Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My family owned an old upright piano that had belonged to my grandparents. It was brilliant to muck around on, and I remember trying to play some TV themes: I got quite good at Grange Hill. There was quite a lot of music at home, as my two older brothers also learned the piano and we all sang in the local church choir, along with my Dad. Although, I did find dressing up in a cassock quite funny. I had really good teachers who were disciplined, while letting me do my own thing. When I was 11, my state school put on Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and that was an incredible experience, even though I was only a badly behaved squirrel. A few years later I heard a recording of Debussy’s Prelude a’apres-midi d’un faune, which opened my ears to how sensuous and sexy music could be, and sent my teenage hormones through the roof. I then devoured music at the piano, mostly borrowing scores from the library.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career both as a performer and a composer?

There’s such a huge range of good music from across the centuries that I love, and nearly of it shares the same philosophy: that music’s essentials (melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure) can combine into something that reflects our lives. This shapes my work in what I play and compose/arrange. Making music should also be part of a community, and it can be linked with popular and folk styles while maintaining strength and depth. That’s one of the great legacies of people like Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainger, and their music is a big influence in different ways. Jazz has always had a big impact too, especially the composer/ arrangers like Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Nelson Riddle, or Leonard Bernstein’s fusion of styles. It shows us that music can be dangerous, dirty, brash and raunchy as well.

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

Self-motivation: maintaining a belief that what you’re doing is worthwhile in a crazy and complicated world, especially during periods of depression. This seems to become harder the older I get.

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

There are so many things I’m lucky to have been involved with, as a performer, composer and arranger. Some of the orchestral pieces I’ve written for the BBC Proms are a highlight: ‘Wing It’ in 2012, ‘Gershwinicity’ in 2018. The ongoing Scary Fairy orchestral fairytale series is a lot of fun, with Craig Charles narrating his poetry. There’s also a concert of orchestral folk song arrangements with the singer Sam Lee, playing jazz songs with Jacqui Dankworth, recording Elgar’s 2nd Symphony on the piano, choral concerts, chamber music… too much to list. And I guess playing the piano at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony: my Mum died of cancer that morning and I managed to hold it together, even though I was in the middle of having a complete emotional breakdown.

As a performer, how do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

When I do get the chance to choose, it’s always a very eclectic mixture of music, linked thematically in some way. I generally try and get in a new piece or arrangement of some kind, maybe something entertaining. After all, a concert can be fun too.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Although it’s a bonkers barn of a place, playing at the Royal Albert Hall in the Proms always feels like a bit of a party. Playing the organ there can be a ridiculous ego trip.

As a composer, how do you work?

I do get tunes or harmonies that pop into my head, often as I’m just about to fall asleep, which can sometimes be a nuisance. Normally I throw all the ideas together by improvising at the piano, singing along at the top of my voice. This is scribbled down on semi-legible manuscript, worked at and crossed out until I’ve got a full complete draft. Then I typeset it on Sibelius software, so that I can actually read it.

How would you describe your compositional style/language?

There’s often a lot of jazz styles in there: swing, funk, blues and others, mixed with classical structures and colourful tonal harmonies. Clear melodies and strong rhythms play a big part too. Most of the time, the music is about our life experiences and emotions: joy, sadness, love, loss.

Tell us more about your new piano series……

I’m putting on A Mahler Piano Series at the 1901 Arts Club in London, in eleven weekly concerts. It features a wide variety of musical styles that influenced Gustav Mahler, as well as the bulk of his symphonic music arranged for solo piano. He played his symphonies on the piano to friends and accompanied singers on the piano, so it’s a recreation of those experiences in an intimate salon venue from the period. It’s about putting his music in the context of the European musical melting pot of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including folksongs, country dances, waltzes, klezmer, Jewish music, military marches, operetta, popular and salon music classical composers including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, a concert of works by female composers and the music of contemporaries such as Busoni and Schoenberg. I’m joined by some wonderful singers as well, so it will be a pretty epic adventure.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As an audience member it was actually at the ballet, the first time I saw The Rite of Spring danced by English National Ballet. I was hyperventilating by the end.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

In a way, any musician that can make a living as a performer is a success, especially while trying to raise a family. Beyond that, I think anyone that can find new and inspiring ways to connect with audiences is doing it right. Giving people life-enhancing experiences outside of the mainstream is vital, including going into schools, hospitals, prisons.

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

Be versatile, work hard and try to stay as positive as you can. We’re pretty lucky to be doing this, when you think about it.

What is your present state of mind?

Buzzing like a beehive.

‘A Mahler Piano Series’ is at the 1901 Arts Club, London from September 12th to November 21st 2018. Full details and tickets


Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. He has made numerous recordings, and has broadcast on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Through his multi-faceted work as a musician, he aims to bring live music to as wide an audience as possible. Iain’s concert programmes often mix popular and jazz elements into the traditional Classical repertoire. His many chamber orchestral arrangements allow large-scale works to be presented on an affordable smaller scale, and his compositions range from virtuoso display pieces to small works for beginner instrumentalists.

As a solo pianist, accompanist, chamber musician and organist, Iain has performed at all the major UK venues and abroad in the USA, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong and all across Europe. He has worked with many of the country’s leading musicians, including Bryn Terfel, Sir Paul McCartney and Lesley Garrett. Iain played the piano at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with Rowan Atkinson, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, broadcast to a global audience of around a billion viewers. With Counterpoise he has worked with numerous singers and actors, including Sir John Tomlinson, Sir Willard White, Jacqui Dankworth and Eleanor Bron. As a session pianist, Iain has recorded numerous film and TV soundtracks for Hollywood, Disney and independent productions. His solo organ performance in the Proms 2007 on the Royal Albert Hall organ was critically acclaimed, and he performed his Animal Parade in 2015 at the Royal Festival Hall organ for a family concert. Iain was Organ Scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge University, and Organ Scholar at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Iain is a prolific composer and arranger, and has made hundreds of arrangements ranging from operas to piano pieces. He has composed two 40 minute Scary Fairy orchestral works combining poems by Craig Charles with a continuous full score, first performed and broadcast on BBC Radio 2 ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ with the BBC Philharmonic. For the BBC Proms he composed an orchestral work Gershwinicity in 2018, A Shipshape Shindig in 2017, a jazz guide to the orchestra Wing It, and a Double Violin Concerto, in 2012 for the Wallace and Gromit Prom. Iain’s choral work The Burning Heavens was nominated for a British Composer Award in 2010. He has made arrangements in many styles, including traditional African songs, Berlin cabaret, folk, klezmer, jazz and pop. Iain is the Arranger in Residence for the Aurora Orchestra who have performed and recorded his compositions and arrangements, including all the songs for the Horrible Histories Prom in 2011. His organ arrangement of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5 was performed at the 2011 Royal Wedding in Westminster Abbey.

iainfarrington.com

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

Despite my parents efforts to convince me not to, I started the violin when I was three. Throughout my childhood I was determined that I would be a violinist, but when I was eleven I went to a course called The Walden School, a composition course for teenagers situated five minutes away from my step-grandmother’s place in New Hampshire. I wanted to go to a performance course but my mother convinced me to try it… she’d noticed that most of my ‘practice’ time was spent improvising.

Walden and the world of new music was a revelation to me and I fell quickly and deeply in love with the madness and freedom of the vast array and different sorts of music that I heard there. Walden’s motto, ‘Music is Sound organised in Time’, was emblazoned across the top of the recital hall and I took it to heart. It was ear and mind opening and although I continued to claim to want to be a violinist for the next year or so, I kept returning to Walden and spending my time writing… as my mother says, ‘you vote with your feet’.

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

I’m always looking for new sounds from any musical genre to excite me and spark thoughts. I also look outside of music: my mother is a sculptor (you can have a look at some of her works here: Josiespencer.com), and my father is a theatre manager and producer, so I grew up with influences from all sorts of art forms.

Certain pieces catch me at certain times in my life, and I suppose they become part of me, whether or not their influences can be heard in my music – among these, Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae and Black Angels, many pieces by Hildegard Von Bingen, Kurtag’s Hipartita, Pauline Oliveros’s philosophies of deep listening, and many works by Oliver Knussen – especially his Songs for Sue. Alongside these classical influences, I like to sneak little bits of R&B, pop, folk, and rock into my pieces.

I’m lucky enough to have had three wonderful composition teachers and each of them challenged me and helped me grow as a composer in different ways. I studied with Giles Swayne during my undergraduate degree and afterwards in London, Simon Bainbridge during my masters and the first years of my PhD, and Oliver Knussen currently. They each have been insightful and supportive mentors as well as being composers whose music I deeply admire.

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

Starting each new piece always feels like it’s an insurmountable challenge… until it isn’t.

I think this is true of any career – but keeping life in balance is another constant challenge. It’s how you spend your time each day and what those days add up to as a life in total.

I don’t think either of these two will ever become less challenging.

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

Commissions give me deadlines, certainty, and variety. These are all things that are both pleasures and challenges at the same time.

Of which works are you most proud?

A few years ago, I had the slightly impractical idea that I’d like to create a piece of music for an especially designed space. I wanted to create a way for people to interact acoustically with a piece of music and physically walk around interwoven lines within a piece to explore how they relate to one another and what they’re doing individually.

Along with my sister, violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and two architectural designers, Finbarr O’Dempsey and Andrew Skulina, we made ​Permutations​, a playfully immersive & interactive artwork. It was developed on an Open Space Residency at Snape Maltings and premiered at the 2017 Aldeburgh Festival along with the release of a CD by the same name on Signum Classics.

I’m unbelievably excited that it will be going on tour starting later this year! The tour will launch at the Dartington Festival during week four, After that ​Permutations ​will travel to the Royal Academy of Music for their ‘Festival of Space’ in November, and on to the Royal Institute of British Architects North, in Liverpool for May 2019. Other venues & dates will be announced later.

Finbarr and Andrew designed six chambers, each lined with rotating doors, with polished timber on one side and corrugated felt on the other. The chambers have Amina Technologies’ invisible speakers built into the wood of their ceilings, and each one plays a different one of the six recorded violin parts, all recorded by Tamsin. If you stand in the middle of the space with the six chambers surrounding you, you can hear the 18 minute piece, equally balanced. You can interact with the music in several ways: you can walk around, in and out of chambers, you can acoustically isolate a solo or a duo by rearranging the doors, you can fully rotate the doors of a chamber to change how resonant the acoustic is, or you can find a seat and place yourself in one particular place and listen from there. There’s also a social element – you can decide whether to create a private closed off space to listen from, or move into the more open communal spaces with other listeners.

It’s a multi-sensory experience – so the best way is often to show rather than tell… here’s a video from the premiere:

I’m also really proud of the string quartet I wrote for the Santa Fe Chamber Music festival last summer. It’s called Snap Dragon and the Heath Quartet are going to be playing it again this summer at Dartington. You can listen to the fantastic Flux Quartet playing it in this recording:

 

How do you work?

I start by sketching on paper and writing pages of semi-nonsensical scribbles (in both words and music notation) in various notebooks. Depending on what is forming, at some point I start to move towards working in Sibelius (music notation software). I go back and forth a bit between paper and Sibelius during the writing process, but at a point of critical mass I work almost entirely on Sibelius.

Currently, I’m writing a piece for the concert series Listenpony, which I co-founded along with Josephine Stephenson and William Marsey in 2012. We started Listenpony to produce concerts where we would hear the music we love – regardless of genre – in a friendly atmosphere, while also providing a platform for outstanding young musicians.

In May, we had our first ever tour, including at date at the Playground Theatre in London among my mum’s sculpture exhibition ‘Murmurations’. For the tour, I wrote a piano piece for pianist George Fu – it’s influenced by Scottish folk music and the clarity of texture in Couperin’s keyboard works as realized on the modern piano.

I’ve also recently completed piece for 12 players (string quintet, clarinets, flutes, oboe, trumpet, trombone, piano, percussion) from the Philharmonia Orchestra for their Music of Today Series. It was performed in May at the Royal Festival Hall.

 

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite composer is Messiaen, although some days I think it’s Bach, Schubert or Stravinsky.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is clarity of vision mixed with the flexibility to allow for discovery during the process. If I am getting this balance right, composing is a joyful and playful experience.

Success in the broader career-minded sense is best left out of the creative process – concern with it can poison the waters.

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

As much as you can, free your work from your ego – ego will hold you back from learning and growing. Presumably you’re doing it because you love it – so don’t let anything compromise that joy in creation. Don’t compare yourself to others. Write music that you want to listen to.

 

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

Anywhere, composing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness comes in flashes, when I’m not searching for it, and its beauty is often in its imperfection. One of my favourite poems is ‘Happiness’ by Jack Underwood. It’s probably not legal to print the whole thing here but if I can quote a line: ‘we know happiness because it is not always usual, and does not wait to leave’.

 


 

Described as “at once intimate and visionary” by BBC Music Magazine Freya Waley-Cohen’s music has been heard in the Wigmore Hall, Sage Gateshead, St John’s Smith Square, The Barbican Centre, The New Mexico Museum of Art and at Aldeburgh, Tanglewood, Santa Fe, Dartington, Cheltenham, St Magnus, Ryedale and Spitalfields festivals. 

Winner of a Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2017, Freya is associate composer of Nonclassical, NightMusic at St. David’s Hall, and Reverie Choir, and will be a featured artist at this years Dartington Festival. Freya held an Open Space Residency at Snape Maltings from 2015-2017, where she created the collaborative artwork Permutations, which will tour to Dartington, the Royal Academy of Music and RIBA North in 2018/19.

In 2017 Signum Classics released a CD of Freya’s music including Permutations and Unveil – both of which are recorded by her sister Tamsin Waley-Cohen. Her works have also been released by Nimbus Records, Listenpony, and McMaster Records.

Upcoming commissions include works for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series, CHROMA ensemble, and the LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series.

She is a founding member and artistic director of Listenpony, a concert series, commissioning body and record label that programmes classical music, both new and old, alongside a variety of other genres including folk, jazz and pop, in beautiful and unusual venues. 

 

http://www.freyawaleycohen.com

http://www.permutations.co

http://listenpony.com

Jimmy-Lee-Guitar-Runaway-WildKat

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

I discovered my ability to compose almost by accident. I had always been active and in love with the performing arts, school plays, school and church choir’s amateur dramatics etc…. It all started for me when I began to write poetry, mostly autobiographical of childhood memories, life experiences and so on. Without any formal training, I found that I could create melodies by turning my poems into song; I seem to have a natural gift as a songwriter. The four pieces on the album ‘The Empty Room’ were written on guitar some time ago and although I was not able to transcribe them for symphony orchestra myself at that time, When I was eventually able to hear the music played by the ensemble I founded, I was more than delighted and promised myself that one day I would record and perform all of my music albeit ballads, folk, Americana but most importantly, orchestral.  That time came a few years ago. Since that time I have produced four albums, written over thirty songs poems and produced two musical stage productions from albums.. All have been well received and proven very popular with a variety of audiences. I am ‘at one’ when I am performing!

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

In my childhood and at school I became emotional, reflective and very thoughtful when I heard pleasing melodies and songs. I remember at school performing Schubert’s ‘Trout’, so beautiful and meaningful; also the songs of Stephen C Foster. I was captivated by their meaning and how simple it seemed to be able to tell a story and express emotion and events good or bad. In the early 60’s I was fortunate enough to share a flat in London with very talented musicians, with a wide range of musical interests from folk to orchestral and I attended many performances throughout London and yearned to play my part. I practised hard on guitar/vocals and played my first few gigs at the Troubadour and the Half Moon in Putney.. From then on I was hooked.

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

To keep my desire to perform in check. I have dipped in and out of the music scene from the late 70s, performing in the UK, Europe and the USA but my sense of responsibilities’ to provide security for my young family always overruled my personal ambition. I have no regrets in pursuing a career in the commercial world, which was thankfully both enjoyable and successful.

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

The challenge is to understand what is required and to create something that will last, stand the test of time and be meaningful and pleasing not just to the audience but to yourself. I have no respect for transient music.

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

I am not the greatest musician in the world and I am always in awe of the standard talent and ability of trained or gifted musicians. Sometimes I feel intimidated and inadequate but I am usually put at ease and enjoy that company enormously.

Which works are you most proud of?

Apart from my orchestral works, which I am enormously proud of, there is a ballad on my ‘Runaway’ album called Hard Man. It was a difficult song to write and sometimes too difficult to sing but the lyrics say it all. It is a song about my Father who suffered terribly in Burma during the WWI and carried the scars for life. It is both a criticism and a tribute to a man who was never able to be the Father that I know he could have been and wanted to be.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are many from Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, John Williams, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Adele, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and many more!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing my orchestral works performed by a full symphony orchestra at the Guards Chapel in Wellington Barracks, London in November 2015

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

For me, all music must tell a story that would be both interesting and in some way moving. The story line/lyrics will often suggest music and the music will often suggest a story line or lyrics. The two are inseparable do not be swayed by what is in vogue follow your instincts your gifts are specific to you… create and never give up!

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

Still alive and well.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?….

Contentment.

What is your most treasured possession?…

My health and my guitar.

What do you enjoy doing most?…

Snowboarding, wind-surfing, and performing but not at the same time !!!!

What is your present state of mind?…

Excited, apprehensive, confident and pleased that at this time in my life I still have a lot to look forward to.

From classical music to folk and country, Jimmy Lee has an exotic and diverse compositional style. Disregarding all barriers that stand between genres, Jimmy has pursued his love of music regardless of any rules. His career has taken him across the globe from bars and beer joints in America’s Mid West to London’s Wembley Arena. After taking a break from the music scene, Jimmy Lee founded the Blue Coconut Music Club and decided to take up his calling once again.

Jimmy Lee released his debut classical album for symphony orchestra in Spring 2016. Having caught the attention of the Director Music at The Army Corps of Musicians (CAMUS), Kneller Hall with the power and beauty of his music, Jimmy Lee begun a collaboration with the Military for his next project. The album was recorded by Abbey Road Studios at The Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks and Birdcage Walk with combined military and civilian musicians.

Read more about Jimmy Lee here

 

 

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

I have never pursued a career in music, it ended up like this. Ok, let me tell you backwards. All I wanted in my life was to compose my own music, whatever it may be to other people. The end result of my compositions are often categorised as “contemporary classical music” (which was also not my choice; I thought of my music is as easy listening top of the chart pop music, but I guess a lot of people don’t feel that way, sadly), and I always want to compose.

Like a lot of people, one needs to earn money to live, as I am from normal working class family; in other words, if I breathe, I need to earn (like everyone else, I guess), and I don’t want to spend time doing things other than composing. So naturally I had to think how can I compose music so that I can also eat. Then it became profession.

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would be doing the same thing, composing-wise. My life hasn’t really changed since I was an 8 year old composing every day. I guess I don’t have to go to school as I am 37, so I can spend more time composing, not just after school hours and weekends.

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

If I can speak about inspiration (before I get to the influence), I think I would say everyday life. I really think the inspirations are everywhere. Most significantly, by watching my wife being pregnant, going through each day until the birth, then my daughter growing and changing every day (she is now 3). The one and only good thing about being a composer is that you get to stay home and work, so you will not miss any of these magical times. I have written many works inspired by the specific parts of these situations, from early pregnancy to 2-day-old baby, movement of 2 week old cheeks, learning to walk, etc etc. All separate works.

Now, speaking of influences, I will mention these 4 people: Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian.

I am incredibly lucky, not just to know these people, or just shake hands once, but to actually work with these people, whom I grew up listening to when I was early teens. Sakamoto and Sylvian were my everyday play list, and Boulez and Eötvös were my everyday play list from when I was at music college student to today.

To be honest, I feel I’ve met everyone (my heroes) I wanted to meet in my life; everyone else, however many “famous” people are standing there in front of me now, I wouldn’t feel star struck.

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

Hmmmm, maybe writing my first opera SOLARIS.

It’s 90min, music for 5 singers, ensemble and live-processing electronics (I worked for months in IRCAM in Paris).

I must say I was a little worried before I started working on this opera, how would I feel about writing an opera. But from bar 1, until the final bar, I felt great. I have never had such a wonderful experience writing it, making drama, telling the story, controlling the pace, mood, atmosphere of the drama. At no point did I feel “I didn’t know what to do next” while composing SOLARIS.

I was sorry after 1.5 year I reached the final bar of SOLARIS, that I had to leave this world in which I lived for a year and a half composing.

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

Not every commission, but some commissions come with some “request”. I quite like this.

From when I was small, I always love studying. I loved school, I always studied (not because I wanted good grades, but I just wanted to know more things) something in my life, including unnecessary things!

For instance, I wrote a piece for Lucerne Festival, which was for anniversary of the oldest and biggest insurance company, Swiss RE. They requested me to write music about “risk management”, a term which I had not even heard of until then. Soon I found out one of my close friend’s partner whom I knew for years, is a professional Risk Manager! I knew that he wears a suit every day to go to work, unlike floating around everyday like a jobless person like me. So it was fascinating for me to study this totally unknown area.

Another was the anniversary for Kierkegaard. I knew the name, but never really knew about him. It was a great excuse to study and research him.

So it is not a challenge, it is an excuse for me to know more, a good reason to do research.

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

I wouldn’t say “challenges”, but I always think about the musicians who will perform (for the first time) the work I am writing. It may be hard to believe for some, but I really do. If it is an orchestra then I think about the conductor (especially if I know the conductor very well); if it is a solo or concerto works, I would have lengthy face to face or skype sessions with the musicians I am writing for. It is so important that I have these musicians in mind when I am composing.

But it is strange, quite often I compose music like that, then they premiere the work, they say nice things, but they never play the work again. A few years later, someone totally different from whom I imagined when I was writing the piece contacts me and then plays the work obsessively many times, as if the work was written especially for him/her.

I can never really control this, it’s a chemistry, I think. But it is nice, for me to try to seek the “reason of the work’s birth”. Once he/she is born, they walk their own life….

Which works are you most proud of?

Can’t answer that….though my old works, I feel are quite distant, a bit like someone else’s compositions with lots of bits I feel comfortable with, or like or am familiar with. I feel more possessive about recent works.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

“Daphnis and Chloe” BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, conducted by Pierre Boulez. It was amazing to me that I literary could hear every single note which was played, and the pacing of it. The piece started, and finished as if in one breath. Really clean, like the most smooth single malt whisky.

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

Why do you play these particular works in this exact time and for whom, and why those instruments. When I feel this clearly as an audience, I will most likely to like the concert.

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

I would like to be writing larger scale works only, like operas. Hmmm….. maybe some little pieces in between for people I like.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Composing – and when my daughter is lying on me on the sofa, watching tv or reading books (preferably the latter).

Although Dai Fujikura was born in Osaka, Japan, he has now spent more than 20 years in the UK where he studied composition with Edwin Roxburgh, Daryl Runswick and George Benjamin. During the last decade he has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Huddersfield Festival Young Composers Award and a Royal Philharmonic Society Award in UK, Internationaler Wiener Composition Prize, the Paul Hindemith Prize in Austria and Germany respectively and both the OTAKA and Akutagawa awards in 2009.


A quick glance at his list of commissions and performances reveals he is fast becoming a truly international composer. His music is not only performed in the country of his birth or his adopted home, but is now performed in venues as geographically diverse as Caracas and Oslo, Venice and Schleswig-Holstein, Lucerne and Paris.

Full biography here

www.daifujikura.com

photo: Malcolm Crowthers

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

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

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

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

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

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

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

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

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

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

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

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

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

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 

Cheerful

Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.


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

I can’t remember exactly, but I just got more and more into music as a child – hearing my mother play the piano, listening to my parents’ collection of vinyl recordings of Chopin, Beethoven etc., improvising along with my paternal grandmother on the piano: sort of soft jazzy honky-tonk type things. Before I could read music (I started lessons quite late) I would experimentally fill up music paper with random notes and try to get my mother, or my neighbour down the street in Winnipeg to try to play it for me. Eventually I figured out how to make it sound better, and started to be able to play the stuff myself. When I was about nine, I remember announcing at the dinner table to my parents and two sisters that I wanted to become a composer, if not a psychologist, which was my second choice. But I ended up becoming a pianist first.

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

Though I’m mostly self-taught as a composer, I received encouragement and help from S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté and Peter-Paul Koprowski, and my musical and aesthetic grounding was greatly influenced by my piano teacher William Aide. My mother introduced me to lots of books when I was young – from ‘Wind in the Willows’ to novels by Joyce Carol Oates. I think this helped me develop creative instincts. Though I never got to meet him, Glenn Gould – with all his individuality and eccentricity – had a profound effect on me growing up. As far as the musical canon is concerned, the inventiveness, depth, and universality of Beethoven’s music grabbed me in my teenage years, and still does. I think of him as the beginning of the modern musical age. My personal interpretation of the term ‘modernism’ is that the individual voice of the composer can deliver ‘truths’ which have a value beyond their fashionability, enjoyability or marketability. There is also J.S. Bach and Mozart, of course, and Schubert, Schumann and Chopin are recurring passions. Of the more recent composers, Bartok, Shostakovich, Ives, Messaien, Xenakis, Weill, (pre-America), Ustwolskaya, Vivier, Feldman, Janacek and Mompou have all offered something special to me. Ronald Stevenson, who I am fortunate to have gotten to know in the last few years, has been an inspiration not just because of his own music (including his masterful Passacaglia on DSCH) but also through his open-mindedness to a wide range of lesser-known music which he’s shared with me – including some wonderful choral folksong arrangements by Percy Grainger.

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

As a player, performing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, Ives’ Concord Sonata and Beethoven’s op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Those experiences (including the task of memorising) helped develop my imagination and sense of structure – not only for composing, but for improvising. Balancing a career performing and composing has itself been a challenge, and I’m still trying to grapple with that. Improvising, besides being an artistic end in itself, has played a mediating role in this inner conflict. Perhaps one of my biggest challenges as a composer was finishing my first ‘opus’ – a piano sonata – in my last year at Juilliard, when I was also busy entering international competitions as a pianist. It was a kind of act of faith to switch gears in this way and start composing seriously. If my improvisation class teacher hadn’t taken me aside and said to me ‘look, from what I’ve heard you do, I think you should consider becoming a composer’, I may never have taken that plunge. It was the last, and practically the only thing he ever said to me in that class, and I’m still grateful for that. My first film soundtrack (Painted Angels, Jon Sanders dir.1999) scored for chamber orchestra was a similar plunge in the dark – very stressful yet exhilarating. From a curatorial perspective, the few festivals I’ve organised posed different challenges – perhaps the most hair-raising being the biggest ever Frederic Rzewski retrospective ever mounted – the first day beginning with the first (and only?) complete performance of his solo piano work ‘The Road’, lasting ten hours. His big compliment to me at the end of the two weeks was to say I was ‘one of the crazy people’.

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

I haven’t had many commissions, but I particularly enjoy it when there is an element of collaboration. My Viola Concerto (Night Love Song) which was premiered in Toronto last year had two collaborative angles – firstly, working directly with Rivka Golani developing the viola part and secondly working with musical and historical/mythical material from the Blackfoot – specifically the ‘Blood’ tribe in Alberta.

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

Well, Rivka who I just mentioned was (and is) very inspiring. I also recently worked with a young Canadian pianist, now studying in Germany, Everett Hopfner who played my Preludes and Afterthoughts – fantasy-transcriptions on Chopin’s Preludes op. 28 across Canada after winning the É-Gré Competition in Brandon – Canada’s most important competition for contemporary music. To feel such enthusiasm and empathy from a young performer just starting out in his career is something that really lifts the spirit. I guess these are the positive experiences, which I tend to remember and look forward to. What I can find a bit difficult to deal with at times is when performers don’t try to read between the notes on the page – to go beyond the score and ‘interpret it’, which is after all what performers are meant to do!

Which works are you most proud of?

Usually the one I’ve just finished – in this case Three Chorales for piano (which Aleksander Szram will be recording next year as part of a CD of some of my piano and chamber music). I just hope that I can keep developing.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I’ve never thought about that much. But one of the worst, I think, was a place that used to be called the ‘Communist Club’ in Warsaw. I played a concert there on an abominable piano in 1980 during the Chopin Competition. I was told afterwards that Richter had just come to town a couple of weeks earlier and asked to give an impromptu recital there. That humbled me!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I mentioned some earlier, but out of the myriad musicians I admire, I’ll also say Rudolph Serkin and Sergiu Celibidace.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Jesse Norman sing Wagner’s Liebestod and Strauss’ Four Last Songs with an orchestra in London, Ontario when I was about 19. It wasn’t just the singing, which was overwhelming enough, but her stage-presence, and the magisterial slowness of her entrance.

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

Try to be open-minded. Opinions are easy to form, and aren’t worth much. But you also have to learn discernment. This might seem paradoxical, but there is a fine balance required – the kind of thing that Zen philosophy seems to be dealing with.

Be generous to others, and as far as possible disinterested in your dealings – doing things for the betterment of the art of music and society rather than entirely for your own career. I think James MacMillan shows an admirably healthy attitude in his interview for this series when he says he never thought of music as a ‘career’.

What are you working on at the moment?

A piece for erhu (a 2-stringed Chinese ‘violin’) and piano for a Canadian duo.

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

Somewhere where I could experience both solitude and friendship in equal measure.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Solitude and friendship. And, more specifically, lying on a nice quiet beach somewhere with my wife and two daughters.

What is your most treasured possession?

Music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Making music.

What is your present state of mind?

Tired, happy and just a little uneasy

Douglas Finch was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and began improvising, composing and performing on the piano from an early age with the help of his mother. He later continued studying with Winnifred Sim, Jean Broadfoot and at the University of Western Ontario with William Aide. After receiving a Masters from Juilliard in New York under Beveridge Webster, Douglas won several awards and was a finalist at the Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition in Brussels.

After moving to London, he co-founded The Continuum Ensemble in 1994 and has collaborated in premiering many new works. He appears regularly with the ensemble at the Spitalfields and other Festivals and at the Southbank Centre, featuring composers such as Julian Anderson, Georges Aperghis, Henri Dutilleux, Charles Ives, Claude Vivier, Errollyn Wallen, Iannis Xenakis and many others.

He has composed for piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra, theatre and film and his score for the feature film ‘Painted Angels’ , was described in The Independent as ‘an extraordinary triumph of artistic will’.

Interview date: November 2013