Tag Archives: contemporary classical music

Meet the Artist……Simon Vincent, composer

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

When I was growing up, my parents and brothers always played records in the house, ranging from opera and instrumental classical music through to rock and blues. I listened to the charts regularly as well as all the things my family played and started buying my own records from when I was about 5 years old.

I would spend hours with my head between the speakers of the stereo, captivated by the production and ‘sound stage’ of the recordings, and I would spend just as much time recording soundtracks from the TV and things outdoors. Although I used to enjoy making short cassette tape constructions as well as exploring the pedals and strings of the piano we had at home, it occurred to me quite late that I should attempt to develop my ideas into something more compositional, or even try and notate them.

In 1986 I went to the University of East Anglia to study languages. Once there I discovered its wonderful music department and thought that this would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to explore music further. Inspired, quite literally, by Dave Brubeck’s example, I changed to study music and have never looked back. I have the composer Denis Smalley, my then teacher, to thank for opening my ears to so many unknown musical worlds and for setting excellent standards in both composition and performance.

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

I am always influenced by the things around me, as I like to keep my ears and eyes open. I hope that that will never change and I still enjoy keeping up to date with pop music and other dance and club-oriented things, something I was able to pursue professionally as a DJ for a while. But my musical life has also been influenced by any explorations of structure, space and narrative (political, spiritual or otherwise) that I find interesting, ranging from the buildings of Zaha Hadid and Denys Lasdun, the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Seamus Heaney, to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. to name but a few.

Musically Dave Brubeck’s daring improvisations and the intensity of his voice have certainly been a big influence on me, as has, for example, Miles Davis’ stunningly adventurous conception of sound. Karlheinz Stockhausen has, however, been perhaps the biggest influence. The clarity, playfulness, and the human quality of his composed/improvised music is something I learned from enormously. I have a postcard from him on which he wrote “balance your music!”, after he listened to one of my compositions. That’s something I’ve tried to adhere to.

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

Of all the challenges I suppose finding new paths, being original (but never at the expense of the quality and intention of the work) and ‘remaining true to myself’ are the greatest. Of course, they could easily become frustrating but I always see them as something positive, something that helps me grow and learn.

Getting pieces heard can however be frustrating as can the sadly often conservative programming of so-called ‘experimental’ concerts and festivals. The musical landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, and so the challenge to be open to new spaces, open to the development of new musical languages but at the same to be true to oneself and to produce works of quality certainly doesn’t diminish in importance.

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

I really like working on commissioned pieces for two reasons: Firstly, if the piece is either for myself to perform or simply for electro-acoustic playback, I enjoy having free reign to explore what I need to explore; secondly if the work is for someone else, I very much enjoy being influenced, even slightly, by the tastes, characteristics and abilities of the performer in question. That way, the work becomes tailor-made in some aspects. Mr Gee’s Magical Trombone Case, a suite of 3 electro-acoustic miniatures commissioned by Principal RPO trombonist Matthew Gee, contains for example many of his performance gestures and my reflections on his sense of humour. It is a lot of fun to work with him.

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

I suppose very similar to the above. We are all humans and I love each player’s idiosyncrasies. Working with musicians in that way is a very human exchange and leads to an often unique experience and dynamic.

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Pride’ is a word I never use to describe my creative activities, or indeed myself as a whole. There are certainly compositions which I have feel have successfully reached the goal and expressed the message that I may have had in mind, and even though the very act of composition will sometimes take me in a new and surprising direction, I might still feel satisfied that some good work has been done, that the goal has been reached and the message successfully communicated. Such pieces might be 5 Portraits for Solo Piano (1992), Comma 02 (2006), Falling Man, Rising Woman (2015), and three very recent pieces from 2016 La Mia Coppa Trabocca for Piano & Electronics, Mr. Gee’s Magical Trombone Case and Stations of the Cross for Solo Piano.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Searching, questioning.

How do you work?

Earlier in my career, I would compose 3-4 days per week, but now, I’m experiencing a flood of ideas that I have to get out. I can’t keep myself away from the studio or away from the piano, but I am organised and work methodically, even sometimes late into the night. I also like to work in isolation.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There have been (and still are) so many but to name just a few: Dave Brubeck; Miles Davis; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Beethoven; Bartók; Haydn; Morton Feldman; Trevor Wishart; J.S. Bach (he scares me, in a good way); Mitsuko Uchida; Julius Drake; the very sound itself of acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments, which all have their own characteristics and personalities.

In my direct circle of friends, I would have to say Roland Fidezius and Rudi Fischerlehner, both members of The Occasional Trio. They are simply a joy and always an inspiration to work with. Also Tom Arthurs, who is without doubt one of the finest musicians I know. And finally Sophie Tassignon, an artist who uses her voice to create fantastic clouds of sound.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Again, there have quite a few but to name two of them: A Brubeck concert in 1997 in Bath, where he took some breathtaking harmonic and rhythmic risks that I still remember clearly

to this day; Michael’s ‘Reise um die Erde’ from Stockhausen’s Donnerstag aus Licht which I saw performed in 2016 in Berlin. The music was so exquisite and touching, that I cried at the end of the concert and couldn’t speak for quite a few hours afterwards.

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

Explore, find your voice, and let no one stand in your way.

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

Composing and performing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Peace and tranquility, a moment’s rest from everything, to be able to sit and watch the world. A meal together with friends. To work at the piano or in the studio and be inspired.

What is your most treasured possession?

My soul. It guides me and I treasure it dearly.

 

 

 

 

Nominated in 2014 for a Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists, Simon Vincent is a performer and composer of acoustic and electronic music, who has been challenging the boundaries of genre and musical expression with a highly personal language since the early 1990’s.

“Visionary and expressive”, “rich and surprising”, “beautiful music”, “intelligent”, “delicate”, “impressionistic”, “fresh”, “incredibly individual”, “masterful compositions”, Simon’s music has attracted praise and radio play from critics as varied as Ben Watson, Julian Cowley, Nick Luscombe, Massimo Ricci, Gilles Peterson, Mr. Scruff, Fourtet, AtJazz, and has been reviewed internationally in many publications including The Wire, De:Bug, Knowledge Magazine, Dragon Jazz, Extranormal and Kudos.

Releasing work on Erstwhile Records, EMANEM, L’innomable, Good Looking Records, as well as  own label Vision of Sound, Simon’s unique work has led to appearances worldwide at the Glastonbury Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Akademie der Künste (Berlin), ICA London, London Fashion Week, Club Transmediale (Berlin), National Museum (Stockholm), Progression Sessions (London), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Darmstadt), Q-02 (Brussels), Visiones  Sonoras (Mexico City), Making New Waves (Budapest), >Sync 2013, as well as on Resonance FM, BBC Radio 3, Ministry of Sound Radio, and FM4-Austria among many others.

He started Vision Of Sound Records & Publishing in 1997 to promote his contemporary classical and experimental music, and is currently recording selected solo piano compositions for release in April 2017, as well as composing new works for London-based trombonist Matthew Gee and Malmö-based pianist Jesper Olsson.

 
 (photo: ©Anna Agliardi)

Meet the Artist……Warwick Blair, composer

warwick-blair

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

My sisters used to play this track by Danny Kaye called ‘Thumbelina’, at 33 and a third, it was originally a 45 RPM recording, but they played it at a much slower speed, and consequently it used to freak me out, it used to scare me. I was only 3 or 4 years old, but it was the idea of the transformation of material. It remains very important to me and it marked a milestone, and if we’re talking a thread, that’s definitely one.

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

Although I have worked with Xenakis, and studied with Andriessen and Gilius Bergeijk; perhaps those composers can be viewed as more abstract.The fact that I was brought up in a household where Chopin’s music was revered, and played constantly, is a significant influence, resulting in an appreciation of lyricism and perhaps gesture. When I was living in London in the late 80s, I saw Dead Can Dance play at Sadler’s Wells, again a definite high point, showing me the possibilities of integrating pop cultural influences with a more classical music sound world. This shows itself in my practice today in the collision of styles, demonstrating a search for a deeper meaning, where eclectic diversity and temporal associations offer exceptional musical freedoms, where all sound is equally relevant and musical hierarchies are leveled, so that something more abstract, more universal, can emerge.

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

Although I am ambitious, being a New Zealander living in New Zealand, trying to bring my music to the world, via the UK. As I grow older and realise “who” I am; a composer, I will never stop writing music and that is the journey that I must accept and am on.

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

Apart from the obvious financial and emotional reward of being asked to write a commissioned work, there is no difference between a commissioned work and a non- commissioned work in terms of pleasure; they are equally pleasurable.

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

The challenge of working with particular performers is an understanding of psychology (or sometimes psychiatry, ha ha). After all did not Ravel say performers are slaves?

Of which works are you most proud?

The work that I’m most proud of originates from 1985 called Dream State, an electronic work that is a precursor to Generative music, using the Japanese modular synthesizer, Roland System 700. I’m proud of it because it’s quite pioneering in a way. The instrumental work Electric (aka State of Being) is an opera dating from 2013, which had its world premiere at the Tête à Tête opera festival. The scene called ‘Love’, I find especially moving.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

My compositional language is quite eclectic, but broadly speaking folk or tonally influenced. There’s a sense of egalitarianism, as Louis Andriessen has said, I am working at a new kind of ‘world’ or ‘universal’ metaphysical musical language. Perhaps in a way, I’m trying to find the ‘truth’.

How do you work?

I use a variety of equipment to aid my compositional process, be it a computer, iPad, iPhone or pencil & paper. i use a lot of sampling techniques. there seems to be a conceptual approach that informs my technical processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

They tend to be mavericks, who exist outside an established or accepted system, but cross all styles, for instance whether it be pop, world or classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Dead Can Dance 1988 at Sadler’s Wells.

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

Music should have a conceptual reason behind it, for instance we don’t need another string quartet to add to the canon and history of string quartets, but a work such as my Stars, a 24 hour work, could be said to have value from its very nature; it being unique, although inspired by (Gandharva music). To have something to say, to have a point of difference, not to follow the mainstream, and to listen to all sorts of music constantly. To never give up and keep going, and to share love with the world.

What is your present state of mind?
To share love with the world.

 

Warwick Blair Ensemble, featuring musicians from both UK and New Zealand, perform at Club Inégales (1 June), offering a unique insight into the work of the ‘enfant terrible’ of contemporary Antipodean music.

Hailing from New Zealand, Warwick Blair has a reputation of one of the most eminent composers New Zealand has produced in years. Having studied under Louis Andriessen and Iannis Xenakis, Blair’s music fuses classical and indigenous traditions with electronics in a mesmerizing minimalistic soundscape. In this London residency, he will examine the concept of memory, with the ability of the mind to retain certain information and yet reject other selective memories has fascinated the composer for many years. His performances will become his personal explorations of a musical palette that draws on various seemingly opposing genres or styles, creating a compelling and challenging soundscape.

The concerts will offer two his most eminent works, Melusine (2015) and Etuden (2014), both premiered last year during his Kingston University residency. While the former demonstrates the influence of Puccini’s lyrical melodies and Wagner’s pioneering chromaticism, but also draws on serialism, the avant-garde and contemporary songwriters, such as Lorde & Rowland S Howard, Etuden is a work that combines the influences of Chopin and Billie Holiday.

warwickblair.com

Young talent blooms at St John’s Smith Square

PLG Young Artists Spring Series 2017, St John’s Smith Square, 24 April 2017

Joy Lisney, cello

Laefer Saxophone Quartet

Programme:

Gyorgy Ligeti – Solo Cello Sonata
Jan Vriend – Symphonic Dances for solo cello (world premiere)
Richard Rodney Bennett – Saxophone Quartet
Charlotte Harding – Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky (world premiere)
Joy Lisney – ScordaturA for solo cello (world premiere)
George Crumb – Sonata for solo cello
Giles Swayne – Leapfrog for saxophone quartet (world premiere)
Mendelssohn – Capriccio Op. 81 No. 3 (for saxophone quartet)

The PLG Young Artists Series 2017 at SJSS has a special focus on young artists who are also composers, and the concerts include a number of world premieres by leading composers, as well as young artists performing their own works. A shame, then, that with so much young talent on display, this concert was so sparsely attended. We should be supporting young artists such as these – and composers too, young and old – for by doing so we future proof classical music for the next generation and beyond. Sadly, I suspect the modern and uber-contemporary repertoire, which featured in this engaging programme, was the deal-breaker for most potential audience members – it’s that recurrent “problem” with new music, the anxiety that it will be too esoteric, inaccessible, atonal, discordant, impenetrable….. In fact, this programme contained nothing to offend nor assail the ears, and much to delight and intrigue. There were melodies and lyricism aplenty in all the works performed, and the combination of performers – a solo cellist and a saxophone quartet – made for a varied and interesting evening of music which complemented and contrasted, and all of it was highly accessible, even to the novice listener.

I first heard Joy Lisney at SJSS in 2011. Back then, in her first year at Cambridge, she impressed with her musical maturity and poised stage presence in music by Lutolawski and Chopin. Six years on, she’s now working on her doctorate while sustaining a busy career, as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor of the newly-formed Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, and a composer. This multi-dimensional approach to music making is refreshingly enterprising, but also harks back to nineteenth-century composer-musicians like Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. And there’s something really special about hearing a composer perform their own music – the sense of ownership is very potent and this was certainly the case with Joy’s work. In fact, as Joy explained in her introduction to her piece ‘ScordaturA’, named after the technique of tuning the strings of the cello out of their usual sequence of perfect fifths, and receiving its world premiere at this concert, she found writing for her own instrument particularly difficult, and that spending time writing at the instrument (rather than at her desk) enabled her to find a distinct voice in the music rather than be too heavily influenced by the other repertoire she plays. Having said that, the work pays homage to the Sonatas for Solo Violoncello by Ligeti and Crumb which she also played – it opens with pizzicato figures and strummed strings, motifs which are found in the sonatas. The Scordatura tuning produced striking colours and timbres, while the bariolage string-crossing technique created some very haunting and ethereal sound effects. After a climactic con moto middle section the work subsided back into the harmonic figures of the opening, its ending enigmatic and uncertain. An intriguing and thoughtful work which sat very well with the other music she performed.

The other work for solo cello receiving its premiere at this concert was ‘Symphonic Dances’ by Jan Vriend, a composer with whom Joy has a long-standing creative relationship. This work is dedicated to her and is redolent of Bach’s suites for solo cello (indeed it references the Suite No. 1 in G) in both its motifs and organisation – a sequence of dances of different meters and distinct characters. The work was delightfully varied, virtuosic but never overblown, engaging, witty, and melodically colourful, with much harmonic, textural and rhythmic interest which the composer employs to drive the impression of “symphonic” writing for a single line instrument. The work gave full rein to Joy’s formidable technique while also demonstrating how such technique should always serve the music. This is clearly the type of music she relishes – she’s very alert to rapidly shifting moods, contrasting motifs, expansive writing and technical challenges – and her enjoyment was evident: this was playing suffused with style and energy.

Similarly, her approach to the sonatas by Ligeti and Crumb demonstrated an ease with this type of repertoire. The Ligeti was wonderfully voiced, with a clear sense of dialogue between melancholy phrases and questioning pizzicato chords, and it proved an impressive opener to the concert. Both the Ligeti and Crumb draw inspiration from folk melodies of their native countries, the innate lyricism and expression highlighted by the warm resonant tone of Joy’s instrument and her sensitive shaping of motifs and phrases.

In constrast to the rather more darkly-hued, melancholy works (with the exception of the Vriend) performed by Joy Lisney, Laefer Saxophone Quartet (their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “reed” and “sheet metal”) presented works more upbeat in character, performed with style and panache. The saxophone is more usually associated with jazz or big band music, but in these works by Richard Rodney Bennett, Charlotte Harding, Giles Swayne and Felix Mendelssohn (arr. Martin Trillaud), Laefer proved the instrument’s importance, and success, in classical repertoire with fine ensemble playing, crisp articulation, contrasting vibrant and warm tones, close interplay between performers, and a sense of wit and playfulness – most evident in Giles Swayne’s ‘Leapfrog’ (2017). In Charlotte Harding’s ‘Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky’ the buzzing, bustling, honking of New York City is atmospherically evoked: from the baritone sax’s low rumblings to suggest the rattle and grind of the subway trains, to the soaring skyline, lyrically portrayed by the soprano sax.

This was an impressive opener for a week of concerts at SJSS by PLG Young Artists, with all performers revealing deep commitment to their music making in a wide-ranging and very imaginative programme. In fact, these young people are not the musicians of the future, poised on the threshold of their professional careers: they are the musicians of here and now, fully fledged and ready to make their mark on the world. Please go and hear them and support them.

PLG concerts continue at SJSS until 28th April

Joy Lisney performs her own new work and Vriend’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ in London and Tetbury – further details here

Meet the Artist……Keith Burstein, composer

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

My parents were both professional violinists, so the likelihood is that I was an embryo even as my mother played in the midst of all the instruments- quite an introduction to music! In addition my aunts were also musicians and so it seemed that music was the stuff of life.

To be a composer was the earliest desire I recall having for myself, although after that I tried many other ambitions as a growing adolescent, including going into politics.

I think a turning point came when I discovered Mahler at age 16, that’s when I understood what music can be more fully than before. Then when I went to study at the Royal College of Music, I was introduced to the avant garde of that time, i.e. Stockhausen etc, and I saw how music can be at the cutting edge. Since then I have attempted to redefine the cutting edge as once again melodious and to rededicate music to what it does best – the expression of emotion.

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

I would cite the late romantic era as the single greatest influence – the grandeur and vision combined with the emotional intensity are hall marks of that era.

But as a child of the mid 20th century I was also deeply influenced by film music Bernard Hermann, John Barry, John Williams, Ennio Morricone – and of course these were in turn influenced by the late romantic.

I would also mention the great American musicals

Amongst people who have influenced me, firstly my parents who provided an environment in which music making was like the air I breathed, whether it was my parents accompanying one another on violin and piano or playing the Bach double for two violins or my father playing the accordion, or both with my aunts on piano or violin not forgetting my brother on drums, or my older cousin Paul Lewis who is a distinguished composer of TV and film music and now increasingly of concert music. Then I should mention my extraordinary piano teacher in Brighton, the late Christine Pembridge. She taught at Roedean girl’s public school and privately at home in Port Hall.

A remarkable musician and teacher, she transmitted her passion for music with a northern directness. It was she who animated my ability to play and through her I gained direct exposure to the great music of Bach Beethoven Schubert Debussy and Rachmaninov. Among her other pupils, before me, was composer Howard Blake of ‘The Snowman’ fame. Her fine teaching prepared me for the Royal College of music which was my next great field of influence. Here I met contemporaries and great friendship with William Mival, now head of composition there. William was a devoted connoisseur of new music and introduced me to Tippett, Stockhausen and Boulez. I would later go on to rebel against the atonal establishment as I came to see it, but the initial stimulus of exposure to its heartlands and the decade I then spent exploring and writing in its styles was the essential formative experience that made my later enlightenment possible.

Once this rebellion happened I was in trouble but almost immediately found a distinguished friend in the form of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. I was introduced to him in the mid 90s by his publisher and we got on immediately. I believe he identified with my struggle having had a struggle himself to escape the Soviet Union. He liked my music and gave me very direct help by splitting a commission fee with me to write music for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral. He wrote ‘The True Vine’ and I wrote my Missa Brevis. A remarkable man of vision and personal humanity.

Then a few years later, while working with South Bank Sinfonia I discovered their patron was the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy when he came to conduct them. I asked for and was given an introduction. We found affinity immediately on the issue of tonality and he wrote to me positively about the music I was writing for the orchestra. Within a couple of years he arranged for my Symphony ‘Elixir’ to be recorded and released on Naxos. He remains a great friend and support.

Another great friend was the actor the late Corin Redgrave of the Redgrave clan.He produced my opera Manifest Destiny at the Tricycle Theatre and Ralph Steadman designed the sets. Corin, an activist campaigner along with his sister Vanessa Redgrave and wife Kika Markham( my close friend) have all supported my sometimes controversial pathway. Without them it would have been much more difficult and lonely.

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

For the first decade of my career broadly my twenties i ran an ensemble for the performance and commission of new works, The Grosvenor Group. We made some radio 3 recordings and were well supported by various trusts. Then as I approached 30 I underwent a Road to Damascus type conversion to Tonality as I began to compose more full time myself.

Simultaneously I understood that the unmitigated tonalism of my works would not be acceptable to the new music establishment as serious new music and thus began the greatest challenge of my career.

The establishment view was – and remains – based in the atonal paradigm. To challenge this is the same as challenging any establishment- very dangerous.

I felt that I needed not only to produce the work but at the same time to speak out- or even demonstrate. In particular I became involved in a group who booed a Birtwistle opera in 1994.This produced the most incredible outcry and rumble in the press that went on for years

This was captured on television here

and eventually led me to have to sue News International for libel which I did successfully in 2000.

The in 2003 I wrote with playwright Dic Edwards my opera ‘Manifest Destiny’ about suicide bombers who renounce violence and become peace makers. The press nevertheless accused me of glorifying terrorism , a serious criminal offence. Again I sued this time the Daily Mail Group. I won in the High Court but was defeated at Appeal and bankrupted by Associated Newspapers Ltd

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

Knowing that it will be performed and I will be paid.

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

Having the opportunity to work within a dialogue in which changes and adjustments can be made as part of the working process

Of which works are you most proud?

I would have to cite first ‘Manifest Destiny’. This is a work which aspires to reflect and process the current geo-politics and translate then into a convincing human drama and then transmute the content onto a higher plane of transcendence. In this regard the opera seems to serve its purpose having had over 30 performances and several productions. With Dic Edwards the librettist we also managed to produce a work which has proven prescient to this day.

Also ‘The Year’s Midnight’, a meditation on the Holocaust which was broadcast on radio 4 on the first Holocaust memorial day in 2001; my music in memoriam the 51 people who drowned in the Thames in the Marchioness river boat disaster of 1989, Requiem for the Young; and my music in memoriam the former Leader of the Labour Party John Smith,  ‘A Live Flame’ .

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Super Tonal

How do you work?

I type straight into the computer like writing a letter, with no sound, just hearing in my head

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Prince, Miles Davis, John Barry, Eminem, Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner, Bach, Elgar, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Scriabin

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Karl Bohm conducting the last three Mozart Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic in the Royal Festival Hall in 1978 – life changing visionary experience.

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

Music is a unique portal into the human soul

Keith Burstein was born in Brighton, England. He came from a musical family; both parents were classical violinists who played for Sadlers Wells Ballet, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Ulster Orchestra and the Halle Orchestra as well as for the Royal Opera House. (Originally of Russian-Jewish extraction, the family name had been anglicised to Burston). Burstein held two scholarships at the Royal College of Music in London where he studied composition with Bernard Stevens and John Lambert. Post-graduation, he continued his composition studies with Jonathan Harvey. This was a period of great discovery for him.

Read more about Keith Burstein here

Meet the Artist……Yfat Soul Zisso, composer

26-apr-soul-zisso-contemporary-voices-web-131063328970695992Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
When I was 14 I started writing songs and realised I had so much music in my head that I didn’t know how to write down, as I couldn’t play any instruments. This led to a ‘eureka’ moment where I just knew that composition was what I was meant to do in life, which resulted in my deciding to go away to boarding school to study for an A Level in music from scratch when I was 15. 

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My teachers (both composition and instrumental/vocal) and friends have had the most significant positive impact on my career. They have taught and supported me, always being honest and therefore helping me improve and acknowledge both the good and bad. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 
Having only started studying music at age 15, my greatest challenge was catching up with everyone else: first with general music and performing and then with composition. This meant always making sure I was working harder than everyone around me, and not giving up even when it meant not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for years and years on end.  

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 
Each piece is different and special in its own way. I treat the compositional process as a type of meditation, seeing the players playing in the hall inside my head, hearing what they’re playing and how it works spatially in the space. Once the initial idea of the piece is established, it’s all about answering all the different questions about what the piece is trying to do and how, until I can hear the whole structure in my head and can write it down.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Every different instrumentation brings with it lots of possibilities and new ideas, which is always exciting. Working with musicians I know and admire is particularly great as it’s easier to write a piece that is influenced by them as players / singers and has that added element of being written especially for them. I find writing pieces for myself to perform (as a soprano) the most challenging – it’s like a constant battle between my performer side wanting to perform strange extended vocal techniques and my composer side needing to justify every choice compositionally.

Which works are you most proud of? 
Poke – a piece for large mixed ensemble I wrote two and a half years ago for a workshop with BCMG. Even though it was the only piece I’ve written in the last three years that has only been workshopped rather than performed, I worked on it for a solid three months and am very proud of the level of detail and complexity in it. I hope it’ll someday get a proper performance. 

From the Darkness, for symphony orchestra – this was my first attempt at writing an orchestral piece fresh from finishing my undergraduate studies and my chance to use all I’ve learned about orchestral writing from sitting in on weekly rehearsals and watching countless concerts (another attempt to catch up, this time by a 1st study singer catching up on orchestral knowledge). I’m still proud of this piece because it shows how much I’ve progressed in just a few years, from a singer who couldn’t tell apart oboe and clarinet colours to using the orchestra in ways I haven’t even seen being done before. 

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Ligeti, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Radulescu, Saariaho

What is your most memorable concert experience? 
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have my first orchestral piece ‘From the Darkness‘ chosen to be workshopped and then performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The experience of having my piece played by one of my all-time favourite orchestras when I didn’t think it even stood a chance to be chosen was surreal and overwhelming, one which gave me hope for the future and that I would never forget. 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 
That pieces of music need to have a reason to exist, be it an idea or structure that comes across – there’s no point to writing pieces that just sound pretty without having something to say. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Working professionally as a freelance composer and teaching composition at a University / Conservatoire 

What is your most treasured possession?
I have a few items that, to someone who doesn’t know me, might seem childish and bizarre but actively help me compose. These include a ‘touchy-feely’ hamster book, a squeezable orange octopus toy (with its knitted hat), and my personal scores for the Berio Sequenza III for female voice and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (which are both symbolic in reminding myself I can overcome massive challenges when I set my mind to it)

How do you work?

I usually compose in what I like to call my ‘office’, which is essentially sitting on the floor in the hallway of the Conservatoire, opposite the composition notice board. It may sound bizarre (and passers-by keep wondering what I’m doing there or assume I’m queuing for a practice room), but it really helps to think about new pieces away from a piano or any other instruments at first in order to get a clear idea in my head of what I want the piece to sound like and do. The sound of lots of different students practising nearby actually becomes a kind of white noise that helps clear my head and I really prefer it to silence, and lots of people walk by so it doesn’t feel too alone. To add to the weirdness, I’m usually surrounded by my ‘composition aides and mascots’ which help me deal with stress – quite often I’ll be sitting there hugging my copy of Berio’s Sequenza III and petting my hamster book. I heard I’ve become quite a mystery for pianists who frequently practice on that floor.
How would you describe your compositional language?

I really like using different types of microtones to explore less common soundworlds. My pieces used to be mostly harmonic-series based but in the last year or two I’ve been frequently experimenting with other microtonal soundworlds, which feels like exploring a wealth of unexplored territory. As part of my doctoral research at Birmingham Conservatoire I am researching microtonal singing in order to create my own unique microtonal language that will incorporate voices as well as instruments, which is why I’m currently trying out lots of different ways of using microtones. Another side of my compositional language is influenced by my work as a performer – using extended techniques and/or a greater sense of acting/performing, especially for voices.


Carla Rees and Xenia Pestova premiere Hidden Elegy for alto flute and piano at The Forge, Camden, on 6th September 2016. Further information and tickets here

Ever since commencing on her music studies at the relatively late age of 15, Soul has been dedicated to her dream of becoming a composer. She graduated from Cardiff University, studying with Arlene Sierra and Robert Fokkens and for a brief time studying with Alison Kay, before commencing on a Masters and later a PhD in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire under the tuition of Joe Cutler and Howard Skempton.

Her music, which has been described as “curiously original” (Wales Online) and having “real character and sensitivity” (Wales Arts Review), has been performed by the likes of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Orchestra of the Swan, Xenia Pestova and the Fidelio Trio across the UK, Europe and Canada in a wide range of venues including Wells Cathedral, Hoddinott Hall and Stratford Town Hall, and festivals such as the Cheltenham Music Festival, Occupy the Pianos and Frontiers new music festival.

Her interests range from the use of different microtonal soundworlds and textures to children’s books and the exploration of various extended techniques. She is also interested in writing for dance and has composed music for Rambert Dance’s Vintage Rambert project.

In addition to composing, Soul is also a singer, specialising in performing contemporary repertoire, including Berio’s Sequenza III for female voice. She is a member of Via Nova chamber choir, has performed as both soloist and choral singer across the UK (including at the Wigmore Hall and at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) and abroad and is committed to promoting new music, which includes premiering many new pieces, particularly ones for solo unaccompanied voice.

www.yfatsoulzisso.com

‘It May Have Been’ – the piano works of Paul Burnell

it20may20have20been20album20front20cover201500This new album celebrates the piano music of British composer Paul Burnell, spanning 30 years. Paul had recorded and produced previous albums himself, but in this instance he decided it was time to work with another musician, the pianist, composer and recording engineer James Bacon who runs the Piano Recording Studio. The music was recorded on a Bosendorfer Phoenix Imperial 290, fitted with the Phoenix agraffe system pioneered by Richard Dain at Hurstwood Farm Pianos, which gives the piano greater sustain and clarity of sound, especially in the high registers. This makes it ideal for Burnell’s piano music, much of which explores the timbre and sonic possibilities of the piano rather than melody per se.

“Unembellished, unfussy, unsophisticated…..and short” – Burnell’s own programme note for his Plain Pieces, a triptych dedicated to pianist Natalie Bleicher, could be applied to all the music on this album, though I would hesitate to use the word “unsophisticated”. Short, unfussy these pieces might be, but there is sophistication in the careful placing of notes to create subtle shadings, unexpected harmonies and suspended sounds. “Minimalist” is a description which immediately springs to mind on first hearing Burnell’s music, but this is not the frenetic (sometimes irritatingly so) repetitious minimalism of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman, but rather the more contemplative and spare minimalism of composers such as Lawrence Crane, whom Burnell cites as important influence (It May Have Been, Just Before Dawn). The more up-tempo pieces here (Pacer Nos, 1, 2 and 3) owe more to Howard Skempton (another significant influence) in the use of changing chords and sequences to create energy and climactic episodes. There are also echoes of that other great American minimalist, Steve Reich, in Standing in the Rain. Composed in the mid-1980s, the piece features a persistent rhythmic figure redolent of Reich’s Clapping Music and similar compositions.

Paul was kind enough to send me copies of the scores of the pieces featured on this album and it has been a pleasure to explore the music both through listening and playing. The music is accessible (roughly Grade 3-7) and attractive, but not simplistic (see my earlier comments about sophistication) and it takes a skilled and thoughtful pianist to create the considered sounds which Burnell’s music requires. This music also offers the piano student a good introduction to minimalism and provides a jumping off point for further exploration of this genre.

James Bacon brings the works to life on this recording with clarity, sensitivity and creativity – adding a drone to 2 Ping – combined with his technical expertise in the field of recording and sound engineering, and superb state-of-the-art equipment.

Recommended.

‘It May Have Been’ is available from iTunes, Amazon and other retailers as a download or CD, and can also be streamed on Spotify.

Paul Burnell’s Meet the Artist interview will be published shortly.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist…… Jack White, composer, producer & songwriter

jackwhite1

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

My parents and especially my granddad have always been very supportive and encouraging. My granddad always wanted to be able to play the piano and compose, but he wasn’t offered any opportunities to learn when he was younger. I think that’s what drove him to encourage me: he saw that I enjoyed it, and made sure I took all the opportunities I could.

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

It may sound obvious, but my parents. I couldn’t have been offered the opportunities I have been today without their help and support.

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

I think it’s important to learn how to fail ‘productively’. As a freelance composer you are never going to get every single opportunity you put yourself forward for. It’s important to try and remain positive. Take criticism on board where you think it’s fair, but remember that your music should ultimately be defined by you. There have been times when I have felt it was right to reject criticism. Knowing when to do this can be tricky to navigate when you’re starting out.

With every performance you get better at communicating the music in your mind’s ear to an audience. This process is a very personal one. It operates on many levels between transcription and translation. No-one can tell you whether it has been successful other than yourself. Do not be too self-critical when you make a mistake, because that’s how you learn.

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

It’s great when you can shape a piece around a specific group. I always try to feed off the energy and enthusiasm of an ensemble when I write.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award holder, tell us more about this?

It’s very exciting because it’s the first year that this scheme has been opened up to composers, so I am thrilled to be able to take this opportunity! I am also looking forward to being able to better advocate Contemporary Classical Music, and work with the young people involved in the scheme.

Who will you be composing for as part of your LMM Award?

I’ll be writing a piece for a YCAT (Young Concert Artists Trust) musician through the LMM/YCAT partnership.  I’ve been given a hint as to which musician it may be, and I can already say I’m very excited about it!

Of which works are you most proud?

I love the recording of my BBCSO orchestral piece ‘Digital Dust’. Also, the multi-part choral piece ‘Islands (Ynysoedd)’ I wrote for what became a celebration of Sir John Tavener’s life in Southwark Cathedral, following his death. More recently I wrote a piece for Côr Aduniad called ‘We Have No Right To The Stars’. This is a translation of a poem by Hedd Wyn, and I think it’s one of my favourite choral settings to date.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I like to describe my style as emotional and accessible. When I was first getting inspired by music I used to get the ‘tingle factor’ (when the hairs on the back of your neck used to stand up) when I listened to music I loved. I have tried to find a compositional language which allows others to feel a strong emotional attachment to my work.

How do you work?

I like to write straight into the computer if I am working on a piece. I usually work at a piano to sketch ideas, and when I am happy with them, notate them straight away.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Kaija Saariaho, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Tippett, John Tavener, Benjamin Britten, Tori Amos, Björk.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I can’t remember the exact details but I watched Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ when I was very young. I can remember the music having a profound impact upon me.

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

Learning how to listen is probably the most important part of becoming a musician. It takes time to develop and is fundamental to your success in all areas of the business.

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

In a studio which would make Hans Zimmer jealous!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being truly grateful for everything you have.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Laughing.

What is your present state of mind?

Upbeat.

 

Jack White studied music at Somerville College, Oxford.  His postgraduate studies have been undertaken solely at Cardiff University where he has recently finished his PhD in composition.  His research interests are in electroacoustic composition and the combination of this media with traditional ensembles in ‘live’ performance.  He is also interested in the scoring methods used by electroacoustic composers and the relationship between such methods and a work’s identity.

Jack White is the recent recipient of a London Music Masters award

Jack White’s website

 

Sounds Like Now

The only magazine dedicated to contemporary classical music culture in the UK and Ireland
Celebrating and showcasing performers and composers

 

I’m really excited about this project, a new magazine focusing exclusively on contemporary classical music

We have a vibrant culture of contemporary classical music here in the UK and Ireland – full of committed performers, composers and supporters – and it would be great to see contemporary classical music understood and enjoyed more widely alongside its sister arts. Sounds Like Now will be a focal point and a cultural hub where people can:

  • Get to know the performers – what they’re doing, how they approach and what they think about the music and culture
  • Get to know the composers, established and new – what makes them tick?
  • Get to know the music, from those who know and love it
  • Find out what’s being performed, where and when
  • Find new repertoire including the latest publisher releases and selections by expert musicians
  • Find new recordings and get help discovering what’s already out there

If you’re a performer, composer, producer or promoter of new music, then Sounds Like Now will be there to share and celebrate your work. It will include;

  • Profiles of key performers and composers
  • Essays and reports from artists and commentators
  • Guides to key ideas and current trends in contemporary music
  • Interviews
  • Concert reviews and previews
  • Recording reviews
  • New music releases from publishers
  • Thorough UK-& Ireland-wide event listings
  • Q & A with contemporary music lovers outside the sector

Sounds Like Now will be an outward-looking publication which encourages more musicians and listeners to venture into the wonderfully rich and rewarding world of contemporary music.

Sounds Like Now will be a bi-monthly print and digital publication, available by subscription.

So whether you’re a seasoned new-music-head or wanting to venture in and could do with a guide, Sounds Like Now is for you!  Visit the Sounds Like Now crowdfunding page to find out how you can be part of this exciting new project.

www.soundslikenow.net

 

 

Horae (pro clara) – Kenneth Hesketh

hesketh_coverThe latest release from pianist Clare Hammond is a disc for BIS Records of solo piano music by British composer Kenneth Hesketh –  Horae (pro clara) (2011/12), Notte Oscura (2002), Through Magic Casements (2008) and Three Japanese Miniatures (2002).

Horae (pro clara) was written for Clare Hammond following Kenneth Hesketh’s meeting with Clare at her debut recital at the Southbank Centre in 2010. They have subsequently developed a close artistic collaboration.

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Clare Hammond (photo: Julie Kim)
Clare says of Ken’s music that “it can seem overwhelming at times, yet if one engages with its textural intricacy, the scope of his extra-musical allusions, and volatile virtuosity, rich rewards lie in store”. Clare seems ideally suited to this type of repertoire. Her debut album, Piano Polytych, containing works by Kenneth Hesketh, Julian Anderson, Piers Hellawell, Giles Swayne and Philip Grange, revealed her to be a fine advocate for contemporary piano repertoire, combining flawless technique with a sharp intellect and musical sensitivity to bring such works to life with colour, vibrancy and rhythmic precision, and totally without the self-consciousness or affectation that sometimes accompanies performances of this type of repertoire.

Kenneth Hesketh’s musical language is drawn from a broad range of stimuli, including classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry, Bauhaus constructivism and existentialism, and these extra-musical references bring texture, structure and a wide range of moods, tempi, colour and piquancy to his music. The works presented on this disc are complex, both technically and musically, with dense textures and abrupt voltes faces between the macabre and grotesque and the delicate and poignant. What Clare Hammond does so well is to bring a sparkling clarity to the tightly-packed textures without comprising her sensitive musicality and her ability to shift seamlessly between the myriad moods and styles of the pieces.

The first work on this disc, Through Magic Casements, takes its title from Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale and much of its soundworld seems to echo the imagery of the poem with its urgent febrile passages which fade to nothing at the end.

The work which occupies most of the disc, Horae (pro clara), was premiered by Clare Hammond at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2013, and consists of twelve miniatures which as a whole form a ‘breviary’ or book of hours. The movements are not titled; instead they have evocative performance directions and some incorporate literary references. Thematic material, such as Hesketh’s fascination with machines and automata, is shared across the set, thus linking the pieces, though they can be performed in any order. Some contain dense thickets of notes and melodic lines, abrupt and plangent bass interruptions, and vibrant rhythms (VII: Capriccioso), while others comprise spare shards and delicate scurrying traceries (VI: Nervoso, ma dolce, for example).

The third work Notte Oscura (2002) is a piano transcription of the first interlude in Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, after Nikolai Gogol, and in it Hesketh highlights Gogol’s description of St Petersburg’s powerful and all-pervasive cold. The opening bass chords are perfectly judged by Clare Hammond, lending a sense of foreboding before the music moves into a more melodic passage, though the mood of menace and anxiety is never far away. Repeated tremolo notes high in the register suggest shards of ice, while the bass sonorities conjure up the vastness of the Russian landscape.

The suite Three Japanese Miniatures concludes the disc. The works are drawn from fragments and paraphrases of a larger work by Hesketh inspired by Japanese folk tales and each movement portrays a story, from a nocturnal wanderer who finds himself amid the imposing grandeur of a ruined temple to a winter sprite who takes revenge on a broken promise by taking the lives of a man and his children and finally the story of Bumbuku, a daemon who takes the form of a badger and lives in a tea kettle. The works are expressive, haunting and humorous, and, as in the previous works on this disc, Clare highlights their distinctive narratives with precise articulation and a vivid palette of musical colour.

Horae (pro clara) is released on 27 May on the BIS label. Further information and sound clips here

An interview with composer Kenneth Hesketh will appear in the Meet the Artist series on 2 June

Clare Hammond is the recent recipient of a Royal Philharmonic Society young artist award 

Meet the Artists……Naomi Sullivan & Neil McGovern of Syzygy Quartet

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

Naomi Sullivan: Heather Sullivan (my mother). My family all play music, although I’m the only person who pursued it as a career. My mother gave us recorder lessons, then I played flute until I got irritated that it felt so quiet compared to the brass band playing we all did. I tried a friend’s tenor saxophone, which seemed more cathartic and I’ve stuck with it. I still uphold that my siblings are far more talented than me, but they are possibly a little wiser, (as to finances).

Neil McGovern: The sound of the saxophone was something that really struck me as a young child. It really drew me in and appealed to me though I hadn’t actually heard it very much. Pursuing a career in music felt like the right decision for a long time. Performing became very normal and pursuing excellence in this was always a great aim for me.

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

Naomi: Jim Muirhead taught me at Chetham’s and suggested auditioning at the Royal College of Music. Which is why I ended up studying with Kyle Horch who is still hugely influential in both my teaching and playing. I spent a year at Northwestern University and studied with Fred Hemke. His sense of fun, knowledge and presence is ever so powerful. I can’t imagine a better list of teachers, three very different but all brilliant, kind and inspiring musicians.

Also, all the music I listened to growing up has to be an important factor. I suppose it builds a strong sense of musical connection that becomes a lasting and positive part of your essence or sense of self, if that’s not too whimsical.

And as I get longer in the tooth, my students constantly surprise, challenge, motivate and amuse me. I’ve been very lucky.

Neil: All my teachers – Kyle Horch, Alistair Parnell, and those who gave me so much in the early years too. My parents provided the material and financial means to study music, but primarily they were relentless encouragers and supporters. The interests, and often the intensity of certain fellow students significantly shaped my own musical goals and directions.

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

Naomi: Other than paying the bills? Not giving up or running away from being so regularly out of one’s comfort zone. The unrealistic expectations you can put on yourself and the self-criticism that can go with that.

Neil: I feel very blessed to have been able to work in music since the day I finished Music College. Not everyone in life will like you or how you play, that’s fairly obvious. Sometimes fatigue or illness can hamper performances, other times it can strangely help them! I think learning to say no to certain things is hard, often musicians idolise the gig, the concert above anything else, no matter how poorly paid or uninspiring it actually is. Trying to maintain some values and purpose in what you’re doing is probably the hardest thing. There’s an awful lot of cynicism and jaded feeling around which is easy to slip into.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Naomi: I am quietly confident that the ultimate Syzygy performance is yet to come… Away from the quartet, I have really enjoyed playing with duo partner, Masahito Sugihara and am proud that we always managed to find energy to play despite always being on a demanding schedule. We’ve had some good adventures. I am grateful for his friendship, musicianship, generosity and patience.

Neil: I’ve come away from the majority of performances happy with the overall impact. Unusual performances stand out, such as Syzygy’s concert in a National Portrait Gallery room playing music specifically related to the artwork there. The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was a wonderful surprise because we were on so early in the day and were expecting a couple of enthusiasts only in the audience, but the place was packed and the atmosphere buzzing. Recordings can be very difficult, with the tyrannical expectation of perfection looming over every session, but Syzygy’s Maslanka recording has been a really great experience for me personally, because of the exceptional talent of my friends in the quartet and the mastery of the producer, Simon Hall who made everything come together so well.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Naomi: Speaking for Syzygy, I think we all like playing extrovert, intense pieces and when we’re all on the same wavelength in regard to energy and enjoyment, I do think it makes for better chamber music.  But the saxophone is a remarkable instrument in it’s potential to create such an extreme range of sounds, colours and voices, it’s quite difficult to pick one genre or particular work.

Neil: Syzygy really is at its best with involved and cutting edge repertoire. The group really got its teeth into the Xenakis quartet (Xas) early on and this sort of set the precedent for playing difficult and substantial music. The concentration and connection involved when playing together is quite remarkable – I remember this feeling especially during intensive rehearsals of the Andriessen quartet ‘Facing Death’, but also with the Maslanka’s ‘Songs…’.

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

Naomi: It normally comes from either a new commission, or finding a theme we feel works. And can vary, depending on who has asked us to play. I like concerts or projects that have a theme or offer the chance to draw on and learn from other art forms – literature, art, architecture. This is particularly useful when playing so much contemporary music.

Neil: I think we’re always looking for something new and unusual, trying to contribute something of note to the canon. Hopefully over time there will be more and more great works for saxophone quartet. We make decisions based on the music we really feel is worthwhile.

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

Naomi: Performing in informal or unusual venues currently seems popular way of engaging with wider audiences. I definitely feel more at home in informal environments (especially those with a flattering acoustic), where people are free to listen or not. Such as the National Gallery or Royal Academy of Arts. Syzygy played at Proud in Camden once, that was an interesting night.

Neil: I think the soon to be demolished Adrian Boult Hall will always be a special place to me, it’s where Syzygy first performed live and where we recorded the Maslanka.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Naomi: I’m not sure I have a favourite as it depends on so many factors, i.e. what one is doing or if one needs to have a mood brightener or a good wallow. I suppose one of my favourite aspects of music (listening/performing) is its ability to trigger extremely powerful memories, emotions and connections through abstract sounds. Or performing when you feel fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment. It makes things better. If you’re cooking, you cook better with Dr. John to listen to.

Neil: To perform: probably Joe Cutler’s ‘Screaming 229a’. To listen to I would say Alex Buess’ ‘ata-9’.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Naomi: Again, it’s very hard to be specific but the first musician’s that spring to mind include: Flaming Oh, John Cage, Robert Wyatt, Margaret Price, Nick Drake, Frans Brüggen, Archie Shepp, Horovitz and all my chamber music friends.

Neil: I love a German avant-garde jazz group called ‘Der Rote Bereich’, and also harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka, but really there are too many to name.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Naomi: With regard to Syzygy, a few years ago we played on the Southbank as part of the Park Lane Group Young Artist’s Series. The programme was challenging (Xennakis:Xas and DavidBedford’sFridiof Kennings) and called for us to use 13 saxophones and a tambourine. There was a full audience, which is always a refreshing surprise at saxophone concert. I remember feeling the best sort of nervous – when you feel as prepared as you can be and excited about the music you’re playing.

Neil: Having finished a soundcheck for a gig, walking out of the venue’s front door only to be greeted by Animal Rights protestors chanting “Blood, blood, blood on your hands,” at us. Quite bewildering.

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

Naomi: Find your own way and try to work out what part of the music industry suits you and how you can contribute something. However, try not to say ‘no’ to any opportunity as I suppose we find our own voice from our experiences. Be proactive, communicative, curious, don’t loose energy and don’t always take things too seriously. You really can’t please everyone; you can only do your best. But try to be honest with yourself as to what your ‘best’ is.

Neil: Work really hard and keep going. Develop good taste and play music that has some substance to it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Naomi: Finding my house keys when I believe they are lost. Especially if I think I’ve left the oven on.

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

Neil: As a group, I’d like Syzygy to have made a number of recordings and had some great new music written for saxophone quartet. I think we’ve scratched the surface of what the group is capable of, but there’s potentially so much more.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Naomi: Playing chamber music.

Naomi Sullivan is Soprano Saxophone in Syzygy Quartet.

Neil McGovern is Baritone Saxophone in Syzygy Quartet.

Syzygy Quartet’s album Songs for the Coming Day by David Maslanka is available to buy from Amazon now. Read a review here

Syzygy saxophone quartet were formed after playing together at the 2009 World Saxophone Congress in Bangkok with the London Saxophone Ensemble. The quartet was established with the aim to promote and perform established contemporary works, alongside new music written especially for the ensemble.
Syzygy’s debut performance was in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, as part of the Frontiers & Andriessen Festival, where they performed Louis Andriessen’s Facing Death. Since then the quartet have gone on to perform at major chamber concert venues across the UK, including performances at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and at the Purcell Room as part of the Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series. They made their debut at St Martin-in-the-Fields in July 2012 and have performed at the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy of Art. They have also conducted workshops and performed at Chetham’s School of Music, Trinity College of Music, and Birmingham Conservatoire.

They recently recorded their debut CD, being the only ensemble in Europe to be awarded the performing and recording rights for David Maslanka’s ‘Songs for the Coming Day’, a captivating work which will be released in the near future. They were supported by the Help Musicians UK (formerly MBF) from whom they received an Emerging Excellence award.

http://syzygyquartet.co.uk/wp/