadows in a dream” the choir asks what harmony is possible when humanity inherits the earth? Tympani – storm rumblings loud then soft and distant, set the scene for the following “Birth of Pandora”, Zeus’s revenge on humanity. I loved the amazing anarchic dance of the satyrs attending the birth of the beautiful, ‘baneful’ Pandora. “Caper on your crooked legs” – wonderful alliteration by Paul Williamson the librettist. And finally the Coda – plucking of double basses like footsteps fading away. The music has turned full circle. We are back to where we started.

Loud applause. Ian Jenkins the curator, the musicians, singers, composer, librettist and conductor, had transported us into another world, another time. It had been an exciting, illuminating experience, one that I am very keen to repeat. These sorts of happenings however are rare and require money, time, commitment and passion. Vision too. I felt privileged to have attended such an event.

Since then I have returned to admire the frieze in the British Museum twice!

Discover this extraordinary composition performed by orchestra and singers for the first time ever in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery, which houses the Parthenon Sculptures. Surrounded by these stunning carvings, Panathenaia celebrates their artistry and tells the story portrayed in the timeless stones.

Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer who lives in London. A dual-British and French national, with a Russian ancestry thrown in, her short stories and novels reflect her passion for both the detail and grand sweep of European history. After studying creative writing at Birkbeck College in London, Karine has been telling stories that have brought history to life, with tales of love and adventure that draw on the detail of real events and real lives. Karine’s novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse’ is available now. Read an extract here

Meet the Artist……Thomas Hewitt Jones

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

I grew up surrounded by a family of musicians. Everyone played in the local brass band and my grandparents were really my first teachers. When I was 15 I received a scholarship to study at Chethams School of Music in Manchester and whilst there a friend and I sneaked out of school one day to see a production of the Rite of Spring. It was the first time I’d experienced orchestral music and dance performed live together and I found the whole experience hugely overwhelming. As soon as I left the theatre I knew I wanted to write music.

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

Early on in my career it was brass bands that provided me with a way into music. I grew up playing the tenor horn and moved onto French horn when I started at Chethams. It was here that I experienced orchestral music for the first time. The music of Stravinsky, Turnage, Prokofiev, John Adams really struck a chord with me. Even now I find those early influences really underpin what I want to do as a composer. My music is often very fast, driven and rhythmic. It’s immediate, and for me that’s important.

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

I’m about to start working on an opera. I think this will be my most challenging project, but I can’t wait to get started on it.

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

For me the aim of the process is to hear my music performed. I’ve never been good at writing music without a performance in mind. The process is hard, long and at times frustrating but to finally hear the music performed is what drives me. Of course when you are working to a specific commission or brief you can’t necessarily write whatever you want, but the restraints that come with a commission are good for me; it gives me structure and a guide.

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

I love collaborating with other artists. As a composer you spend a great deal of time alone and this can sometimes be counter productive. So the opportunity to actually create music with other musicians, artists or choreographers is something I thrive on. I really work my best when I’m working with others, so when I’ve collaborated with choreographers or librettists I feel I’ve written some of my strongest pieces. When you know the ensemble you are working with so well it can help drive the creative practice. I have a great relationship with Tredegar Town Band, for whom I have written two large works now. Since I know the players and conductor so well we can just get straight the heart of the music. It’s wonderful.

Which works are you most proud of?  

That’s a tough one because I am very self-conscious about the music I write. In most of my works there are moments that bother me, either because listening now I find it naïve or I feel I could do it better if I was able to write the piece again. But I suppose the two pieces I’m most proud of are Dark Arteries, a ballet I’ve just completed about the miners’ strike, and Velocity, which was commissioned to open the Last Night of the Proms in 2014. It was such an honour to be asked to write that piece, the whole experience was just incredible.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A few years ago I heard the Berlin Philharmonic play Brahms 2 in Oxford at 10:30 in the morning. I have never heard such an incredible sound in my life. Every single player, from the front desk to back, played like they were leading the orchestra and the performance was thrilling. I heard them play the whole of the Firebird score last year at the Proms and I was in tears at the end. They’re such an incredible group of musicians.

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

A career in music is tough and is full of challenges and frustrations and so you have to work hard and practice your craft every day. Go to lots of concerts and listen to lots of different kinds of music. Take what you do seriously and be self critical, but don’t be self critical it impedes on you improving, know when to give yourself credit!

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

Happy, comfortable, maybe taking a walk in the Blue Mountains.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having a lovely time on my roof with my London family…. Also eating sushi….

What is your most treasured possession? 

My pictures of my friends and family.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Time in London. I love this town and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening to it at the moment. I just hope that we can get it back on track, it’s the most amazing city in the world and we shouldn’t allow greedy, corporate villains to take it from us. It is the centre of cultural universe and we must fight to keep it that way.

 

 

 

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

I don’t recall a specific moment when I thought of becoming a composer. It’s something I have always done, as far as I can remember. Singing my own little tunes on long family walks was probably the way it emerged.

There was, however, a significant event when I was around nine years old. I had been playing the piano all day and searching for new harmonies (or new to me at any rate) on a rather gloomy day. At a particular point in the progression of chords the sun suddenly filled the room with golden light. I can’t remember what the notes were now and I wouldn’t have attributed this event to a supernatural cause but I do remember the jolt of pleasure at the coincidence and I have imagined music as a force of nature ever since.

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

Moods and emotional states affect me more than events, although they are naturally interlinked. Internally I have an almost constant flow of music which seems to shape itself to my environment. I don’t suppose this musical flow is of any great quality – that is the aim of the process of refining and reinforcing. Of course, I’m influenced by powerful creative encounters and it must be apparent in my music but I rarely experience this as direct emulation; it’s more like osmosis.

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

I don’t want to be too negative but sometimes the challenges of being a composer seem overwhelming. Leaving aside the difficulties of the creative process, which are usually absorbing, intriguing and rewarding, there are the difficulties of offering the results in a world which has less regard for the values I hold dear. The current cultural climate, at least in the West, seems to favour the extrovert and I often wonder whether someone like Schubert would have attained even the modest success he did if he were alive today.

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

Ideally, perhaps, composers would write what they want or need to write when ready to do so. This is the old notion of ‘having something to say’ – and there is something to be said for that. There are innumerable practical reasons why this is rarely the case but, if one has a supple enough imagination, it is often possible to work under the illusion that the premise for the commission is entirely one’s own. For me it is essential to feel this way in order to generate confident ideas. I don’t think it’s just ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome. As for the pleasure, it’s always a fascinating sensation bringing something into existence – perhaps a feeling that it was waiting to appear like the sculpture in the marble block.

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

To my mind, nothing represents the internal state as revealingly as music. When people play my music with insight and sensitivity there is a strong feeling of transformation, even if it differs from my own way of thinking. It’s important to say that this is not fundamentally a matter of ego or self-importance; flaws are equally revealed. It’s a sense of joining with others.

Which works are you most proud of? 

As with many artists, I tend to think of my works as offspring; I have an affection for them all – even the less successful ones. The most recent piece is, probably naturally, the one I’m most interested in. I’m preparing my piano quartet for publication and I must admit to being quite pleased with it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Beethoven is evergreen for me. His music is nearly always open at the piano. Others who give me ‘nutrition’ as well as pleasure are Sibelius, Bartok, Britten and Tippett. Actually the list could go on and on and spans the centuries. As for living composers it’s more complex because you have to disentangle friendships, admiration of technique, bravery and determination from the mix, as they are different things. I’m more inclined to think of favourite works by contemporary composers than a list of favourite composers. Any composer with a feeling for the best qualities of tradition as well as a restless search for freshness is likely to appeal to me. A snapshot of what’s in my mind at the moment would feature the symphonies of David Matthews and Kalevi Aho

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Bernard Haitink conduct The Midsummer Marriage at ROH in the late nineties was unforgettable. The performance was wonderful and Tippett was there to receive some of the warmest applause I have ever witnessed. Many things came together for me, in that moment, which reaffirmed my own sense of purpose.

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

It’s more important than ever to value the non-verbal intelligence of music and not to let material exigencies and social politics dominate this precious form of communication. It can be used as a prop for ideas but we shouldn’t forget that it’s a wonderful idea in itself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

So many of the supposed satisfactions in life are illusory. Just as in music, there is the anticipation of an event and then the receding resonance of it but the event itself can be practically non-existent. I find I’m at my happiest when I’m in a state of effortless concentration and ideas and abilities seem to come almost without the sensation of thinking – alas all too rare. Oh – and then there’s throwing my seven-year-old daughter in the air and making monster noises. Now that’s fun!

James Francis Brown studied composition firstly with Hans Heimler (himself a pupil of Alban Berg) under the scholarship from the Surrey Scheme for Exceptionally Gifted Children and subsequently at the Royal Academy of Music. From 1994, James Francis Brown’s major works have been heard regularly at the South Bank and Wigmore Hall and have included a Piano Sonata (1994), a Viola Sonata (1995), and the String Trio (1996) for the Leopold String Trio which, following its première at the Deal Festival, has enjoyed numerous performances in London, Glasgow and as part of a British Council tour.

The English Chamber Orchestra with soloist Jack Liebeck gave the première of his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra at the Barbican in February 2001. His Sinfonietta, commissioned by Faber Music, was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in February 2002 by the London Chamber Orchestra. He has been a regular visitor to the Presteigne Festival and his song ‘Words’ is included on a CD of the collaborative song-cycle ‘A Garland for Presteigne’, on the Metronome label.

In March 2003, he was awarded a five-year NESTA fellowship. Recent works included a Piano Quartet for the Fidelio Piano Quartet and a piece for the Philharmonia Orchestra premièred at the 2004 Three Choirs Festival and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In 2005 he scored a short film “The Clap” which has won several awards at major international film festivals and he was invited to be the first ever composer-in-residence at the International Musician’s Seminar, Prussia Cove.

2006 saw the première of the cello and piano version of Prospero’s Isle at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival as well as the Trio Concertante for the string trio and orchestra at the Presteigne Festival. Prospero’s Isle has subsequently been recast as a symphonic tone poem, which was performed by the State Academic Orchestra of St Petersburg in November 2007 as part of a major British music festival.

An accomplished arranger he recently reconstructed and orchestrated sketches for Wagner’s projected opera Männerlist großer als Frauenlist for the Royal Opera House, which was performed in October 2007. He has also arranged Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll for the 2008 City of London Festival. His Clarinet Concerto for Catriona Scott was performed at the 2008 Presteigne Festival.

In 2009, James was the composer-in-residence for the Ulverston International Music Festival, the composer-in-residence for the International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove (at the request of cellist Steven Isserlis). He also gave a talk with David Matthews on the inspiration of dreams in music in August that year.

In 2010, the Badke quartet premièred James’ String Quartet (which was commissioned by the London Chamber Music Society), and 2011 saw the release of his CD Prospero’s Isle.

2012 was a good year for the composer, there were world premières of the piano solo version of Dunwich Bells (performed by Clare Hammond), the Piano Trio (by the Barbican trio who later toured it), Fanfare and Chorale (at the Jersey International Music Festival, by Jersey Premier Brass), the song Ozymandias (by Simon Lepper on piano and soprano Gillian Keith). James became an associate of the Royal Academy of Music in July 2012, and – in 2013 – the world première of A Dream and A Dance (by the Nash ensemble) took place in honour of the composer David Matthew’s 70th birthday.

Successes in 2014 included a stunning performance of the string quartet at the London Chamber Music Society, and a new theatrical version of Prospero’s Isle performed by Matthew Sharp and Clare Hammond at Sharp’s RE:naissance festival. His new work Rigaudon, part of a collaborative anthology ‘Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov’, was premiered by pianist Noriko Ogawa at Bridgewater Hall in April 2015.

 

AndyQuinComposer1

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

Neither of my parents were musicians and we didn’t own a piano. Apparently I used to nip into the front room to play a piano on visits to my aunt when my parents were chatting. On the strength of what they heard they bought me a cheap piano and paid for lessons when I was four. This was a major struggle for a working class family at the time and I know they went without things in order to fund my musical efforts. I will forever be indebted to my parents for their faith in my abilities, their early support allowed me to realise my dream. Unfortunately Mum died when I was eleven and never got to hear my first TV and Radio broadcasts the following year, but she always loved to hear me play during her long illness at home and gave me so much encouragement. 

As for composing, I think this is down to two things really, laziness and poor eyesight! Reading music was always a struggle for me so I relied on my ears. It was so much easier for me to make up my own music than to read the works of others!

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

Of the many old 78’s I used to listen to as a very young child, two in particular stand out for me; Rachmaninoff himself playing his Prelude in C# minor and Sidney Torch playing the organ of the Regal Edmonton, London. I think it is no coincidence that both are composers and both are telling stories through music. These recordings had a huge influence on me. 

Up until about the age of eight or nine I was really totally immersed in classical music, I aspired to be a concert pianist. My brother (who was a few years older) had an eclectic taste and encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music. We lived on the East Coast and he encouraged me to listen to the Pirate radio stations such as Caroline and Radio North Sea International, my musical horizons were considerably broadened as a result! (Later when I studied with media composer Tim Souster it became apparent that this great diversity of musical influence could be a huge advantage if I wanted to write music for TV and Film) . I had never really considered composing as a career until I met Tim. He introduced me to my publisher De Wolfe Music. I studied with Roger Marsh and Peter Dickinson whilst at Keele University but one of the most significant influences was the visiting Professor, Cecil Lytle from the Juilliard, New York. It was he who introduced me to the works of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. 

I had always had a keen interest in technology (my dad was a radio engineer in the RAF during the war), and I became involved with computers in the very early days of digital back in the 70’s. The studio technician at Keele was Cliff Bradbury (who later went on to engineer many of my recordings). He was very forward looking and introduced me to the world of computers and music. It was my work with the Fairlight CMI ( the world’s first computer sampling musical instrument) that was really my key to the media music industry.

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

I suffer from perfectionism which is a huge disadvantage if you ever want to get any composition finished or recorded! However, hopefully professionalism and the practicalities of the real world take over and you have to always look forward. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on, not keep going back to revise. Total perfection in music composition/performance is not possible (except perhaps in the case of Bach!).

In practical terms, scoring was very hard for me, notation never came naturally to me. After my first few albums, my publisher asked if I would like to write and record a project for the US market with a large orchestra. When it turned out the orchestra was the RPO and I only had a few weeks to score, prepare parts etc. I was in a panic! Once again, computers came to my aid with a program, then in its infancy, called Sibelius. Many of the musicians told me it was the first time they had ever seen music printed with a dot-matrix printer! It was a steep learning curve but I am so glad I persevered. I have now worked with many of the UK’s finest recording orchestras, and it is so nice to get positive feedback from the players after a session. Rather strangely I now often like to work with a pencil and manuscript paper!

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

I have been so busy as a professional composer, and it was only with the release of my ‘ Two Toccatas for Piano’ (summer 2014) that I have had my first chance in over thirty years to work on something that wasn’t commissioned! I have been so lucky to have had such a wonderful, joy-filled life of music and to get paid for it!! I have now recorded something over 70 albums, every one a new and different challenge pushing my musical knowledge and abilities. There is always so much more to learn and music just keeps on giving!

You compose for film and tv. What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on film/tv scores?

I am not really the ideal film/TV composer as the first thing to understand is music is not the most important element in a production. It is just one part of the jigsaw of directing, script, casting, acting etc. that goes into making a great production. This goes against my nature as music is by far the most important thing from my perspective! However, building a good working relationship with a director is essential, and you learn that the music is not lessened just because it is only a part of the whole. It is there to serve a function just like say, sacred music or ballet music. The very best music both fulfils and transcends its function.

On a practical level, the hardest and yet most satisfying aspect is to listen and understand the language of a director. They often speak in visual terms; ‘Can the music be a little darker here?’ or ‘I need music to bring the vastness of the Himalayas into peoples sitting rooms on a small screen!’. Interpreting exactly what they mean and having empathy and sensitivity for their vision is paramount. When an artistic collaboration works well the sense of an emotional and intellectual bond is wonderful.

Which works are you most proud of? 

I am both proud and embarrassed by all my work! Nothing is ever quite good enough, and yet I can honestly say I am proud that I have always done the best I can do at the time. My score for the short film ‘Dollar Night’ by Marco Antonio Martinez is a recent highlight. it is such a lovely, simple short story, I hope the music does it justice.

Probably my favourite album is ‘Childrens’ Magical World’ DWCD 0375. My youngest son was just a few years old when I wrote and recorded this double album of orchestral fantasy themes and was the inspiration for much of the music. This was a massive project involving orchestras, child choirs and many, many hours of hard work as I orchestrated it all. The dedication on the sleeve reads;

“This album is dedicated to my family. My wife Anne for her patience an support over the years, Laura for her inspiring beauty and elegance, James for his sheer enthusiasm, and little Jonathan who at 4 years old lets me join in and play, so that I can be a child again”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

It is always so difficult to single out and I couldn’t just list a few. I admire and have had the great privilege to work with many of the world’s finest musicians. As for composers I guess it always comes back to Bach, although Debussy, Rachmaninov and Liszt are up there. My favourite band is Earth Wind and Fire!

How does your performing inform your composing, and vice versa?

Improvisation has always been central to my musical life both in composition and performance. I love the thrill of real-time composing and performing live, it is almost the antithesis of the studied and lengthy, lonely process of written composition and studio recording. The engagement with a live audience is a wonderful feeling and music is too much a living, evolving thing to be tied to closely to dots on a page or a fixed recording. These can represent the essence, or capture a moment in time, but can never replace the immediacy of real music making that happens at the moment of a live performance.

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

As I get older, and I don’t want to sound sentimental, it has become apparent to me that the great Bacharach and David song is right, what the world needs now is love! Love of the material world, love of life and people, and for a musician, love of your art and skill. Of course I am aware much great art and music is born out of suffering, however suffering is largely due to our love of things that can be taken or lost, our fear of the passing or loss of things we need, or hold to be dear and beautiful or desirable. The ephemeral, transient nature of music as art, bound up in its very essence with the passage of time, is inextricably linked to human life and love. Music can be a great intellectual exercise, one of the best in fact, but should never be approached with a cold heart!

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

I don’t really mind where I am as long as I have my wife and family, my health and music and books.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There are so many kinds of happiness I’m not sure if any are perfect.

What is your most treasured possession?

In terms of material things, my Estonia concert grand piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living, laughing, walking, thinking, reading and talking. Making and listening to music. Just being with family and friends, people are wonderful!

I am a keen badminton player, I have an interest in physics and astronomy and I love flying.

What is your present state of mind?

My wife would say, “what mind?!”

I am celebrating 50 years of playing the piano this year and so am probably in a slightly reflective state at the moment.

Andy Quin on SoundCloud

Born in London, Andy started playing the piano at the age of four and aspired to be a concert pianist. He had given his first radio and TV broadcasts by the age of eleven, however in his early teens, an interest in composition and recording sparked a change of direction and he started to develop his skills in rock, jazz and popular music. Having turned down a scholarship to the RCM, he studied at Keele University graduating with a degree in Music and Electronics. Andy studied composition and studio techniques with Tim Souster, Peter Dickinson and Roger Marsh. He also continued his classical piano studies with the acclaimed concert pianist Peter Seivewright whilst pursuing his interest in jazz with Professor Cecil Lytle from the Juilliard School of music. After graduating, Andy started writing for the De Wolfe Production Music Library. His first album ‘Mirage’ brought worldwide acclaim and he was soon sought after as a composer for TV and advertising. During the Eighties Andy composed music for many TV series and some of the UK’s best known advertising campaigns including the Oxo Family with Linda Bellingham, Websters Bitter with Cleo Rocos, Birds Eye Menu Masters, and the classic After Eight ad where Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe are entertained by Liberace. He worked with leading directors and producers such as Mike Figgis and Terence Donovan, on projects for clients including BA, Slazenger, Wimbledon LTA, Lynx, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, CIS and many others. Central Television made a short documentary film about Andy’s work at this time. After great success in the American TV and film market during the early Nineties Andy moved to the countryside and concentrated on production music at his purpose built private studio. However an interest in World Music saw him writing and producing a number of tracks for the international best selling album ‘One World’ which achieved No.3 in the UK charts. He has produced a great diversity of compositions such as Native American music for the Imax natural history Film Wolves, period music on the Academy Award nominated documentary feature My Architect, early jazz on Boardwalk Empire, the Mambo title music to the ITV comic outtake series It Shouldn’t Happen To A…., and a song on a top 20 album in Sweden. Recent commercials include; Scholl, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Fairy cleaner, Britannia, Pedigree Chum and Setanta. Recent compositions include jazz on the Todd Solondz Film Dark Horse and the track Awakening, a finalist in the 2014 MAS awards for it’s use on the trailer to Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. Currently working on his 70th album for De Wolfe Music, and with thousands of broadcasts every year in all continents, Andy is probably one of the most successful production music composers in the world. Andy is a virtuoso concert performer and still gives occasional recitals when time permits.

 

Flowing Waters – Luke Whitlock
Suite Antique (piano solo)
Flowing Waters (piano solo)
Evening Prayer (piano solo)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (piano solo)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio
Flute Sonata

It’s always nice when someone contacts me to tell me about a new CD which they think I will like, and Luke Whitlock’s debut recording Flowing Waters is no exception. It was recommended to me by librettist Ben Kaye, and I have enjoyed exploring it over the course of several days.

This is the first album devoted to Luke Whitlock’s work (in addition to composing, he is also a producer for Radio 3 and 4) and it reveals a composer whose music is firmly rooted in melody, tonality, lyricism and expression. There are hints of folksong in the Suite Antique, as well as a very obvious hommage to the Baroque tradition of composing dance suites in the titles of the individual movements. It is also redolent of works by Debussy and Ravel which also looked back to Baroque antecedents, with quirky nods to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in the ‘Gigue’. The music is lyrical, elegant and witty, at times mininalist and at others more richly textured in the manner of Chopin or Liszt (‘Minuet’, a sensuous Chopinesque waltz), all sensitively executed by acclaimed pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

The title track ‘Flowing Waters’ was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, and is a musical portrait of the River Teign in Devon. The piece opens with simple chords before moving into a flowing passage which owes much to Philip Glass in its spare textures and unexpected harmonic shifts, but also to Beethoven in the repeated LH quaver figure (the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata springs immediately to mind here) and also Liszt’s second ‘Petrarch Sonnet’ from the Années de Pelerinage. There are some Lisztian harmonies in the middle section of the work too, and the music plots a course through different tonal, melodic and harmonic landscapes, reflecting the winding and varied course of the river which inspired it. I was particularly taken with this track because it echoes a number of piano pieces (including several of Philip Glass’s ‘Etudes’) which I am currently working on.

The ‘Three Pieces for Wind’ trio are haunting and reflective pieces which depict certain landscapes and the listener’s interaction and response to them. There is a pleasing balance and sense of conversation and humour between the instruments (flute, clarinet and bassoon). The ‘Flute Sonata’, composed for flautist Anna Stokes (accompanied here by pianist Wai-Yin Lee), is the major work on the disc and reveals hints of Chopin and Poulenc in its melodies and scope. Meanwhile, ‘Evening Prayer’, which comes between the works for wind, is a tender meditation, redolent of some of Satie’s piano music.

The disc closes with ‘The Faust and Mephisto Waltz’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Liszt whose music is taken from a score for a silent film. It is jokey and enjoyable in its pastiche, while presenting some technical challenges for the pianist (Duncan Honeybourne), and does indeed have a very filmic quality.

The music contained on this album is very accessible and will certainly appeal to those listeners who may initially shy away from “new music”. Recommended.

Flowing Waters is available on the Divine Art label. Further information here

Composer Luke Whitlock will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview

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

I had my first piano lesson at just four years old, my dad would love to have played but came from a family who just couldn’t afford lessons. He played me Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony when I was about seven years old and I vividly remember being bowled over by the storm section. My first pop single was the Adagio from Spartacus and Phrygia which was in the charts because ‘The Onedin Line’ was a very popular TV series. I began writing songs when I was 15, mainly due to my father’s encouragement.

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

Coming from Wales and being surrounded by music in school the whole time meant it was a huge part of my life, right from the very beginning. I really enjoyed piano lessons, took my first exam when I was just six and music was always my great love. Sounds daft but significant influences are every single piece of music I’ve ever heard, all the classical greats plus Barry Manilow and Abba. I love good pop music and Abba wrote the best, most beautifully constructed songs. I don’t have a favourite composer, too many to choose from!

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

Small hands! I have always had to choose my music carefully. Rachmaninov was never going to be possible but I played Mozart, Mendelssohn well. Becoming a mum meant being permanently busy and not having the time (or inspiration) to write. I didn’t compose a note between 1998 and 2011 but when my elder son was working towards his Winchester College entrance exams and spending lots of time at his dad’s to study, I began playing again.  Within a few months, I had composed the whole ‘A Country Suite’ album, eight pieces for piano.

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

I wrote to order early in my career. Jingles, incidental music for TV drama but I’m afraid I prefer working independently and putting together music for my own enjoyment (which, thankfully appeals to a wider audience too). I am a huge fan of Debbie Wiseman (she and I studied with James Gibb at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1980s) and she is expert at composing to pictures and being able to change things quickly. I am still very much a full time mum and would find that aspect very challenging. I still write at the piano with manuscript paper and a pencil!

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

Again, this isn’t something I do much. I composed a piece for SATB choir back in 2014 and it was a huge thrill to sing in a choir actually performing a piece I had composed in the beautiful setting of Douai Abbey in Berkshire.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I was a prolific songwriter in my teens/20s/30s and the first song I wrote ‘Ti a Mi’ (Welsh for ‘You and Me’) was a big hit for me. It has generated a lot of royalties over the years and is still played on the radio now.  I am very proud of ‘A Country Suite’: it has some lovely melodies and the piano pieces are rather more complex than they sound!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love good music, melody, harmony and so, as well as classical music, I loved 1970s pop music, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Wizzard, Sweet, Slade, The Osmonds. In terms of classical music, I adore Puccini, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Bach.  I love a big romantic melody!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing ‘One Voice’ in Barry Manilow’s choir at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1982 was very exciting.  My own ‘Concert for Autism’ was very special too. I put on a free concert at St Nicolas’s Church in Newbury in September 2009. I invited along some of Newbury’s most talented musicians and we raised almost £5000 for the West Berkshire branch of the National Autistic Society. I sang, played Mozart duets and a massive ragtime medley. It was great!

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

I am not one to sweat over a piece. If it works, it tends to come quite quickly and I rarely (if ever) change things. If it works and sounds good, just do it.  I have broken many of the ‘rules’ of harmony and counterpoint, parallel fifths and octaves, parallel fourths. I’m not a fan of tritones and haven’t used those as yet but never say never! If the piece I’ve written sounds nice to the ear, is well structured, has a good intro, beginning, middle and end, then I’m happy.  If you have to keep changing it all the time, chances are it wasn’t that great to begin with.

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

Happily married and sharing my life with my new fiancé, John. He is also a trumpet player and we both practise together! Aw!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Loving someone special and knowing they love and cherish you too.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am not a big one for ‘things’ but my new engagement ring is very special to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Several things: attending concerts with John, playing the piano and realising a new piece is starting to form, going for pizza with my two amazing sons, walking my greyhounds in the woods.

What is your present state of mind?

As happy as I have ever been in my whole life!

Fiona Bennett’s ‘New Lady Radnor Suite’ is available now. With a nod towards Hubert Parry who composed ‘Lady Radnor’s Suite’ in 1894, Fiona has composed and dedicated her new album to her friend, Melissa (The Countess of Radnor). 

fionabennettmusic.co.uk