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. 

GetInline 09.22.59

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.


Robert Saxton 093
Robert Saxton (photo credit: Katie Vandyck)

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

I started the recorder at school, the violin and piano. I always preferred writing music down to practising!

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

As a composer, I was influenced technically, and partially aesthetically, by Elisabeth Lutyens, my teacher for four years (aged 16 -20). In a wider sense, I have been influenced by my ‘dual’ background/heritage: east European Jewish and English C of E, particularly Schoenberg, Berg, Webern and Bartok, and  the visionary tradition stretching from Piers Plowman, via late Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets of the 16th century, to Vaughan Williams, Tippett and painters such as Stanley Spencer. I have also been influenced by many discussions with my opera singer wife, Teresa Cahill, relating both to interpretation and musical ‘meaning’.

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

Teaching as well as possible and trying to put the right notes ijn the right place when composing!

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

Learning from players and, as I get older, finding how much young(er) performers play/sing and interpret my music profoundly and with an ease which i find both amazing and refreshing.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

The Circles of Light and Concerto for Orchestra with Oliver Knussen and the BBCSO/London Sinfonietta on EMI, Leon Fleisher (Sony Classical)  and John McCabe’s(NMC) recordings of Chacony for piano left-hand, Caritas (NMC), Eloge with Christopher Austin, the Brunel Ensemble and Teresa Cahill (NMC), Five Motets with Edward Wickham and The Clerks (Signum) and The Wandering Jew with the BBCSO, BBC Singers and soloists (NMC).

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

No, but I prefer anywhere to purpose-built concert halls. Possibly churches/cathedrals.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to? 

It depends on the weather!

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

Continual work on technique in relation to intention/concept and idea.

What are you working on at the moment? 

String Quartet No 4

Your new work for trumpet, Shakespeare Scenes, is premiered this month. Please say a little more about it

The work is for solo trumpet and strings, and was commissioned by Simon Desbruslais, to whom it is dedicated, with funding from the Britten/ears Foundation and the RVW Trust. The Orchestra of the Swan and their founder/music director, David Curtis, being the ensemble giving the premiere and making a commercial recording of the work, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to Stratford-upon-Avon’s greatest son. There are five pieces/movements whose tonal centres outline the musical letters of Shakespeare’s name, so that the latter forms the structural basis of the whole.

The first piece, ‘The Magic Wood’, refers to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the strings representing the magic wood/the fairy kingdom, the trumpet Puck. In the second piece, ‘Falstaff’, the trumpet plays the role of Falstaff, the three linked episodes depicting the fat knight waking, the Gad’s Hill episode (with clashing swords) and, closes with the death of Falstaff. The third piece, ‘The Storm on the Heath’, casts the trumpet as the mad, raving King Lear, with a solo violin as his Fool/Jester. ‘Masque’, the fourth piece, rather than referring to a specific play, pays tribute to the Masque as a genre (there are masques in various Shakespeare plays, The Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Night’s Dream being well-known examples); the upper strings and ‘basses represent the dancers/the courtly crowd, the trumpet playing a Pavane followed by a Galliard, with the cellos accompanying. Although there  are no quotations from Tudor/Jacobean music, the trumpet’s music makes reference to music of the period. In the closing piece, ‘The Magic Island’ (The Tempest), we hear the chastened Prospero (trumpet) and the now-tamed Caliban (solo viola) reconciled against a background of sustained ‘ringing’ string music.

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

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being with my wife and at peace.

Robert Saxton’s Shakespeare Scenes receives its world premiere by Simon Desbruslais and the Orchestra of the Swan on Friday 24th May. Further information and tickets here

Robert Saxton (b.1953) studied with Elizabeth Lutyens, Robin Holloway, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Luciano Berio following guidance from Benjamin Britten. He won the Gaudeamus International Composers prize in 1975 and a Fulbright Arts Fellowship to the USA in 1986.  

Robert Saxton has written major works for orchestras, choirs and chamber groups including the BBC (TV, Proms and Radio), LSO and London Sinfonietta; festivals including Huddersfield, Three Choirs and Cheltenham; and soloists including Teresa Cahill, Steven Isserlis and Mstislav Rostropovich. Recordings have appeared on Sony Classical, Hyperion, Metier, EMI, NMC and Divine Art. 

He is currently Professor of Composition and Tutorial Fellow in Music at Worcester College at the University of Oxford. He has been a regular member of the BBC TV 4 (digital) Proms broadcasting commentary team and was a member of the Southbank Centre board for nine years.  

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers premiered Saxton’s radio opera, The Wandering Jew, in 2010; the recording was released on NMC. The Arditti Quartet premiered Saxton’s Quartet No. 3 in May 2011, commissioned by the Southbank Centre. Premieres in 2013 include a song cycle for baritone Roderick Williams at the Oxford Lieder Festival and a piano cycle for pianist Clare Hammond at the City of London Festival.  

 

Nathan Williamson
Nathan Williamson

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

My sisters and I had piano lessons when we were young, but I was never very impressive, or serious about it. One day, aged 12, I thought I would try composing, something that had always fascinated me. I became utterly absorbed, and after a few hours there were 6 bars of wonderful music on the page. I had no idea how I had written them, and certainly no consciousness of having thought of them in the first place. But there was no one else in the room, so I concluded it must have been me. Something just switched on, and suddenly everything was about music. But I had no interest in being a pianist at this stage – that came much later, because of what I learned about music through composing.

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

My teachers, above all. Malcolm Singer taught me that being a musician is about being creative and that you have to have something new to say. He also showed me to study music objectively, rather than clouded by personal perspective. Joan Havill taught me basically everything I know about how to play the piano, as well as Beethoven, Liszt and Brahms. Joan Panetti taught me to hear music like a language – something with meaning, a living object. Ezra Laderman taught me just to relax and enjoy composing…. And while it’s a bit of a cliché, the most potent influence was my first music teacher, Geoff Cummings-Knight. I was a completely blank canvas and he threw music at me in bucket loads – Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Holst, Britten, Verdi, Elgar, Liszt… He also made singing the most important musical activity and had a knack for writing music for children at exactly the stage they were, giving everyone a specific role to play suited for them, which is a truly remarkable gift. That’s where everything started for me.

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

Realising that the success of what I do is not defined by comparison to certain models. There’s a big difference between being equipped for the profession with a robust CV, and evaluating yourself as an artist through how well you fare in a set of stereotypical tasks. I never minded jumping through hoops (and we all have to), but lining up and doing the same thing as everyone else for the sake of getting noticed seemed so pointless it almost led me to give up music altogether. Fortunately, I had some teachers (particularly in America) whose philosophy was simply to make music and, if it was any good, people would support you.

In terms of the creative process, I think the hardest thing, in a post-modern world where literally anything goes, is where on earth do you start? But you have to just flip it round and see it as the most fun instead.

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

I’m a perfectionist, so whilst I am proud of things I do I always feel I should have done them better. I am very pleased with my new CD of Schubert and Brahms. As a composer my pieces Crystal, Loss, Endings, and Solitude, as well as my opera, A Fountain Sealed, are things that really say something new and individual, and I am proud of that.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Anywhere I am welcomed to play. I just want to perform wherever people will listen.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I have felt most at home performing Schubert’s music, particularly his A major Sonata D.959, which is on my new CD. Looking at that piece feels a bit like looking in a mirror. Listening to, particular favourites are Ameriques by Varese, Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Brahms’ 4th Symphony, Durufle’s Requiem, Schubert’s String Quintet, Liquid Song by Mark Dancigers, and Westhoff’s Violin Sonatas.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Radu Lupu, Claude Franck, Anthony Marwood, Olli Mustonen, Otto Klemperer, Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Edwin Fischer.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Notting Hill Symphony Orchestra playing Brahms’ 1st Symphony in 1999. They were an amateur orchestra, their ability such that they could barely play the notes at all. Earlier in the concert they had played the Grieg Piano Concerto with a rather aged pianist who at one point skipped about 20 bars, obliging the conductor to down baton and shout ‘Figure E’ (or whatever) to the orchestra, gesticulating wildly and bringing them back in with the most terrible scrunching noise. Somehow they carried on and held it together. But the enthusiasm and utter wonder with which they performed was quite simply the most moving thing I have ever heard in my life. I wept over it for days afterwards. Then there was Claude Frank performing Beethoven’s op.110 and the Schubert B flat Sonata. The lament in the slow movement of the Beethoven was searing with grief, and the sound he made was such you felt you could reach out and grab it in your hands. It made any other pianists I had ever heard play that repertoire (and most of them I have heard since) sound drab and meaningless.

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

The temptation to dish out, and try and live off, little nuggets of wisdom is big – but out of context I don’t think they are that helpful. You need good teachers and masses of time to focus purely on your art, and if you haven’t got/had those and are serious about being a musician, you need to get them now.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Mozart’s D minor Concerto, Brahms and Bridge ‘cello and piano works for concerts with Alexander Somov, and lots of new solo repertoire. I’m composing pieces for the De Villiers Ensemble, NOW ensemble, a ‘cello sonata for Charles Watt, and I’ve just been commissioned a big set of variations for solo piano.

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

Exactly where I am now, but with greater support to fulfil ideas and projects.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Achieving something you are trying to do and then doing whatever you want afterwards.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My wedding ring, my own tankard in the Lord Nelson in Southwold, and a cricket bat signed by Andrew Flintoff.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Lots of things, with music at the centre of every day.

What is your present state of mind?

Thriving under pressure.

Nathan Williamson’s debut solo CD, funded by a private sponsor, of late works by Schubert and Brahms is launched on 7 March 2013. For further details please visit Nathan’s website

Nathan Williamson has regular commissions for new work from artists and ensembles from around the world and performs as solo piano recitalist and chamber musician with a wide range of vocalists and instrumentalists at home and abroad.

Current commissions include a major Sonata for cellist Charles Watt, a work for the De Villiers Ensemble (Piano Quintet) for their UK tour in autumn 2013, and a work for the acclaimed NOW ensemble of New York for performance in 2013-14 season.

Nathan studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Joan Havill and Malcolm Singer, and at Yale University with Ezra Laderman and Martin Bresnick. He also worked closely with John Adams, David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis, Joan Tower, and Joan Panetti, under whose direction he served as a teaching fellow at Yale upon graduating. He now teaches harmony, ear-training and music history at the Yehudi Menuhin School.

Read Nathan’s full biography here

www.nathanwilliamson.co.uk