Who or what inspired you to take up a career in music?

As a teenager I was lucky to have Jeremy Carter as my piano teacher. I also revered the rock’n’roll pianism of Jerry Lee Lewis (and still do).

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

I struggled during my first couple of years on the demanding joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM, but my third year was something of a revelation. I learnt reams during my piano lessons with John Gough (including, crucially, a fresh and non-stuffy approach) and also took composition lessons with John Casken and lectures in postmodern music from Kevin Malone and Shostakovich from David Fanning. It was at this point I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. Fulbright studies in the US with Ursula Oppens sealed the deal.

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

Juggling a range of disciplines and trying (hard!) to excel in all of them. Alongside piano I compose frequently for many varied ensembles (that, strangely, hardly ever include piano – for example this one) and I regularly conduct performances of (mainly) new music. My work with CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) is really important because it involves getting amazing people from all walks of life participating in the music, and I also serve on the board of the Riot Ensemble in order to get the most cutting-edge of this stuff out there in concert. I love teaching and am lucky to supervise over 80 groups of all styles and genres as part of my role as Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester, and I also have a clutch of brilliant and talented students at the Junior Royal Academy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I played Rzewski’s colossal ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’ in three venues last year, and I think I am proud to have scaled that particular pianistic mountain (although I haven’t been brave enough to listen to the recording yet!). I’m also pleased to have performed Lutoslawski’s terrific concerto – here’s a clip of the ending in my performance with the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and Victor Yampolsky.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Probably pieces by Shostakovich. I relate well to nervous energy, tragedy…. and comedy!

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

Whatever I think will be fun to prepare and fun for people to listen to.

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

Hmm, tricky one. I like venues where it is easy to blur the boundaries between the performers and the listeners, so it’s more of a community experience. Maybe St Martin-in-the-Fields?

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Kevin Malone wrote me a wonderful and hilarious piece involving plenty of theatre called Count Me In. You can watch a performance here. I also love the sound of wind orchestras and have been lucky to have been involved in quite a few over the years. You can’t beat the Americans for their brass sound.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’d have to include Pierre Boulez – a great musical polymath with an amazing conducting style. You can see every single composerly detail in the gesture. My American conducting teachers (especially Mallory Thompson) taught me the importance of this. At other ends of the spectrum I love Eddie Cochran and The Who.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my first outing of Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’ in which I have to adopt the persona of two female goddesses as well as play some really imaginative piano music. (You can listen to a performance here.) I’m playing this again in a Riot Ensemble concert on January 30th.

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

Just to give 100% energy and commitment to whatever is being asked of you, however big, small or unusual.

What are you working on at the moment?

This morning, the John Ireland ‘Phantasie’ Trio. I play in a piano trio with Ellie Blackshaw (violin) and Peter Copley (cello) and we are on a mission to present all three of the Ireland trios. They are wonderful and really reek of Sussex, which is where I live.

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

Doing the same sorts of things, but with less anxiety about note learning/ preparedness.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious about note learning/preparedness!

Adam Swayne works with a vast range of musical media and styles that go beyond conventional labelling. He is just as at home giving a solo piano recital or conducting an orchestra as he is organising musical installations in art galleries or composing for amateur ensembles. He takes an inclusive, informative and innovative approach to his music making that is drawing an increasingly large audience.

Adam is a graduate of the joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM. He gained first class degrees from both institutions, and an MMus from the RNCM. Manchester University gave Adam their highest award (Sir Thomas Beecham Medal) along with other prizes including the Recital Prize. Prizes from the RNCM included the John Ireland Prize and an award for performances of contemporary music.

In 2003 Adam was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to begin doctoral studies at Northwestern University, U.S.A. He graduated in 2006 with distinction, having presented several U.S. premières of works by British composers.

Adam is now Senior Lecturer and Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester and piano tutor at the Junior Royal Academy of Music.

Adam’s Swayne’s full biography can be found on his website:

www.adamswayne.com

Joanna Marsh

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

Although I have composed from as far back as I can remember, I went into teaching and organ playing after university, as I had no role model in composition and no understanding of how a person would forge a career doing that. It really was Judith Bingham, who I met in my thirties, who helped me make the transition to being a professional composer. She had a very practical and down to earth approach but she was also very inspiring and I felt a strong affinity with the way she thought about music.

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

I find that as a composer living in Dubai, I need to be highly proactive. You can’t sit around waiting for commissions to find you, you need to think up interesting projects and connect with people who can help make them happen. And actually it has been challenging living in a society that has no government funded performing arts sector as the priorities of a nation do largely filter down from the top. There are no professional orchestras or musical institutions in Dubai so the natural places for a composer to find work don’t exist. Things are subtly changing but Islamic Art and local Arabic Music will always be first in line for attention, which is probably as it should be.

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

The commitment and investment of others in a work is often very helpful. Composing is very solitary and although there may be collaboration at the point where you meet the performers at the first rehearsal, generally you spend many hours alone in a room working on the music, thinking hard and crafting ideas. A commissioner will provide an initial direction for these ideas through the occasion of the performance and musical forces offered. And then of course, they provide the most helpful thing of all, a deadline! I have been lucky enough in that no commissioner has got in the way of the piece so far. I have colleagues who have had their commissioners move the goalposts during the compositional process (actually we need a different length, sorry it needs to be for strings not brass…!), which can really create havoc.

How do commissions generally come about?

Lots of different ways. Sometimes people have heard something of yours that they like and get in touch. It is usually the performers in this case. But sometimes you happen across people looking for a way to mark a special occasion or anniversary who may not be the actual players. You suggest some ideas and it dawns on them that creating a piece of meaningful art could give relevance and immediacy to something they care about. Always at some point in the process ideas are discussed that catch a spark of excitement that lead the potential commissioner to think this work should definitely go ahead, and you should be the one to do it.

With my last piece, Rupert Gough, Director of Choral Music at Royal Holloway, came to performance of Act 1 of my opera My Beautiful Camel with National Opera Studio last May. That work was in collaboration with David Pountney who wrote the libretto from a story I had devised. Rupert mentioned that they were looking to commission a piece about the suffragette Emily Davison, who was an alumni of the college, for a date in January with the London Mozart Players. I remember excitedly telling David, who instantly poured forth a number of fantastic ideas for a choral depiction of the famous Epsom Derby incident. I could see that a musical record of the entire occasion and its aftermath could make a very interesting cantata and indeed it captured the imagination of Royal Holloway so they decided to go ahead.

You’ve collaborated with librettist David Pountney to create a work which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which first gave women the right to vote. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

The cantata ‘Pearl of Freedom’ tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison’s ultimately fatal collision with the King’s horse Amner at the 1913 Epsom Derby. It opens with words that Emily Davison wrote in her diary about her passion for women’s suffrage. She uses the expression ‘Pearl of Freedom’ to refer to the prize that she was seeking, women getting the vote.

David created a text from original sources, juxtaposing factual elements from the day (the horses names, the riders, their numbers, their colours etc), with Emily Davison’s state of mind. He also includes commentary from various contemporary voices including King George V, the police sergeant on duty who listed Emily’s recovered possessions, and the Press. The only bit of text he invented is the race commentary before the collision between Emily Davison and the King’s horse Amner. He wrote this section in the style of Peter Bromley, a race commentator of a slightly later era, because no such live commentaries exist from this period.

Emily Davison was regarded as a loose canon within the Suffragette movement. Her militancy and extremism had considerably alienated the public. The work opens with jagged rising line of unison strings suggesting the intensity and turbulence of Emily Davison’s state of mind as she prepared and carried out her plan. She evidently knew that her actions would be far-reaching as she had commented to a friend that they should look at the press the following day. Her purchase of a return ticket to the Derby suggests that she was not planning to endanger herself fatally, however. The piece is around 20 minutes long and the final episode of the piece is devoted to Emily’s funeral, which was a very large scale public affair with 50 thousand people in attendance. The music of this section takes the form of a funeral march based around one of the hymns that was sung on the day “Nearer my God to Thee” with echoing quotes from Chopin Funeral March which was played throughout the procession.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s easier for a composer to explain the intentions behind the creative process than to describe the outcome, which is the listener’s experience. But there are a few general points. For example I am certainly drawn towards tonality. I like the gravitational pull of it but always try to look for a means of expression that is not the obvious. I also enjoy using snap-shots of ideas or idioms from old or ancient musical works that can impart flavour but take off in a different direction in my own music. Development is important to me, I aim to find a strong idea and work it through fully in a piece. Clarity of structure is critical. An interesting or quirky idiom is just an empty costume when there is no actual body to inhabit it. And line is essential, it carries the energy that is the piece.

How do you work?

I work best with a deadline that is not too far away, or at least with some mini-deadlines to help me measure out the time! Usually I find a long time needs to be set aside for the pre-compositional process. This is when the idea of what the piece is going to be gradually appear as if out of the mist. When I start the actual writing I always find that the first two minutes seem to take an inordinately long time, much longer than any other section of the piece. It feels like ploughing a furrow for the very first time. After that the composing seems to move on much quicker, probably because the ideas to be developed further are distilled by then. And I always have to remind myself not to panic as I start to get to the end of a piece. Endings are difficult. They feel like bringing a plane into land; too easy to make a bumpy landing and you really don’t want to crash.

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

You need to be open to what life brings you in the most general terms. We can all get a bit fixated on what we think our careers should look like and look to our contemporaries for a benchmark. It is not helpful. Don’t just think of the next thing coming up as the real opportunity, better than what you are doing now. What you have on your plate NOW is the opportunity; focus on that and the future will take care of itself.

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

I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed living in the Middle East and I hope my connections here will still be alive and well regardless of whether or not I am still living here. Otherwise really I just want to be getting up each morning excited about the projects on my desk. That would be more than enough to ask for.

31st January sees the world premiere of ‘Pearl of Freedom’ by Joanna Marsh, a cantata which tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison and her death at the Epsom Derby under the King’s Horse. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, in which women first gained the right to vote. 

 


 

www.joannamarsh.co.uk

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

My main motivation for composing has been the arrival of my children, which although taking up a great deal of time – has been a constant source of inspiration. In addition to this, I am very inspired by the countryside. When I began composing my latest album ‘Summit’, I was living very close to Richmond Park and I took much inspiration for the music during misty morning walks in the park. I am also very inspired by the area close to where I live now and I have tried to reflect the openness and beauty of the Chiltern Hills.

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

I have been greatly influenced by working with my piano and composition students who have drawn my attention to all manner of composers and musicians both in ‘pop/rock’  genres and classical. I have also been influenced by working with rock and jazz musicians in a band environment where freedom of expression is sought and encouraged.

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

Recording my last album ‘Summit’ took a great deal of time and patience over many months.

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

Commissioned work is an incredibly challenging task as often you do not have sole creative input into the final work. It is a collaboration of at least two or more people all with differing opinions on the final outcome. These challenges can be incredibly rewarding however and can lead to unexpected outcomes.

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

Composing can be a lonely pursuit so I always enjoy collaborations with other musicians. in 2008, I worked with a singer on an album of folk music which was a really enjoyable collaboration.

Which works are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my latest album of solo piano music ‘Summit’ written to reflect my love of the countryside and dedicated to my one year old daughter. Although I have released it as a CD, I primarily wrote it with the pianist in mind. I am very keen that my music should be interpreted and re-composed by the pianist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I love venues which are ‘unconventional’ like outdoor venues. Last year I performed in a disused barn in the middle of a corn field which was great fun and very atmospheric.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love Bach for the truthfulness and inventiveness of expression. In particular, I am incredibly impressed by the way they solved structural problems in seemingly effortless ways. Modern composers I have taken influence from are John Tavener and Yann Tiersen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Watching sir Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s 5th (from the choir stalls so I could see every expression on the conductor’s face) and feeling my daughter wriggle in my wife’s belly.

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

Take advice and instruction in an objective and critical way. It is important to remember that ‘you’ are the musician – it is your creativity and musicianship that are the most important aspects of your performance or composition.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am busy working on my second album of solo music, due to be published in late 2015.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my violin.

www.rogerproctor.com

(photo: Gautier Deblonde)

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

I started as a jazz bass player having become very interested in jazz as a teenager. I had studied classical piano from the age of 5, but took up the bass when I was 18.  I only started to compose in my early twenties and for this move it was the work of John Cage that was the key inspiration.

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

Initially it was Cage.

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

There have been many, but perhaps writing my first opera, a setting of Euripides’ Medea in Ancient Greek was the most challenging as it was the first thing I’d ever written for orchestra, for the stage, for the human voice and I’d only ever seen one opera live. In addition I was my own publisher and I had only 8 months to write it while teaching full time…

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

The main challenge, which is in fact a pleasure, is to get to work with many very different artists  – both with performers, choreographers, opera directors etc.

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

It is, again, the encounter with artists of real quality and I have to find what works best for them; that is to say, I always take account of their characters both musical and otherwise.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I’m not really proud of any of them! There are works that I think are of greater significance but I never proud of my own achievements though I take pride in the successes of others – my children for example.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

My favourite musicians are the members of my own ensemble, who are the finest singers and chamber music players I know, and with whom I have chosen to work. There are many composers whose works I enjoy and admire but none would be “favourites”!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but I would single out two. One was a concert performance of my first opera by BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra 11 years after the opera performances. The other was touring an old piece of mine, The Sinking of the Titanic, during the centenary year of the sinking, when I included my four children in my ensemble (my three daughters on viola, two cello; my son on double bass)

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

There are two:

Always keep and open mind and a spirit of enquiry (so as not to develop predictable routines) and make sure that you have a secure musical craftsmanship ( so that you are able to express your ideas without difficulty of technique).

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

I would like to be still alive and well, and in our home with my entire family on the Pacific coast of Canada (where we live for part of the year)

What is your present state of mind? 

Alert and as serene as possible

Gavin Bryars presents ‘The Bass in My Life’ with Daniele Roccato, double bass, who performs works by  Stefano Scodanibbio, Giacinto Scelsi, Ivan Fedele, Franco Donatoni, Daniele Roccato and Gavin Bryars at the Italian Cultural Institute London tonight.  The event is part of the Suona Italiano residency to promote Italian music. Further information here

“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” –Michael Ondaatje

Gavin Bryars’ full biography

www.gavinbryars.com

_MG_8764Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

I don’t recall the initial trigger(s) to take up composing but there was always a strong desire from about the age of seven to put dots onto the page.  Similarly, the decision to make a career appears to have been there from an early age in some form – it just always seemed to be the path I was destined to follow.

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

There are key figures and key works that have become significant in my musical life – those being Bach, Stravinsky, Debussy, Messiaen and more recently, Jonathan Harvey, George Crumb, Anton Webern and Matthias Pintscher.

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

The process of composing itself is by far the greatest challenge of my career to date.  Self-doubt and anxiety has often crippled my creative output for months on end.  I’ve also never been a composer to repeat the same technical trick over and over in my writing.  Every new piece presents a new problem to solve and each time the solution requires a different approach.  Perhaps this explains why I write so slowly.

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

I rarely write without a specific request for a work (with or without payment) and that brings with it certain pleasures such as working closely in collaboration with a musician or ensemble to develop a specific idea or sound.  The biggest challenges are always the deadlines and time-frames that often appear to get in the way of the creative flow.  It seems to be a common issue amongst artists, yet I am finding more and more that these goal posts can serve as great motivational forces when hitting a creative dead end.

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

I’m always interested in exploring new sounds often through the combination of electronics and acoustic forces.  Working with particular performers, especially those who have developed new performance techniques or use extended instruments, is really exciting because as a composer I get to try out sounds that perhaps nobody has written and heard before.

Which works are you most proud of?  

There are a few recent works that have been significant for me because they represent either a change in style or in the way I approach writing. Music of the Spheres (2006) for piano and planets  was a real labour of love due to hundreds of hours spent trawling through data files from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in order to find a few gold nuggets that could be turned into something of musical interest.  Despite all the effort, I am very happy that performing piano alongside a sonic representation of our solar system is accessible to anyone from about Grade 2 piano upwards.  Escape Velocity (2006) for accordion and string quartet is also an important work because it represents both a change in style that felt very comfortable for me but also because it demonstrates an attempt to explore and ultimately integrate two different instrumental forces into a single sound world. Fata Morgana (2007) for cello with Hyperbow, ensemble and live electronics is another key work as it represents the culmination of several years of research exploring the application of sensors and performance data in shaping and controlling the evolution of accompanying live electronics. It was also the first time I began to feel confident with my expanding musical language and with writing expressively at the extreme ends of the cello’s range. In this work, I felt that I had finally begun creating a more unified and meaningful connection between the expressiveness of the performer and the resulting reflections from the electronics through the aid of the sensors – something that has been a developing working method for me ever since.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

Not at all – I’m always grateful for a performance, wherever that might be!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

In addition to those composers I mentioned earlier who were of most influence in shaping who I am as a composer, I would include Ockeghem, Pergolesi, Prokofiev and some contemporary heavyweights such as Schoenberg, Ligeti, Boulez, Crumb, Magnus Lindberg, Helmut Lachenmann, Unsuk Chin, Harrison Birtwistle and GérardGrisey.

As for performers, I wouldn’t say I have any favourites as such.  Moreover, I just really appreciate and admire performers generally as I gave up myself after completing my undergraduate studies due to stage nerves.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are three that are particularly memorable for me – the London Sinfonietta’s 2008 QEH performance of Grisey’s complete Les espaces acoustiques; the Sinfonietta/Royal Academy 2013 RFH performance of Stockhausen’s Gruppen; and the Britten Sinfonia’s astonishing performance of Birtwistle’s Yan Tan Thethera at the Barbican this May.

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

In the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”.  If you don’t feel utter joy and a sense of deep passion for something, change direction and try something else.  Life’s too short!

_MG_8646_cropped

Tell us a little more about your new work ‘Morphosis’, recently premiered by Zubin Kanga. What was the inspiration/creative impulse for this work? What were the particular challenges of creating and performing this work? 

I’ve wanted to work with the wonderful Zubin for many years.  He’s a real collaborator and that excites me because it affords me space to try new things and to make mistakes – essentials in the quest for new methods of creating and working.  Zubin knew of my work with sensors and electronics so it seemed a perfect collaborative partnership.

Much of my recent work is fundamentally concerned with this notion of meeting points – of fusing apparently opposing sound worlds; moulding, mixing and states of flux. I see my work as becoming more sculptural of late – where musical ideas grow outside of their original form, then take an unexpected turn and morph into something else, perhaps falling back temporarily to allow the electronic reflections to come to the fore only to suddenly re-emerge with a fresh direction that overwhelms all proceeding shapes.  This concept of flow, of coursing and of flux is also at the base of Morphosis. Musical objects begin as simple chords surrounded only by their electronic reflections that are subtly influenced by the movement of the performers hands (the sensors being attached to the back of the hands and transmit three-dimensional movement data to the live electronics).  These musical objects are presented several times as if one is looking at a single object from different angles. They are joined together by the morphing states of the electronics into what I hope is a flowing musical argument that is both visually and aurally engaging.

Working with live electronics is always a challenge but is particularly so with the addition of sensors.  Speed is critical!  Six channels of data from the performers hands must stream into the laptop once every 20ms.  This data must be refined for musical processes.  Each movement must be carefully calibrated and assigned to a particular parameter of a digital sound process.  Vast amounts of number crunching are performed in tiny segments of time and any blip in the system results in either a click in sound or a fatal system crash.  All this must be performed from just a single laptop that gets slower the more processing is added.  As a composer, the months of computer programming can become unbearable.  Many challenges emerge: Which should I write first – the music or the electronic effects?  How will the sounds change if I do not fully know how the performer will try to control the sound through the sensors?  How can I impose limits on what the performer will do with their hands to shape the sounds?  All these questions push my creative process to the edge – something I fear yet something I crave too…. living on the precipice…. creating something new, something never before uttered…. it’s the ultimate drive….

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

Southern Italy full time – writing more than I teach

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Acceptance of myself and everything external

What is your most treasured possession?

My mind – all else is temporary

What do you enjoy doing most?

Dancing 4am, hot sand between the toes, cool breeze on the skin – Italian beach

What is your present state of mind?

Buzzy and tired – it’s 4.30am!

Patrick Nunn (b.1969, Kent, UK) studied composition with Frank Denyer at Dartington College of Arts, Gary Carpenter at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and Simon Bainbridge and Jonathan Harvey whilst completing his PhD in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music (funded by a PRS Scholarship).

He has been the recipient of many awards including the Birmingham New Millennium prize for Sentiment of an Invisible Omniscience (2010), the Alan Bush prize for Transilient Fragments (2008), a British Composers Award (solo/duet category) for Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows (2006), and the BBC Radio 3 Composing for Children prize for Songs of Our Generation (1995).

Patrick’s music has been performed widely in the UK and on the continent and has featured at more than fifty festivals worldwide. He has worked with a diverse range of collaborators, including the BBC Concert Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Kreutzer Quartet, Thalia Myers, Piano Circus, Icebreaker, Ballet Rambert, Gogmagogs, Composers Ensemble and New London Children’s Choir.

Under the auspices of Tod Machover (MIT), Nunn, in his role as Hyperbow Researcher at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote two new works incorporating Diana Young’s (MIT) Hyperbow design: Gaia Sketches for solo cello and live electronics (finalist in the New Media category, British Composers Awards 2006); and Fata Morgana for cello, ensemble and live electronics. Nunn presented the collaborative process between composer and engineer in a research paper alongside Young at the 2006 NIME conference at IRCAM.

In addition to his extensive work as an educator, Nunn has recently completed two ABRSM commissions for their Spectrum series, as well as a new work for the Tempest Flute Trio. His work Prism was nominated for the solo/duo category for the 2009 British Composers Awards and Pareidolia I for bass clarinet, electronics and sensors has been shortlisted in the Sonic Arts category for the 2012 Awards. He currently holds the position of Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. His music is published by Cadenza Music and the ABRSM, and also features on Red Sock Records (Music of the Spheres), NMC (Prism) and the Sfz label (Gonk).

© Patrick Nunn (Nov 2012)

www.patricknunn.com

Photo credit: Nick Fallon

 

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

Like a great many other composers, the initial impetus or inspiration to write came from a deep-seated desire to emulate (and often imitate!) the music I had encountered in childhood and adolescence, through performing and learning music – in my case, through brass bands, orchestras and youth opera (I was blessed by the fact that Leeds County Council has an amazing music service with many inspirational teachers). Over time, I discovered the great power of music to express ideas about the world and about oneself, and this awoke in me the desire to make composition my vocation.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your composing and your musical career to date? 

My initial passions were fired by the English pastoral school, perhaps best represented by Vaughan-Williams and Holst. After this, I went through a Steve Reich phase (pun intended!), which had a very substantial impact upon my development, since it led me to realise that tonality could still be used in original and meaningful ways. Subsequently, I underwent a somewhat obsessive infatuation with Wagner, whose protean use of a wide variety of musical influences to create dramatic works of enormous philosophical depth planted in me the ambition to write opera. At this point, I re-discovered Benjamin Britten, who I came to see as a composer who had achieved equal dramatic mastery and psychological understanding, but in a more English and down-to-earth manner.

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

Undoubtedly my first two operas. Through these, I have learnt how to synthesise all my musical influences and gradually, from naïve beginnings, to write music and libretti which not only work poetically and musically but which also function well dramatically on the stage. Organising the performances and staging productions was just as much a challenge as the actual composition. For my first opera, The Nightingale and the Rose (after Oscar Wilde), written while I was still an undergraduate, I combined an orchestra of RCM students with the hundred-strong Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir and professional opera singers. My children’s opera, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark (after Jill Tomlinson), then involved co-ordinating sixty primary-school children from around Cambridgeshire with professional musicians, as well as singers from Cambridge University, which was an even more formidable logistical challenge, since it meant one had to deal not only with some fairly mischievous young spirits, but also with their anxious parents!

What are the particular pleasures/challenges of working with individual artists, ensembles or orchestras? 

I always enjoy working with musicians and artists to bring a project into being. I would consider myself the entrepreneurial type, and tend to gather together a team of creative people to build a project around a dramatic conception. Collaboration involves a balance between allowing plenty of creative freedom to the individuals that you are working with, whilst striving to direct everybody’s energies towards a mutual goal. Maintaining this balance without creating too many frictions and tensions is always a challenge; the trick is to find people who share your ideals.

Please tell us more about your  opera Pincher Martin

Pincher Martin is an operatic adaptation of William Golding’s novel and poetic masterpiece. Recreating on the stage the existential plight of a marooned naval officer who struggles to survive first in the ocean, then on a lonely rocky islet in the middle of the Atlantic, has stretched my imagination to the limit, and has required the use of devices and technology which were previously unfamiliar to me. Throughout the course of the drama, we will be using a silver-screen movie-style cinematic backdrop, both to aid us in realising difficult scenarios such as a man drowning in the Atlantic, and to evoke the drama’s World War II setting.

Just one example of how this will work in practice is a scene in a moving motorcar, where the protagonist terrifies a woman with his dangerous and aggressive driving in a terrible attempt to make her acquiesce to his desires (yes, this is in the book…!). Musically, I have accompanied this scene with continuous unpitched and then pitched fluttertongues in four solo brass instruments, to evoke the sound of a car engine, first stationary and then in faster and faster motion. In terms of staging, this coordinates with the film, in that what is displayed on the screen is the view seen from the back seat of a car, first shaking very slightly as the car is parked in a layby with its engine idling, and then changing as the car moves off down the road. This is combined on-stage with the set, which in this case consists of a car bonnet behind which the protagonists will sit, with the backseat view behind them on the film. The bonnet itself is half-car, half-rock-like in substance, so that we can move expeditiously from a scene taking place on the rocky islet to this memory scene in the car, whilst also suggesting to the audience that the rock is actually an imaginary environment created by Pincher’s subconscious, and that we are dealing with scenes from his past life, which he is recalling during his purgatorial existence on the island.

Using this synthesis of music, film and staging to bring William Golding’s story to life has been an incredibly difficult challenge, but one which I am very glad to be undertaking, as it has expanded my creative world substantially.

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

To be yourself whilst learning from others.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To build a life where I can continue to realise my musical and dramatic ideas, whilst also starting a family with my wonderful and brilliant wife Helen (whose ambitions equal mine in her own field of scholarship), balancing both of these enormous challenges in harmony.

Oliver Rudland is an English composer based in Cambridge, UK, known for his accessible style of modern composition. His operas have received particular attention and critical acclaim.

His latest opera, ‘Pincher Martin’, based on the novel by William Golding, was staged at the RCM Britten Theatre in July 2014: ‘This is an eloquent, succinct opera… In music and design…, Pincher Martin pinched and gripped. This opera deserves to live.’ (The Times: ★★★★)

‘Rudland appears to have achieved that rare and valuable object: a contemporary work that is both challenging yet accessible. Despite its disturbing subject matter, Pincher Martin is lyrical, inventive, and above all a thoroughly engaging work.’ (Bachtrack: ★★★★)

His first opera, ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, after the story by Oscar Wilde, was staged at the Carriageworks Theatre for four nights in 2008 by Leeds Youth Opera. ‘Exceptional talent…Oliver is going to be a big name in the future.’ (Yorkshire Evening Post)

In 2011, his children’s opera, ‘The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark’, based on the classic story by Jill Tomlinson, was staged at the Cambridge University Church, and received very positive reviews from critics and the local community alike: ‘This was children’s opera at its best; it was fun and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds.’ (GSM News)

‘Benjamin Britten, his Noah, and bad-tempered God must almost regret that a couple of owls made their way into the ark to reproduce themselves towards so effective a rival opera.’ (Music and Vision)

His chamber works have been performed at the Cheltenham International Music Festival, the Southbank Centre, and the DiMenna Center (NYC), as well as at other venues worldwide. His trombone sonata, ‘The Conquests of Zeus’, commissioned by Matthew Gee, principal trombonist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, has been performed widely across Europe.

Oliver is currently Composer-in-Residence with the London Choral Sinfonia. He is also working towards a new large-scale, two-act opera due for completion in 2020.

Further information: www.oliverrudland.com