Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club
Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club

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

My Grandfather. When I was very young, I would watch him playing in his house, and even though he didn’t play professionally, his deep passion for music must have transmitted to me.

Also I went to a live performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto in St David’s Hall Cardiff, with pianist Stephen Hough, and the thrill and intensity of that performance pushed me more into playing for a career.

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

I had a wonderful teacher called Alison Dite who introduced me to the composers I enjoy now, such as Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and many more. Helen Reid taught me at Leeds College of music, and I learnt great ways to practice, and how to project the meaning of a piece to an audience.

Now I’m studying privately with Peter Feuchtwanger, and his vast knowledge of styles of playing, along with his unique technical approach, have been incredible for my development, and I’m constantly amazed at his generosity, and commitment to teaching. In every single lesson I discover something that can benefit all pieces.

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

In March 2013 I gave the world premiere of a duo piece by a hardly-known composer Peter Hatfield, called ‘Infatuation’ with violinist Hannah Woolmer, and I felt a huge responsibility in giving a good first performance of this work, and bringing it to life. We enjoyed a successful performance, and felt very happy when people told us they loved the music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

A few I’ve really enjoyed and given everything in:

  • My final recital in Leeds College of music for my Degree, including Chopin’s lovely 3rd Sonata, along with the kind support of fellow students, some of whose are now colleagues, friends, and the teaching staff.
  • A London recital at Schott’s music shop, where I played Sonatas by J.C. Bach, which deserve so many more performances, Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn, and Tariqa No. I (Iranian) a piece composed by my teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Pieces that I love sharing with audiences, and can be viewed here http://www.danielrobertsmusic.com/videos/
  • Performing the ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ by Rachmaninov for the first time. I listened to this work along with Rachmaninov’s piano concerti countless times growing up, so it was one of my biggest dreams to play this incredible piece. I entered a beautiful colourful world during the piece, that Rachmaninov has created with his genius variations on Paganini’s Caprice 24. It was very nice to play second piano in the orchestra for ‘Carmina Burana’ in the last half of the same concert too!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Although I haven’t performed there I would love to play the Royal Albert Hall, as I’m sure its huge space combined with a fantastic acoustic, gives a performer the potential of performing with no limits, and a great sense of rapport with audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing Prokofiev Sonatas, Mendelssohn’s Andante Cantabile and Presto Agitato, Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata, Rachmaninov Preludes, Chopin, Beethoven Concerto No. 1, and of course the Paganini Rhapsody.

I love listening to large-scale works such as Messiaen’s ‘Turangalila Symphony’ the Busoni Piano Concerto, music by Karl Jenkins, as well by Alkan, Saint-Saens’ Piano concerti in the wonderful recording by Stephen Hough. Also I love listening to jazz artists such as Oscar Peterson, and Hiromi Uehara.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Jools Holland, Valentina Lisitsa, Peter Donohoe, Marc André-Hamelin, Hannah Woolmer, Harry Connick Jr, Noriko Ogawa, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Erna Sack, John Ogdon, and many others.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago I heard Martha Argerich performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, and I still think this is the best concert I’ve been to in my life! It was a masterful, and timeless performance, which left a positive mark in my musical heart forever.

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

Stick to the music you love, and give unfamiliar pieces time to grow on you, because as you mature you begin to love a whole different collection of works. Remember that the music is to be shared with the audience, and that you are the narrator of the musical adventure you present to the world. Remember that everyone responds to music differently, so it’s important to listen to different perspectives from people’s experience of your performance, to gain valuable insights into the true power of music.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m practising Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Peter Feuchtwanger’s ‘Variations on an Eastern Theme, Books 1 & 2’, Medtner’s ‘Fairy Tales’ and Saint-Saens’ ‘Wedding Cake’ valse for piano and orchestra.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

I always aim to include lesser known works, which will sometimes be a premiere performance, as well as more populars ones. This comes from pieces I’ve been listening to for years, and a wish to experience in a personal way performing them.

Which works do,you think you play best?

Two pieces that I believe I play well at Feuchtwanger’s incredible ‘Tariqa 1’, which I’ve always enjoyed performing, and Mendelssohn’s beautiful ‘Andante Cantabile & Presto Agitato’.

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

Sharing music with people around the world, whether it’s in a live concert, an online broadcast, or through recordings that I plan to produce during this time. I also want to be helping young musicians to love music, and encouraging them to explore new pieces, relate it to their lives, and how it can help them. Most importantly I would still wish to be learning new things, and gaining inspiration each day so the music can be healthy and alive.

What is your most treasured possession?

My brain, because with it I can ‘work’ anywhere in the sense of imagining a piece I’m working on, and listening to music stored in my ‘mental iPod.’ Also you can recall life’s most fantastic experiences through the audio, visual and kinaesthetic memories, and this for me is better than anything else.

Daniel Roberts’ biography

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)
Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C minor Op. 10, No. 1
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 38, No. 2 in C minor
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 19, No. 6 in G minor
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 30, No. 1 in E flat major
BRAHMS: Two Rhapsodies Op. 79 (No. 1 in B minor and No. 2 in G minor)
RACHMANINOV: 13 Preludes, Op. 32

Leon McCawley, piano

Deep in the heart of Belgravia, just five minutes from Victoria Station, is St Peter’s Eaton Square, an early nineteenth-century neo-classical church which has undergone extension modernisation following a fire some years ago. It is home to Eaton Square Concerts, now in its fifteenth season, which showcases established artists and rising talent.

For the first concert of the Spring 2014 season, Leon McCawley, one of Britain’s foremost pianists, performed works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Rachmaninov. The concert was introduced by managing director Carl Anton Muller, and Leon McCawley was received most enthusiastically – and indeed throughout the entire evening.

Beethoven’s early piano sonatas should never be dismissed as “juvenilia” – for in them we find a composer already fully conversant with this genre. Many of the early sonatas display characteristics of style, form and expression which prefigure the later, more well-known piano sonatas, and the Opus 10, No. 1 in C minor is no exception. This sonata looks forward to the more famous ‘Pathétique’ with its robust outer movements enclosing a middle movement of great serenity with a beautiful cantabile melody.

McCawley gave an energetic account of the first movement, its dark and angular opening sentence contrasted with a lyrical second subject, the entire movement crisply articulated with fine attention to the string quartet and orchestral writing and startling dynamic changes. The middle movement offered a respite from the darkly-hued outer movements. Scored in warm-hearted A -flat major, it was an opportunity to enjoy some fine legato playing. The final movement was a burst of nervous energy, only just held in check by McCawley, which allowed him to highlight not only the dramatic possibilities inherent in Beethoven’s writing, but also the composer’s wit: the movement ends with a slower coda and a final sentence which is almost a whisper.

In the Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn there was further opportunity to enjoy McCawley’s exceptionally fine legato playing. Beloved of Victorian salons, Mendelssohn invented the concept of the Lieder Ohne Worte, and produced eight volumes of these varied and lyrical miniatures. McCawley’s selection of just three from the Opp 38, 19 and 30 was intimate, expressive and poignant.

Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies Op 79 closed the first half of the evening, McCawley giving free rein to the climactic nature of these works and capitalising on the rich bass sonorities of the piano. It also set the scene for the Rachmaninov which followed after the interval.

Rachmaninov was following the precedent set by Chopin’s Preludes, and his two sets Op 23 and 32 complete the twenty four. In the Op 32 set, Rachmaninov uses four pairs of parallel keys (E, F A and B, major/minor) but no relative keys. Each Prelude opens with a tiny melodic or rhythmic fragment on which the whole is built. Alert to the contrasting and varied nature of these short works, McCawley gave an account that was committed and emotionally charged, highlighting both the expansiveness of Rachmaninov’s writing as well as the interior details of each piece.

What better way to close than with an encore of Schumann’s Traumerei, tenderly delivered.

This was my first visit to Eaton Square Concerts and I was impressed not only with the fine acoustic of the venue, but the high quality music. I very much look forward to attending further concerts at Eaton Square.


Meet the Artist……Leon McCawley (interview from April 2012)



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

Neither of my parents are musicians but there was always music in the house. My mother made tapes for me of Rubinstein or the Cortot/Thibaut/Casals trio and I fell in love with the music and these wonderful artists who were so full of love in their playing. I’ve kept that with me throughout my life as an ideal of what music is all about. My elder brother is also a concert pianist and, growing up, I always had someone to keep up with! I remember quite clearly deciding that I wanted to spend my life with the piano – when I was about twelve or thirteen.

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

I was lucky to have wonderful piano teachers who were all very different. Hilary Coates at school and then Irina Zaritskaya and Paul Roberts at music college in London. Gyorgy Sebok and Andras Keller subsequently made a big impact when I played to them. But really, I am constantly being influenced by concerts that I attend, books that I read, interviews I hear (most recently a wonderful hour with Nikolaus Harnoncourt) and, perhaps more than anything, the wonderful musical colleagues with whom I’m fortunate enough to spend my life. I have grown up with some of the most inspiring and intelligent artists around, many of whom have remained close friends. A lot of us get together annually in January in the Wye Valley.

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

Life as a musician is one of constant challenges. You are put in charge of some of the greatest works of art in the world and must do your best not to damage them and show them in their best light. Long periods of concerts, one after another, can take a physical toll and it can occasionally be a gruelling existence, finding more and more mental and physical strength from somewhere for each performance. Of course, the pay off is that we spend our lives with the most sublime music, visit many places and meet many interesting and wonderful people. The greatest specific challenges have been keeping my festival (now in its fifteenth year) and London Bridge Ensemble alive, dynamic and creative over so many years.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am hardly ever proud of recordings. Listening to yourself on a cd is a trying thing! Still, I think some of my discs with the London Bridge Ensemble just about pass the test; the Bridge piano quintet, Schumann’s Liederkreis op 24 and, most recently, Faure’s C minor piano quintet. In terms of concerts, I was proud of recent performances of Schumann’s C major Fantasy and Mozart’s C minor Fantasy. I am always particularly proud of performances that are acceptable, if broadcast live. This is always a nerve-wracking experience. I find microphones off-putting and they have an unwanted psychological effect that is hard to shake off. I recently stumbled across a tape of myself playing the Berg Op 1 piano sonata when I was sixteen years old. It became clear that I was pretty good when I was sixteen!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

The Great Room in Treowen Manor, home of my chamber music festival each January in the Wye Valley. It’s bursting at the seams with eighty people, many of whom are musical colleagues and there’s always a crackling log fire. Otherwise St Georges in Bristol and the Wigmore Hall in London. I’ve also recently been asked to curate a couple of projects at Kings Place in London, which is a fantastic venue for chamber music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I always love performing Mozart’s E flat Piano Quartet, Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio, Janacek’s Piano Sonata and Schubert’s last Piano Sonata. Those of you who know all of these pieces (especially the three Viennese ones) will notice a certain shared temperament between them which probably says something about my character! I love listening to opera. I always return to Mozart and Britten, but Debussy’s Pelleas and Tchaikovsky’s Onegin are particular favourites.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Alfred Cortot, Adolf Busch, Bela Bartok, Gerard Souzay. Ask me again tomorrow and the answers will be different. One cannot just live off the music-making of the past, though. I have been to wonderful concerts by Quatuor Mosaiques, Radu Lupu and Miklos Perenyi/Andras Schiff. The last, magical Susanna (Figaro) I saw was Aleksandra Kurzak. I always fall in love with Melisande, no matter who is singing.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing nearly a complete movement of Dvorak’s E flat Piano Quartet in the dark and from memory after the lights failed. I don’t know how we did it but it won us the biggest round of applause of the season! Playing Schumann’s Dichterliebe when both pianist and singer had just been jilted by the fairer sex. Poignant and painful, although I’m sure we were never better method actors! Hearing the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartet at a friend’s wedding.

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

If you don’t love music unconditionally then it’s not the job for you.

There’s always more to learn. Be an avid student and have respect for the musicians of the past as well as the present.

Forget your instrument – it’s just a means to an end.

Every note means something.

Always be open. Nothing kills music more quickly than dogma.

Music doesn’t speak for itself. It speaks through us, the performers.

Tell us more about Beethoven Plus! 

It’s a very exciting project with violinist Krysia Osostowicz, based on the ten Beethoven Sonatas for violin and piano. We commissioned a new piece to partner each sonata, all written by different composers as their reaction to the Beethoven work in question. We have some great composers involved including David Matthews, Jonathan Dove, Matthew Taylor, Kurt Schwertsik and Judith Bingham. Beethoven is still such an important and influential figure, even for today’s composers (when we have approached them with the idea, enthusiasm has been immediate). It’s always rewarding and great fun to work with Krysia. She’s a wonderful artist, an eternal student, despite her huge experience with Domus, performing and recording sonatas, most notably with Susan Tomes, and latterly as leader of the Dante Quartet. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being with someone you love, after a great performance of one of Mozart’s Da Ponte  operas, just as you open a very nice bottle of red wine.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Watching cricket.

Daniel Tong was born in Cornwall and studied in London, where he now lives. His musical life is spent performing as soloist and chamber musician, as well as directing two chamber music festivals, teaching and occasionally writing. Outside the UK he has performed in Sweden, France, Belgium and Portugal. He has recently released his first solo CD of works by Schubert for the Quartz label. He also recorded short solo works by Frank Bridge for Dutton as part of a London Bridge Ensemble disc and broadcast Janacek’s piano sonata live on BBC Radio 3.

Full biography here

Roderick Chadwick

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

To take it up: I did so twice, aged 5 and 7 with a short break in between. Second time around I was intrigued by a harpsichord at my eventual teacher Heather Slade-Lipkin’s house (her son was a school friend). She suggested a lesson, and carried on teaching me brilliantly for ten years.

To make it a career: Chetham’s School – the people there, and the place.

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

Early ones – my mother, who sent me to Chetham’s when she was receiving a lot of advice not to. Plus Olivier Messiaen, whom I was lucky enough to see just once in Huddersfield in 1989. Tim Horton played Messiaen’s Ile de Feu 1 to me when we were 10(!), and I immediately thought “This is what a piano is made to do”. Thanks Tim. Daniel Harding woke me up to the fact that other music was also good.

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

Playing Beethoven in Tokyo. Starting out.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performances: Stockhausen Mantra and Laurence Crane Ethiopian Distance Runners, both in the last few years at King’s Place 2.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Messiaen ‘Le Traquet Stapazin’. Tippett’s song ‘Compassion’. You said “think”.

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

New things appear all the time, not really on a seasonal basis

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

At the moment, Kettle’s Yard Cambridge. The audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: the music that, while you’re performing it, makes the rest of life seem like gaps in between performances: Violin Sonatas by Ravel, Walton, Prokofiev 1st, Messiaen Quatour. To listen: many! First movement of Mahler 7 (for the long melody in the middle) is a major indulgence. Britten Hymn to St Cecilia.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The first that spring to mind: hearing Michael Finnissy play English Country Tunes in 2006. A very fine performance of Messiaen La Transfiguration (2008) where I sat behind George Benjamin and saw how moved he seemed by his teacher’s music.

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

Accentuate the positives. Smell the roses. Artistry is not necessarily individuality. Perform as much as you can.

You will be performing Jim Aitchison’s new work ‘Portraits for a Study’. Tell us a little more about the particular challenges and excitements of this collaboration and the unusual circumstances of its performance using Yamaha’s Disklavier piano?

It’s often beautiful and sometimes quite awesome music, and I’m thrilled to be giving the first performance. Jim, I think, spent a long time considering how to respond to Richter before starting to write, and it’s proof that some profound links can be found between music and the visual arts if you do that.

I’ll play a Disklavier in Falmouth, which will be transmitted by internet to various venues in London (Goldsmith’s, Chappell’s, RAM) and the audiences there will be treated to an apparently playerless piano. The challenge is having the confidence that more subtle aspects of playing are going to be reproduced hundreds of miles away – though it seems to have worked in test runs.

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

Somewhere green in Britain or France

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I just got married to Jane, which was pretty happy

What is your present state of mind?


Roderick Chadwick will premiere Jim Aitchison’s Portraits for a Study at the University of Falmouth on Saturday 22nd February, with a simultaneous performance via Yamaha Disklavier technology at the Royal Academy of Music, Yamaha London and Goldsmith’s College.

Jim Aitchison: Inspired by Richter

Roderick Chadwick was born in Manchester and educated at Chetham’s School of Music, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with Hamish Milne. He was awarded the Mosco Carner Fellowship in 1997-8 and joined the academic staff of the Academy in 1999. Since then he has combined his teaching and research interests with an active career as a soloist and chamber musician, particularly in the field of contemporary music. He has performed at many of Britain’s most prominent venues including the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where he made his Southbank debut in 1996 playing the Tippett Piano Concerto. As an undergraduate in Cambridge he performed the complete piano works of Olivier Messiaen, an experience which sparked his continuing research interest in Messiaen’s music and that of his students.

Roderick’s long-standing duo partnerships with violinists Chloë Hanslip and Narimichi Kawabata have seen him perform widely in Europe, the United States and Asia, including recitals at Seoul Arts Centre, Auditorium du Louvre, Schloss Elmau and Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall. He is a founder-member of the avant-garde Ensemble Plus-Minus, with whom he has appeared at the Huddersfield, Ultima (Oslo) and TRANSIT (Leuven) festivals, and is also a regular guest pianist with the chamber ensemble CHROMA. Many of his performances have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as on national radio in France, Japan and South Korea, and he has recently featured on CD recordings on the Innova, Guild, and Victor (Japan) labels.

Chroma Ensemble

A visit to the Austrian Cultural Forum last night for a short recital and presentation by pianist Alisdair Kitchen to mark the launch of a new interactive online project Haydn on Flipboard.

I first met Alisdair on Twitter last July when he launched his TwitterGoldbergs project, in which he released a single Goldberg Variation every day for a month. The project was supported by Norman Lebrecht via his Slipped Disc blog. Soon after, Alisdair and I met in Real Life, and we made a podcast in which Alisdair discusses his fascination with Bach’s Goldbergs, the value of recording and sharing music in the 21st century and a general conversation about his musical influences and career to date. What I particularly liked about the TwitterGoldbergs project was its immediacy and accessibility: one could listen whenever one wanted to, and catch up on missed installments via Alisdair’s Twitter feed or on YouTube (where the recordings were hosted). It also allowed one to really enjoy each individual variation and appreciate the artistry of Bach’s writing.

Keen to explore the piano music of Haydn, which Alisdair feels is sadly underrated (and somewhat under-represented in concert programmes), and in an attempt to create an interactive project redolent of the Viennese coffee house culture, which Haydn would have known well, Alisdair’s Haydn on Flipboard uses an application, Flipboard, which allows the user to create an online scrapbook of links which can be shared, and he is inviting readers to contribute items for future issues (you may see something from this blog amongst the pages of the first issue). While perusing the articles, one can enjoy Alisdair playing Haydn via SoundCloud. This aspect of the application works best on tablets and smart phones: if viewing the Flipboard on a PC or Mac, you can listen to Alisdair via his YouTube channel. Thus, Alisdair hopes to create a community of listeners, readers and contributors – a kind of “virtual coffee house”, if you will. You can in fact enjoy a cup of coffee while reading Alisdair’s Flipboard.

For his recital, Alisdair chose to play what is generally considered to be Haydn’s last piano sonata, the great E flat, No. 52. This is well-known and widely performed, sometimes in a programme featuring the last piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert (as here). Before this, he played the Andante and Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII: 6, a work with an interesting “double variation” device, which Haydn pioneered, of two themes, in minor and major respectively. Played with commitment and a very obvious affection for this music, there were moments of great poignancy and melancholy which seemed to look forward, beyond Beethoven, to Schubert. The E-flat Sonata was performed with equal commitment, Alisdair enjoying the full range of sonorities available from the magnificent Bosendorfer piano which resides at the ACF.

Haydn on Flipboard

Twitter Goldbergs Podcasts

“I like to compare my process of making art to the composing of music.”

Gerhard Richter

Composer Jim Aitchison draws inspiration from his personal interactions and relationships with some of the leading twentieth-century and contemporary artists in the UK and beyond, including John Hoyland, Richard Long, Antony Gormley, and Sir Terry Frost. In 2008/9 he was commissioned by Tate Modern, Henry Tillman and Jill Bradford and the PRSF Foundation for New Music to respond in music to the gallery’s Mark Rothko exhibition, the largest Rothko show for 30 years. His response was performed in the gallery amongst the paintings with horn player Michael Thompson, counter-tenor Nicholas Clapton and the Kreutzer Quartet.

Jim Aitchison’s latest project is his personal musical response to the paintings of German artist Gerhard Richter and traverses aspects of Richter’s work such as chance, sequence , distance and memory to create a unique concert experience. Aitchison’s Portraits for a Study explores real geographical distance, for the work will be performed on four pianos simultaneously at four different venues, using Yamaha’s Disklavier technology. The “live” performance, and the trigger for the other simultaneous performances, will take place at the University of Falmouth, where pianist Roderick Chadwick will play the “parent” instrument. The other three pianos – at the Royal Academy of Music, Goldsmiths College and Yamaha Music, London – will be played remotely via broadband data transfer, and the exact nuances of Chadwick’s performance will be created in real time. Pictures from the Tate’s 2012 Gerhard Richter show will be projected during the performance.

Richter’s practice of passing the same images through a variety of processes or filters is also explored in Aitchison’s work: he has recomposed the same music for string quartet. It will be performed by the Kreutzer Quartet at the RAM and transmitted to all the other venues by audio link.

This fascinating blending of music, art and technology takes place on 22nd February 2014. I asked Jim about his influences and inspirations, his particular compositional methods, and how he translates his responses to a particular art work or works into music.

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

From being relatively unaware as a child, the world of music crashed into my dim 11-year-old awareness in the form of Arthur Rubinstein’s coruscating RCA Appassionata recording, followed a little later by the televising of Vladimir Horowitz’s final London concert in 1982. I had never encountered eloquent intensity of this magnitude. In hindsight one might question aspects of the magnificent fading drama of Horowitz at this stage of his career, but the experience was electrifying and ushered in many years of preoccupation with 19th and early 20th-century pianism. I began composing at around this time with various futile attempts to emulate the major exponents of this, and it took a long time and significant effort to escape from thinking solely in terms of piano sonority, texture and timbre. In terms of becoming a ‘real’ composer (if I ever have done so) this emerged extremely slowly, and I consider myself very much as a late developer.

Who or what have been the most important influences (including non-musical influences) on your composing? 

Regarding sources of musical influence, these might appear conventional: largely Euro-centric art music, with a particular interest in the aura of the 19th century, but very much thinking of this in terms of how to engage with it now, and what such music might mean as experienced in the present with all of the complexities, problems and paradoxes therein, neither trying to create some kind of illusory, sanitised re-formulation of the past for the purposes of hiding from the present, or an amnesia-based rejection in order to repel the influence of the past.

This sense of ‘present’ in terms of a place to think about the past, and the here and now, manifested itself in around 2001, when I discovered a hitherto unrealised link in myself between the visual and the sounded, embodied specifically in using aspects of visual artworks to create music. Bringing my musical material into engagement with the gallery space and with some of the procedures and approaches used by contemporary artists has been a transformative experience for me as a composer.

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

To date, I think encountering the work of Gerhard Richter and attempting to respond to it in music has perhaps been the most challenging and rewarding for me.

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

It is almost impossible to answer this complex question, without the danger of propagating potentially meaningless and deceptive platitudes, as there are so many variables within any one person’s path and what is around them. I can only offer the rather lame suggestion that one should try to be as true as possible to one’s self, but perhaps make sure to ask, continuously throughout life, what those notions of ‘true’ and ‘self’ mean.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? You will have to wait and see!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? An ‘idea’ of happiness is something I try to be very wary of.

What do you enjoy doing most? (when not working) Walking in solitude, followed by good coffee.

What is your present state of mind? Restless

You say that your work is inspired by or in response to particular artwork/s and/or artists. Does a particular artwork/s prompt an immediate musical response in you, or is the process longer, more of a case of “living with” the art?  

Occasionally the response can be quite swift in onset (particularly the case here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH8zK5W-l7A), but usually it is a long and painful process of building a kind of scaffolding from the visual to the sounded. I particularly value the process of attempting to apply procedures in music that an artist has used in their visual construction, and this can become very involved, almost like learning aspects of a language before being able to say anything useful in it.

What are your intentions when composing with a painting as the subject?  

  • to “explain” musically the painting?  
  • to “extend” the painting? 
  • to make your own personal interpretation, musically? 

I think I would be absolutely horrified if anyone thought that I was attempting either to ‘explain’ or illustrate or even worse, ‘extend’ an artwork. I don’t even like to think of it as a ‘personal interpretation,’ rather, I prefer the idea of a conversation between different art objects, where the original art work might give me a set of starting points from which to create my own piece of music that may take off in its own directions. If there are illuminating links between the art and the music, then so much the better, but I do not see the artwork as a ‘life-support’ machine for my music and I don’t see either as necessary to ‘explain’ the other.

The interpretation of colour introduced into a musical composition – is that present at all?  

I am not synaesthetic, so there is no direct physiological correlation within me that I can draw upon to link colour with some kind of sounding outcome. However, the expressive and structural effects of colour that I encounter do inevitably find their way into the mix somehow. Previously, I have contrived intuitively simple correlative schemes between colours and different harmonies, which I have found very useful.

Portraits for a Study is inspired by the work of Gerhard Richter whose work contains distinct working methods/elements. How have you referenced these aspects in the music, in both the composition and the ways in which the piece will be performed? 

  • CHANCE  

Are there any particular musical techniques you have employed to achieve these aspects? 

Yes, all of those elements you mention I have used to greater or lesser degrees within the pieces. Of all of them, abstraction in the sense that Richter uses it is rather hard to define here: as I understand it, in many other artists’ approaches to abstraction, what may be considered as a drive to transcend reality coupled with a kind of essentialising process, is in Richter’s hands, more a process founded upon establishing its own reality through the accumulation and erosion of visual material: a surface, not a doorway. In the case of my responses in Portraits for a Study, I decided to largely steer clear of direct engagement with this huge part of his output, though I hope to concentrate on this in a future project.

Chance and uncertainty, limited and mediated through formal procedures, have played an enormous role throughout Portraits for a Study, in a variety of ways. From harvesting and re-assembling tiny fragments of music by Bach and Beethoven according to simple pre-established rules, to creating transcriptions of photo-improvisations, to applying rigid filters to large spans of material, to using strict methods of cutting and re-ordering material, where the outcome of this is uncertain. Uncertainty is also built into the performance configuration itself: there is no way of knowing exactly how much of the data transferred between the remote Disklaviers over the Internet will come through and how this will affect the sounding result, as this is significantly dependant upon many variables.

Blurring, scraping off or erasure, palimpsest, the blow up, mechanical reproduction and copying, multiples and sequences (such as seen in the colour charts), are all filtering strategies that I see as establishing distance, levelling out, relative anonymity, and an aspiration towards the non-subjective intervention of the artist (a goal that I think is perhaps debateable in terms of whether it is always entirely fulfilled). I have sought compositional applications of all of these things: mechanically copying a whole Rondo by Dussek and then in one case blurring it almost beyond recognition through simple musical means, and in another, taking a fragment from the same piece, blowing it up six-fold and then completely erasing it and filling its duration with something else. In another instance, solo string pieces by Bach are buried under layers of musical ‘over-painting,’ some carefully contrived, others more coarsely applied. Multiples and sequences are used throughout the pieces, in the re-patterning of assembled fragments or in more intricately ordered cutting and re-positioning of segments of improvisations. Once again, the performance configuration is intimately invested in this: multiples, sequences and distance are created quite literally with 4 linked Disklavier pianos spread over 300 miles, and then the same material performed and transmitted again, re-composed for string quartet.

Has your investigation of the work of Gerhard Richter, which has significantly demonstrated the value of painting in the 21st century, assisted you in your question “what is the ‘correct ‘ kind of music to write in the early 2lst century”? 

I would say that Richter’s art has enabled me to find some kind of permission to remain entirely uncertain about this, and reassurance that this is OK, even if it still feels uncomfortable, confusing and worrying.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, for example the Kreutzer Quartet and pianist Roderick Chadwick?  

I have been collaborating with the Kreutzer Quartet for nearly 10 years, and it has been an immense privilege to work with colleagues and friends who are true artists. The only real challenges are found in the great distance I live away from them, and to produce work worthy of their skills: I am indebted to their patience in dealing with my inadequacies. This is the first time that I have worked with Roderick and, once again, I am utterly spoiled by being able to collaborate with such an extraordinary musician.

Has working with other musicians’ influenced/changed/stimulated your creative processes?   

Absolutely, not only do I get almost instant feedback and data on critical aspects of the pieces written for them, but also wholly new insights on the music in rehearsal and performance that I hadn’t considered, and I also find early involvement with them often gives me indispensible approaches that I would not have thought of otherwise. This is what happens when you are able to work with musicians who have such breadth and depth in their wider artistic interests.

What are the particular challenges of working in a multimedia format, for example, with the Yamaha Disklavier?  

Firstly, I feel I ought to emphasize that the new music is actually written for solo piano (as well as in a different version for string quartet), not Disklavier, and as such, I hope that pianists may be interested in it in future. But yes, the idea is that the music will be performed on the Disklavier piano in this case, making use of the Disklavier’s ability to be connected to many other Disklaviers across a network. Thus, the sense of distance and automation apparently present in aspects of Richter’s art will be referred to via the configuration of one live pianist at Falmouth University triggering 3 remote Disklaviers 300 miles distant, to play exactly what he plays, and exactly how he performs (the potential for chance data aberrations in transfer notwithstanding), at the Royal Academy of Music, Goldsmiths and Yamaha Music London.

composer Jim Aitchison (photo: Richard Bram)

There are immense technical challenges in doing this and in reversing the polarity, when we will transmit the Kreutzer Quartet performing the re-composed version of the same music back from the Royal Academy of Music to all the other venues via audio-visual link. We have run a whole series of tests between the various institutions and will continue to do so up until the performance on 22nd of February 2014. The main challenges are logistic (co-ordinating a large group of people comprised of several different teams across 4 remote venues and from several other participating organisations, accessing and organising spaces and getting equipment transported and set up over a wide geographical area), and technical (dealing with the idiosyncrasies of a large communication system with many components devised and set up especially for this project).

One of the joys of working like this however is that of building fruitful collaborations, both existing and new. In addition to the wonderful musicians, Arts Council England, The PRS for Music Foundation, Yamaha, Falmouth University, the Royal Academy of Music and Goldsmiths, and with wonderful support from Tate, we have also been incredibly fortunate to find a new collaborator in the Europe-wide Vconect video conferencing research project that includes major partners such as EURESCOM – European Institute for Research and Strategic Studies in Telecommunications, British Telecommunications plc, Portugal Telecom, Alcatel-Lucent Bell, Goldsmiths University, University of London, Stichting Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung, JOANNEUM RESEARCH Forschungsgesellschaft and Falmouth University (http://www.vconect-project.eu/h)

Attend one of the performances:

University of Falmouth

Royal Academy of Music, London

Goldsmith’s College, University of London

Jim Aitchison’s biography