Ben Parry, composer, conductor, arranger, singer and producer

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

I guess my dad was my biggest inspiration – he was a church organist all his working life (he had a stroke 6 years ago and can’t play any more) and I immersed myself in church choral music from a very early age. All my brothers and sisters sang in the choir, as did many other local families, and I fondly remember great choral evensongs at the end of each month, including music by Stanford, Parry, Howells, Britten and so on.

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing? 

The British choral tradition – and, most importantly, Benjamin Britten. I was born and brought up in Suffolk – and have recently returned to live here (in fact I direct Aldeburgh Voices, the resident choir at Snape Maltings). I attended concerts at the Aldeburgh Festival and met Britten once in his sports car! The harmonic language of my own music is also tinged with my love of a cappella close harmony – the Great American Songbook, Latin styles and so on.

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

My managerial and administrative roles as a director of music at St Paul’s School and Junior Academy in London have been challenging, as well as character-building! Having to make strategic decisions, which are sometimes unpopular, is difficult but often necessary, and sometimes I wish I could just get on with the music-making.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I conducted a production of Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors in Scotland – and Menotti staged it for us. I’d met him at a concert in Haddington by my vocal group Dunedin Consort (which I co-founded – something else I’m proud of) and he promised to work on it with me. My choral pieces Flame and Three Angels are special to me – Flame was my Proms debut last year, and Three Angels was sung by King’s College Choir on the TV last Christmas.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I’ve performed in many, many venues – New York, Los Angeles,Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, – but Snape Maltings Concert Hall takes some beating, as does King’s College Chapel for sacred music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love performing Stockhausen’s Stimmung! It becomes other-worldly after a while, and quite trance-like. I’m not sure the audience feels the same way. I love listening to Beatles songs, which are timeless and so inventive. The Sergeant Pepper album is genius.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Who would I pay money to hear?!

Classical – Tenebrae Choir

Jazz/Contemporary – The Real Group (5 part Swedish a cappella group)

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Take Six at the Barbican in 1991, or The Rolling Stones at Wembley 1982.

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

Practice, of course, but love what you do, and always remember to learn from your experiences.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A piece for choir and orchestra, and strategic planning in my new role as Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. Plus all the other stuff!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A good work/life balance – but is it ever achievable?

Ben Parry has made over sixty CD recordings and his music is published by Peters Edition and Faber Music. He works regularly with young musicians as a director of the Eton Choral Courses and as Director of Junior Academy at the Royal Academy of Music. He has just been appointed the new Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

Ben is co-Director of the professional choir London Voices, and worked with Sir Paul McCartney on his classic choral work, ‘Ecce Cor Meum’, as well as conducting and singing on many major film soundtracks. He regularly collaborates with writer Garth Bardsley, and their choral piece, ‘Flame’ was performed at the 2012 BBC Proms. He is also Music Director of the Aldeburgh Voices.

As a singer Ben has worked with Taverner Consort, Gabrieli Consort and Tenebrae and was a singer and music director with The Swingle Singers. As a conductor he has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, National Youth Orchestra, Royal Symphony Orchestra of Seville, Vancouver Youth Symphony, Cumbria Youth Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir and Philharmonia Voices.

www.benparry.org

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

My grandfather was a composer, so he definitely inspired me. My mum did a music degree when I was about 9 years old so we had a small music studio at home where I learnt to use Cubase. It was around then that I remember writing my first composition, a Morris dance that was used in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my mum wrote the rest of the music for the production).

As for making it my career, I actually came to it fairly late – 8 years after completing my degree. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible to make a living from composing and I didn’t want to teach, so I took an office job to bring the pennies in. It’s only since getting married and having a baby that I’ve been able to stay at home and write music, but it’s been the best decision I ever made!

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing? 

I consider myself to be a self-taught composer, as I don’t recall ever receiving much direct feedback on my work. Even at university, our composing sessions consisted of listening to new music rather than learning compositional techniques and tips. This is my memory of it anyway! So my composing hasn’t been directly influenced by any teachers.

Instead, I would say that my main influence initially was music I had played in orchestras. I used to say that I wanted my music to have the harmonies of Debussy, the rhythms of Stravinsky, the Englishness of Vaughan-Williams, and the passion of Rachmaninov. However, since returning to composition in 2011, I’ve opened my ears to the wealth of new music that has been written since the time of those composers, right up to music being created in the present. As a result, my style has changed a little, I have learned a lot, and my ideas are more creative. I’ve started to look outside of music to find influences, for example ancient history and nature.

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

As I left it so long after university, I didn’t have any tutors to promote me, enter me for competitions, or show me how to turn this from a passion into a career. I have had to do a lot of research into how composers get paid, how to be noticed, how to get my music performed, etc. I have also had to find the performers for myself, something which would have been a lot easier had I still been at university and surrounded by musicians. This has actually been a good thing though, as I have made connections with a lot of fantastic performers.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’m extremely proud of winning the Yorkshire Late Starters Strings composing competition 2011/12 with my 15 minute piece “Battle of the Winwaed”. The piece was written for the YLSS, who comprise adult string players of grades 2-8. To get round the challenge of writing for mixed abilities, I split the cellos into parts 1 and 2, along with the usual 1st and 2nd violins, violas and basses. I also wrote parts for a solo violin and solo cello, to add more complexity for those players of the highest standard. The orchestra performed the piece twice in 2012.

I’m also very proud of my third string quartet, “Cross Quarter Days”, which was recorded in 2012 and has been released on iTunes, Amazon, and on my website. The piece is in 4 movements, each representing one of the four key dates in the Pagan calendar that divide the year into quarters. It represents a big leap in terms of my development since the second quartet, written just a year earlier, and I feel it’s the work that best represents me as a composer.

Favourite pieces to listen to? 

One of my favourite pieces to listen to is Michael Torke’s July for saxophone quartet. It’s so funky, I don’t think I could ever get tired of it! Other favourites include the Rite of Spring, Turangalîla, the Planets, Ravel and Debussy’s string quartets, White Man Sleeps by Kevin Volans, Gabriel Prokofiev’s Jerk Driver… I also listen to a lot of 80s pop music and Steely Dan!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Performing Turangalîla with the County Youth Orchestra at Snape Maltings, I think it was in 2003. Such an overwhelming piece to perform, and in such a fantastic venue. I feel very privileged to have had that experience. I remember walking off stage with my cello at the end and saying to the conductor, “wow, that was amazing!”.

Regarding performances of my own work, the most memorable is probably when I performed my own concerto for cello and string orchestra at university in 2002. Having my Christmas carol “On A Gentle Winter’s Night” performed in Guildford cathedral in front of 1000 people in 2001, and then its second performance in New Zealand last year, are also very memorable occasions!

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

Be true to yourself. Don’t give up. Have an open mind. Listen. Network. Take criticism constructively. Make things happen, don’t sit around waiting to be noticed.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m currently about halfway through my largest commission so far – a 25 minute suite for full symphony orchestra entitled “Legends of the Tor”. The work will be in 5 movements, each referencing a different legend relating to Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. The piece has been commissioned by my local symphony orchestra, after they successfully applied for a highly competitive “Community Music” grant from the BBC Performing Arts Fund. The community element will be the involvement of 5 local schools, who will each have a group of children composing their own music on the theme of “Myth and Legends”, with the help of workshops led by myself and members of the orchestra. The children will perform their pieces at the concert in June when the orchestra will premiere my piece.

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

My goal is a commission for the BBC Proms! I’ve set myself a 10 year target, so we’ll see what happens! Failing that, I’d be happy to have my music performed regularly and to continue receiving commissions so that I can carry on writing.

Alison Wrenn’s new work for piano trio Between the Mountains and the Sea receives its premiere at the Halstatt Classics Music and Literature Festival on 17th August. Further details here

 

Alison Wrenn (b.1981) is a British composer, whose style brings together influences from the English Pastoral Tradition, elements of popular music and media music as well as strains of Celtic and some aspects of American minimalist music.

Full biography

Tom Hodge

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

I made a choice to give some kind of career in music a chance whilst in my last year studying Social and Political Sciences. However at the time I was not exactly sure what, where or how and in some respects I am an accidental composer, as a result of taking a job making tea in a post-production house that specialised in the sound for commercials.

I found my piano improvisation (or fast composition) skills were in demand and it developed from there. At the time, I was setting strict targets about what I needed to achieve (e.g. after 6 months, I said to myself I would quit if I was still making tea!), but after 3 or 4 years with about 100 or so broadcast adverts under my belt, I realised I had become a ‘professional’ musician. This prompted me to go and study! Although this time, I did Composition for the Screen at the Royal College of Music.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

The composers I particularly remember enjoying playing when I was studying piano at school were Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Bartok and Gershwin. I had a flat mate, Tim Fairhall, for a couple of years who was working towards a jazz bass postgrad and playing with him I developed a further interest in improvisation and I started to compare classical and jazz approaches to playing and writing. Now my wife, Kim Sheehan, who is an opera singer, has an important influence on my music-making, as she is always pushing me to be better!

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

My first orchestral film session was pretty scary. It was for Vito Rocco’s indie feature called Faintheart. I did my best to pretend I was an old hand at such stuff, but everyone could see straight through me obviously!

The first year or so of Piano Interrupted too was very challenging: first finding a synergy in the studio we were happy with between piano and laptop and then working out how on earth we would play our intricate digital musings live. And life as a musician- managing the business of music if you like- is of course a constant challenge.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of? 

Perhaps I am doing that musician-and-their-most-recent-project thing, but I am proud of how my first dip into the fashion world turned out last February, writing the music for Carolina Herrera’s New York Fashion Week show. We made the recording in the overwhelmingly-historic Abbey Road Studio 2 with the London Contemporary Orchestra and the ‘premiere’ was for 1000 guests of Mrs Herrera in the Lincoln Center in New York.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I am only now becoming a regular performer. And the types of venues Piano Interrupted are likely to play tend to be slightly alternative, rather than the traditional concert hall system. I very much enjoyed playing in the Union Chapel in Islington, London.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I’m not very good at favourites! I like the early/mid 20th century Russians, the American minimalists, Jazz from the 60s and 70s. I also try in general to support music written by people who are still alive.

As for performing, it’s all Piano Interrupted at the moment and it’s a privilege to be playing my own music.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m a sucker for a world-class jazz pianist- Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson. And any fabulous opera singing too- Gerald Finley in Doctor Atomic or Florez and Dessay in La Fille du Regiment immediately spring to mind as being utterly mind-bogglingly good.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Radialsystem with Piano Interrupted last December. We had not played a concert outside of the UK, but we were given a fantastic (sold-out) welcome in Berlin. I think Radialsystem started life as a water factory and now it is a beautiful arts space. The artists the night before had hired a Steinway D, so I got to borrow that too! I find German audiences are particularly receptive to new and/or experimental music. Or at least my music at any rate!

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

Nurture your talent, practice hard, make as many connections with other creative people as you can, keep an open mind to different styles, approaches and attitudes towards music. I firmly believe that the harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am just starting on what is easily my biggest and most challenging project to date. I have been commissioned by Silvana Schroeder and Thüringen Staatsballet to write an 80-minute ballet for about 60-70 players. It is called ‘Waiting Room’ and Silvana and I are also collaborating on the book together. I will also be incorporating lots of live electronics, so all in all it promises to be some undertaking. The premiere is on the 6th June 2014.

Before that, Franz Kirmann and I have to get the second Piano Interrupted album out the door by August, so we can tour it in November.

What is your most treasured possession? 

The Steinway that I don’t own yet!

What is your present state of mind?

Excitement – after a super productive meeting about the ballet.

www.tomhodge.com

Tom Hodge’s album ‘Two By Four’ is available now. Tom will be touring with Piano Interrupted in July and August. Further information and sample soundclips here

Tom Hodge was born in England in 1975 and grew up in Melbourne, Australia before returning to London.

He has been scoring music to picture for just over ten years and his credits include 3 feature films, a handful of TV themes and over 200 commercials for practically every major worldwide brand including Audi, Nike, Smirnoff, Pantene & Max Factor, as well as Sumito Sakakibara’s BAFTA-nominated short animation ‘Kamiya’s Correspondence’

As part of an extremely diverse portfolio. Tom has contributed music to a number of theatre pieces in the UK and his music has also featured in a Carolina Herrera fashion show in New York and at the Thüringen Ballet in Germany.

Other credits include the classical remix of Daft Punk’s Aerodynamic (still the only remix ever to be sanctioned by Daft Punk for synchronisation) released in the UK and Australia on Ministry of Sound, Paganini Rocks with Rob da Bank, Tom Middleton and Au Revoir Simone on Sunday Best and We Anchor In Hope, a remix for post-rockers Codes In The Clouds on Erased Tapes.

“One of the few voices on the scene capable of not just mimicking the serene beauty of classical music, but of matching its compositional intricacy to boot.” Tobias Fischer, Tokafi

Who or what inspired you to become a guitarist and composer? 

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to compose my own music. As soon as I learned to read music, I started writing it down. I haven’t stopped since. As a guitarist, I was inspired by John Williams and Julian Bream. They made playing the guitar seem like the most relevant and exciting thing to do.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A Triple Concerto, for saxophone, cello, piano and orchestra. It’s for the Orpheus Sinfonia, a wonderful orchestra of young professionals. The solo parts are part-composed, part-devised and part-improvised. The piece transforms pre-existing music in unexpected ways. The pianist, Graham Caskie, has been sending me short recordings of musical ideas for possible inclusion. The work has been very collaborative and musically rewarding. I’m now putting the finishing touches to the orchestration. The first performance is at Cadogan Hall on 11th July.

Who or what are the most important influences on your writing?

Firstly, the musicians I work with. I have learned so much from them. Secondly, the various external impetuses that give my music its narrative content, character and shape. Recently these influences have come from the work of James Joyce, Thomas Heatherwick, Charles Jencks, Gerhard Richter, Norman Foster, Antoni Gaudi and Terry Gilliam. As for musicians, I have very catholic tastes. At the centre, though, it’s Beethoven, Mahler and Stravinsky – and my recent work has been flavoured by Max Richter, Uri Caine, Mark Anthony Turnage, John Adams, and Frank Zappa among others.

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

Writing music for my heroes has proved particularly challenging – I’ve done that a couple of times. There is a sense that you must somehow raise your game for the ‘big occasion’. Of course, as soon as you put pressure on yourself, it becomes impossible to make creative decisions.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra? 

When you write for orchestra, you can’t afford to take too many risks. The music needs to play off the page, as rehearsal time is always limited. So keeping the balance between invention and pragmatism is the biggest challenge. Working with Orpheus has been great, as I’ve got to know the players and have been able to write to their strengths and be more experimental.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

I am very happy with many of the recordings of my music. However, once a project is over, I rarely reflect on it too much. All I can say I that I’m really enjoying two recording projects that I’m working on at the moment – the Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia and the Guitar Concerto with John Williams and the RPO.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in my youth. I went to many orchestral concerts there between the ages of 11 and 18. It’s where my musical DNA was formed.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Here’s a list for today, but it would be different every time you asked me – Alina Ibragimova, Krystian Zimmerman, Joni Mitchell, Claudio Arrau, Martha Argerich, Paul Watkins, Branford Marsalis, David Russell. These are all musicians who’ve moved me in recent weeks.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I went to see WNO’s production The Turn of the Screw when I was 14. It changed the way I thought about music. Suddenly a door on a new world opened up in front of me. The range of emotional expression, instrumental and vocal colour, and depth of musical characterisation was breathtaking.

What is your favourite music to listen to? 

I love listening to things for the first time (especially at a live concert). Nothing beats the excitement of discovering something new. You listen not knowing where the music is going to end up or what’s going to happen next. Recently, I was really taken with Ginastera’s Piano Concerto and Janáček’s Violin Sonata. In terms of familiar favourites, Bach, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Miles Davis and Beethoven again.

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

  • To listen without prejudice
  • To question everything
  • That asking for guidance is not a sign of weakness
  • That everyone has creative and inventive ideas all the time. The difficulty comes in taking those ideas and realising them in a satisfying way.
  • That the notion of an individual compositional voice is a dangerous one. W.H. Auden once said that as an artist, you spend the first half of your life imitating others and the second half imitating yourself. I would argue that self-repetition is a bigger problem than any notion of a composer having to nurture or seek an individual voice.

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

Exactly where I am now, but with a more manageable schedule.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Spending time with friends and family, and watching live football in N5.

Stephen Goss is currently composer-in-residence for Orpheus Sinfonia who will give the world premiere of his Triple Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Piano at the Cadogan Hall in London on Thursday 11 July.  The soloists are saxophonist Pete Whyman, cellist Thomas Carroll (also Artistic Director of Orpheus Sinfonia) and pianist Graham Caskie, with Toby Purser conducting. 

Stephen Goss’ Piano Concerto was premiered by Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia in London in April and will be released on the Signum Classics label in October. 

“Composer Stephen Goss draws on a variety of sources for his eminently listenable music. Despite the eclectic nature of his influences, which range from Beethoven’s late piano music to the films of former Python Terry Gilliam, Goss’s musical language comes across as brilliantly integrated….”  International Record Review

Stephen Goss is much in demand as a composer.  His works have been recorded on over 50 CDs by more than a dozen record labels, including EMI, Decca, Naxos and Deutsche Grammophon.  His collaborative project with Professor Charles Jencks, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (2005) for violin, cello, bass clarinet and piano, was profiled on The South Bank Show on ITV1. 

His latest projects include a new guitar concerto for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be recorded and toured by guitarist John Williams in 2014.  He has also received commissions from guitarists David Russell, Milos Karadaglic and Xuefei Yang, cellist Natalie Clein, violinist Nicola Benedetti, flautist William Bennett and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. 

Goss has also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, arranging melodies from his new musical, Stephen Ward, for solo guitar.  The piece was premièred by Milos Karadaglic on ITV on Easter Sunday (31 March) as part of a 90-minute celebration of the life and work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, marking 40 years in London’s West End.  It is the first time any material from Lloyd Webber’s new show, which is based on the Profumo scandal which rocked the British government in the early 1960s, has been heard.  The track is being released by Deutsche Grammophon to coincide with the TV broadcast. 

After several years on the staff at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Steve Goss is now Professor of Music and Head of Composition at the University of Surrey, and a Professor of Guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in composing and conducting? 

I think it was probably a combination of discovering that I could make my own sounds on the piano as a very young child and also hearing Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) on a tape recorder, which I can still remember vividly. Later I became obsessed with the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as I tried to learn how to play them, but soon became more interested in mimicking their sound in my own modest piano compositions. Beethoven has remained a great influence on my work. I was also very lucky to have the encouragement of my piano teacher and parents, who never questioned my interest in composition, but did provide very useful constructive criticism when required! As a result of this, I can’t recall ever making the decision to be a composer. This path was simply inevitable. Like many of my colleagues, I think that composing is not so much a choice or career, but really a very intense compulsion and almost a way of life.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I have just finished creating a Live Music Sculpture for St Paul’s Cathedral, which will be premiered on 12th July 2013 as part of the City of London Festival. The site-specific work will involve singers and French horns which are placed spatially throughout the cathedral in various horizontal and vertical locations, including the Whispering Gallery. It has been designed to explore the unique acoustic of Wren’s architectural masterpiece. I am also working on an original story and libretto for a new chamber opera commissioned by Size Zero Opera.

Who or what are the most important influences on your work? 

Usually I turn to literature for inspiration. In prose and poetry, the construction of phrases, form, ambiguity, the importance of context and semantics have a great deal in common with music. I have been directly influenced by the prose of James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Mann very much, and also the poetry of T.S. Elliot, Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. These influences are always changing. I am not so aware of musical influences and try to avoid thinking about these too much!

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

The greatest challenge so far was probably composing a Live Music Sculpture for the very long and narrow space above the River Thames inside the walkways of Tower Bridge. The space was so long that the sound behaved in a very unusual way. There was a significant audible delay while the sound travelled from one end of the bridge to the other, which had to be built into the composition.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble/singers? 

The most exciting thing about working with an ensemble of musicians is hearing how a collection of entirely different personalities can unite for a period of time to bring to life the vision of a composer through performance. An imagined or written down piece of music exists in a different kind of intangible reality until it is actually performed. And even then, the way that music works is still wonderfully elusive. I think many composers are delighted when they can finally get out from behind the desk and hear their work materialise in rehearsal and performance. One hopes that there will always be unimagined revelations and pleasant surprises brought out by the performers, but also a confirmation that the imagined sounds of a composition are actually achievable. It is thrilling when an ensemble performs a new composition with the same expressive commitment as they would Brahms or Mozart and are able to channel all their knowledge and experience through new music.

It can sometimes be a challenge to convince an orchestra or ensemble that the virtuosic difficulties or conceptual ideas are worth all the effort, but also just as challenging as a composer to learn that the vision isn’t working, and that it needs refining in the next composition after speaking to the players or simply listening to the performance!

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

I have been privileged to write for a great variety of venues, so it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite. I’m enjoying working with St Paul’s Cathedral very much at the moment and attempting to discover some of its architectural secrets.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again, there are some many it is hard to pin them down! I am a great admirer of Pierre Boulez, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and the pianist Krystian Zimerman. As well as enjoying their extraordinary compositions and performances, for me, these three different musicians epitomise what it means to have artistic conviction, as well as complete dedication and a rigorous approach to their work. I am also a big fan of Leonard Bernstein who seemed to be the most remarkably gifted all-round musician. He was very much ahead of his time as a thinker and a great educator.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The first time I heard Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with the CBSO as a student was a huge moment. Despite having got to know it well on record, the sheer scale of the thing was overwhelming in performance. It is extraordinary to consider how Mahler was able to control and organise form over such expansive amounts of time. I will never forget the devastating emotional gravity of the Urlicht in the fourth movement after all the preceding orchestral bombast! This must be one of the most poignant and beautiful moments in Mahler’s entire output.

What is your favourite music to listen to? 

Bach, Beethoven, Purcell, Szymanowski, Maxwell Davies, Britten, Puccini, Boulez, Mozart, Sibelius, Mahler, Schubert, early Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams and Berg.

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

I think it is very important to have conviction when composing or performing music. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, nobody else will. And more importantly, if you find that you can’t believe in your work wholeheartedly, turn that doubt into something constructive until you can believe in it. It is also important to have a very strong connection to the past, as well as a clear vision for the future when composing or performing music. However, it is easy to be seduced by both, and actually the most important place to be is in the present. We should ask ourselves: What matters now? And what can my music say about the present? And the connection between the past and future will hopefully be there instinctively, for the same themes returned to by humanity over and over again are always eternal.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I have a very beautiful 1920’s horned gramophone which plays old 78s. I often listen to fantastic 1920s/30s and 1940s popular music and jazz on it, as well as wonderful recordings of classical music. It’s fascinating to notice how the tempi were often altered to fit each movement onto one side of the record. The sheer effort involved with winding the thing up and changing the needle just to hear about 4 minutes of music, as well as the crackly sound quality, provides a wonderfully different listening experience. It turns a very short listening session into a major event as everybody gathers around the horn to listen. It’s definitely not the same as casually flicking through an ipod!

Samuel Bordoli’s new work, Live Music Sculpture 3: St Paul’s Cathedral, will be premiered as part of the City of London Festival, with five performances Friday 12 July, taking place at 11.30, 13.20, 14.20, 15.20 and 16.20 in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. 

For more information on Samuel: www.bordoli.co.uk

For more information on Live Music Sculpture: www.livemusicsculpture.com

Robert Hugill, composer

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

I started writing music when I was at school, it was just something I did. I once read a quote about only writing music if you have to and for years I composed songs, but never wrote anything down. It was only when working as a musical director and arranger for a choir (The Pink Singers), and for a number of cabaret groups (e.g The Insinuendos), that I started to write music down, finding it profoundly satisfying to create something and to craft it to suit someone. For me, writing music is a little like archaeology, you are not so much creating as exploring and excavating something which already exists. The trick is to get it right.

Who or what were the most important influences on you composing?

  • Writing and arranging music for the cabaret group, the Insinuendos in the 1980’s
  • Learning and singing Gregorian chant, which I now do regularly as part of the Latin Mass choir at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street Chelsea
  • Learning that Kurt Weill did his own orchestrations for his Broadway musicals, and that Tchaikovsky was present at the rehearsals for his ballets so that he not only wrote and orchestrated the music, but made all the changes to suit the dancers


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

Getting my music performed

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

My most recent composition is always my favourite. I also have an abiding weakness for my cantata The Young Man and Death, based on Rabindranath Tagore poems, about a young man dying of AIDS in dialogue with death. I am also very proud of my opera When a Man Knows which we staged at the Bridewell Theatre in 2011.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Frankly, it depends on what is being performed, you can’t do a symphony concert in the Wigmore Hall, and different acoustics suit different pieces. Also, if you ask a singer you’ll get a different answer to an audience member. Venues which are lovely to sing in, are not necessarily ideal when it comes to what the audience hears.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I have a weakness for performing plainchant, and Renaissance polyphony particularly Palestrina and Victoria.

Listening, I am happy to listen to anything by Handel, and the music of Vaughan Williams still has the power to move me that I discovered when I was a student in the 1970’s.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My current favourite band must be Arcangelo, a very talented young group. I still have wonderful memories of singers like Janet Baker, Geraint Evans, Jon Vickers, Gynneth Jones and Rita Hunter. But there are so many wonderful young singers out there at the moment it is difficult to select a favourite, though perhaps Carolyn Sampson and Sarah Connolly come pretty close.

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

Be true to yourself. Decide whether you are doing it for love, or for money. Always bear in mind your audience: a composer who writes in a vacuum is in danger of producing merely masturbatory fantasies.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am trying to get to grips with the final 20 motets in my collection Tempus per annum, which when complete with contain 72 motets covering the entire church’s year, setting the Latin Introits for Sundays and the major feasts. I’ve done the first three volumes, and am a little bit stuck at the beginning of volume four.

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

Listening to my music being performed on Radio 3.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing music, creating something new that feels just right.

Robert Hugill’s blog: http://www.planethugill.com/
Robert Hugill’s website: http://www.hugill.demon.co.uk/
Listen to Robert Hugill’s music on SoundCloud: http://www.soundcloud.com/roberthugill

Robert Hugill writes attractive, accessible contemporary classical music in a variety of genres. Recent performances have included sacred motets, orchestral music and a one-act opera. In 2008 the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble, conductor Paul Brough, issued a CD of Robert’s music on the Divine Art label.

Born in Cleethorpes, UK in 1955, Robert Hugill is a mainly self-taught composer. In the 70’s and 80’s he was the musical director of the Church of St. Andrew and St. George, Rosyth, Scotland, musical director of London’s first Lesbian and Gay choir, The Pink Singers and acted as composer and arranger for a number of cabaret acts in London and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

As a singer, he is currently a member of London Concord Singers and the Latin Mass Choir at St. Mary’s Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, London. Robert’s motets and mass settings are in use St. Mary’s Church, Chelsea (Roman Catholic), the Oxford Oratory (Roman Catholic), St. Woolos Cathedral, Newport (Anglican), All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, London and St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London (Anglican).

In 1994 Robert founded FifteenB, the choir which gave the first public performance of Robert’s cantata Vocibus Mulierum – Women’s Voices. In 1998 FifteenB was awarded a grant, by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England, to give the first performance of Robert’s cantata The Young Man and Death – A Dialogue, for choir and wind octet. In 2000 the choir premiered Robert’s Requiem for unaccompanied choir at the Chelsea Festival. They returned to the Chelsea Festival in 2002 to give the first performance of The Barbarian at the Gate with Philharmonia Brass. The choir returned to the festival in 2004 and 2006 with programmes of liturgical music including a number of Robert’s motets.

In 1999 Robert was commissioned by the early music group, The Burgundian Cadence, to write Passion a 40 minute unaccompanied setting of the passion story from St. John’s Gospel interpolated with poems by the American poet, Carl Cook. The Burgundian Cadence performed Passion on a UK tour in 1999 and subsequently recorded the work. The recording received its first broadcast performance on Vatican Radio as part of the Jubilee celebrations in 2000. Robert’s Choruses from Passion was premièred by FifteenB in 2008, and the work received its Polish premiere in 2009 when Chor Mieszany Caecilianum performed it in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Katowice.

Robert’s motet Here Be Angels was commissioned by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, musical director David Temple. The chorus gave the first performances of the motet in March 1998 and the revised version was premiered by London Concord Singers in December 2002. The Black Dragon, inspired by a science fiction story, was premiered by London Concord Singers in 2000 as part of their Millennium celebrations. In 2006 London Concord Singers premiered Robert’s Ubi Carmina as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

In 1999 Robert wrote the incidental music to ‘Candle Dancing’, a play by the Pittsburgh based playwright Coni Ciongoli-Koepfinger and the music was performed in Pittsburgh as a part of the first run of the play. In November 2001 Robert’s song cycle Songs of Love and Loss received its first American performance at CMU in Pittsburgh. Robert’s opera, Garrett, based on a play by Coni Ciongoli-Koepfinger, was staged in London in June 2001. An audio book of the play CandleDancing, with Robert’s music, is being issued in 2009.

A number of Robert’s orchestral works have been premièred by the Salomon Orchestra. In March 2006 the orchestra, conducted by Adrian Brown with baritone David Greiner gave the first performances of Robert’s Elegy for Baritone and Orchestra and the tone poem In the Barbarians Camp.

As a complement to his amateur group, Robert founded the professional choir, the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble in 2005. They gave their debut performance at St. Giles Cripplegate, premièring Robert’s cantata The Testament of Dr. Cranmer. They repeated the performance in March 2006 as part of the commemorations for the 450th anniversary of Cranmer’s execution at Oxford University Church. The ensemble, conducted by Paul Brough, recorded The Testament of Dr. Cranmer as part of a new disc of Robert’s choral and vocal music recently released on the Divine Art Label.

In 2003 Robert was on the jury judging the liturgical category of the first British Composers Awards organised by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters and he returned as a judge in 2004 in the choral category. Robert’s songs came 2nd and 4th in the English Poetry and Song Society’s Ivor Gurney competition in November 2007 and another song came 3rd in the Society’s A.E. Houseman competition in February 2009.

Robert is new motet for Alistair Dixon and the Chapelle du Roi will be performed in December 2009. His 2nd volume of motets for the church’s year, Tempus per Annum, was published in autumn 2008. Robert is currently working on new opera based on a play by Alan Richardson.

Robert’s Passion is published by Bardic Edition and the remainder of his catalogue is available on-line from Spherical Editions.

Robert writes CD reviews for MusicWeb and writes CD reviews, Opera reviews and feature articles for Music and Vision.