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.


‘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.







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.

What have been your favourite aspects of working with London Music Masters as part of your award over the last year?

I think the performance of my piece “Flutter” in Festival Hall was very exciting.  I loved seeing the faces of the children after they had performed the piece, they looked like they had enjoyed performing it, and that was very satisfying for me.

Can you tell me a little bit more about how the piece came about?

I had the idea of using pieces of foil on the strings, to make the piece a bit more fun for the very young performers.  This came from the idea of music’s transformative power which has the possibility to effect change in people’s lives. The piece was written for beginner string players and a choir, so this idea became part of the chorus: “Music is a butterfly, filling the air with something you can’t buy, because
it makes my heart-beat flutter”.

What feedback did you receive from the piece?

Well it was lovely to hear that the piece had been well received by the LMM teachers who said that it was aimed at just the right level without being too simplistic.  I also had a few parents come up to me to thank me after the concert. One mother said that her child had been singing it all the time, so I apologised as you may expect!   When I was writing it I structured the whole piece around the simplest part (just using open strings) and built it up from there. I think this approach worked well rather than taking the hardest part and working back.

You’ve also been writing for a YCAT artist as part of the award, can you tell us who it is yet?

Yes, it’s the trombonist Peter Moore.  I was very excited to have the opportunity to write for such a talented performer.

What have you written for him?

The piece is called ‘Three After-Dinner Pieces’.  It’s in three movement and each is based on a different type of cheese.

Cheese? Tell us more about this….

I am a big fan of cheese in all it’s different variety.  I work part time in a cheese shop in Cardiff called “Madame Fromage” and I thought it would be a unique way of structuring a piece. My ideas have come both from the physical form and taste of the cheese, and its country of origin. For example, in the first movement (Stilton) the mouldy striation reminded me of unsynchronised fanfares, which have become part of the texture of the work. Similarly the viscosity of Epoisses has allowed an exploration of glissandi effects in the trombone part.

Which cheeses did you select for your piece?

Stilton, Caerphilly and Epoisses, the last of these being my favourite.

Are you pleased with the piece?

Yes, I haven’t written for the trombone as a solo instrument before, and Peter is such an excellent performer with an amazing expressive range that I wanted to write something to show this off.  I will be looking forward to the premiere very much.

When is the premiere and where will it be performed after that?

27th September in Colston Hall, Bristol, with the first London performance on October 3rd, in Wigmore Hall. I am also lucky to be able to conduct some workshops around this performance in association with LMM. We will be visiting schools to talk about the writing of the piece.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have been commissioned to arrange a recording of Satie’s “Parade” for National Dance Wales, in a performance about the Russian revolution.  BBC NOW are recording the piece in early September so I will have my work cut out for me to get everything ready in time for the performances on 25th Oct in Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff and the 29th in Pontio, Bangor.


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?


What is your present state of mind?



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


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.



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.

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 

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.

Bella West Photography. Childrens Portraits
Bella West Photography

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

I come from a household of musicians. My father brought the family over from Australia in 1970 in pursuit of his dream to be an opera singer. He worked at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne for a while and my earliest musical memories were of curling up on velvet seats in dark, dusty auditoriums listening to music that didn’t make much sense at all! My mother’s musical tastes were pretty eclectic – I remember a lot of Chopin, heavy metal and Wichita Linesman on repeat. I learnt piano and violin as a child, mainly under duress and sadly, often felt all at sea, happier with books and paints.

In October 1983 I heard my first piece of ‘contemporary music’ in a composition class at Surrey University taken by George Mowat Brown – Der kranke mond from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. It was an absolute revelation…it sounds ridiculously emotive but honestly, it was like coming home. I wrote my first piece the same day, eventually played by the brilliant composer and clarinettist Sohrab Uduman, and from then I’ve been on my composing journey. ‘Modern music’ took a hold of me in a way that I couldn’t resist. I wanted to be part of this extraordinary world of sound.

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

Of course, looking back now I thank my parents for keeping me at it as a kid, for giving me wonderful opportunities and indeed for filling my head with music (that I have come to like somewhat!) George Mowat Brown believed in my ability and Susan Bradshaw told me that she’d never known anyone write so much music with so little technique – George gave me the get up and go, Susan, the desire to learn how to do this tough composing job. Nicola Lefanu was a huge influence on me as a student (and still is) – her encouragement, sometimes sternly critical, has been a foundation for much of my work and I respect her work ethic (and her music indeed) immensely. John Baily and Veronica Doubleday opened my eyes and ears to the music and people of Afghanistan and the last 14 years have been devoted more or less to exploring the extraordinary musical traditions of this country. And then there are the countless performers who have taken the time to learn, understand and play my music. Amongst them, I count Peter Sheppard Skaerved who helped me resurrect myself during periods of creative despondency with his untiring belief in what I do; Rusne Mataityte who understands the heart of my music so well; Andrew Sparling who played my early works with such total commitment and showed me that anything was possible! And most recently, my partner Richard Dunn for whom I wrote my first piece after a 5 year break away from composing. Thank goodness for his inspiration!

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

Starting again in my mid 40s after a long break away. Coming to terms with how the musical world had moved on, how very many more composers are out there now, how technology has become so important in terms of promotion, how hugely competitive the composing world is now. Of course, it always has been but the pool seems so terrifyingly huge now.

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

I am less worried about working to commission now and I like deadlines. I think people know my music well enough to know what they are getting so now I just write the best piece I can, really thinking about the qualities of the people I am writing for. Recently, I’ve written works for four different pianists, each with such special and defining qualities. I think that all the pieces sound like ‘me’ but each reflects, I hope, something of the technical prowess or quirkiness or passion of the players. And course, the relationship you build up with a player through writing something just for them is a hugely intense one, challenging on both sides – how terrifying it might be for some performers to share their interpretation with the composer that first time.

Which works are you most proud of? 

I have recently been working as Composer-in-Residence with an American ensemble Cuatro Puntos, a group who are dedicated to global co-operation and peace through the teaching and performance of music in some of the most dangerous and deprived areas of the world. This August, two of the group’s members, Kevin and Holly Bishop traveled to Kabul to work with the young girls of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, recording some pieces I had written for them based of Afghan songs and dances, to be integrated into a large cycle of works entitled Gulistan-e Nur (The Rosegarden of Light). Quite literally, Kevin and Holly risked their lives this August, working as explosions went off around them during one of the worst periods of recent bombings in Kabul. I am immensely proud, and privileged beyond words to have the chance to work with Cuatro Puntos and the students and staff of ANIM. And delighted that their playing will be heard by many people in America this September and in the UK and Berlin next year during tours of The Rosegarden of Light Project Tours.

I spend much of my composing time questioning why I bother adding to the volume of new music, and my pieces related to Afghanistan and Lithuania (The Light Garden Trilogy, An Unexpected Light) offer some answer. They are concerned with bringing to light the endlessly beautiful, witty, dramatic and ‘real’ traditional music that can now only be heard on ancient recordings. My interaction with other musical cultures is the driving force behind most of my writing and I gladly welcome all the political connotations and misunderstandings that such an interaction can engender. I was accused by an American reviewer many years ago of writing a piece of music I was accused by an American reviewer many years ago of musical terrorism – he described a performance of one of my Afghan works in Carnegie Hall as the equivalent of my writing a piece in support of the IRA and having it played in the Albert Hall. It was a ridiculous statement but I am rather proud of it – it was a piece that said something important about the state of things.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Too hard! This morning I was listening to John Coltrane’s mellow album Ballads from 1962. He made it at the same time he was thrilling and confounding the world with his pioneering free jazz. I love the easy way all these musics can co-exist in the hands of a master. He’s great, so let’s say John Coltrane today.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Watching my 5 year old daughter jump up (from being asleep) in the middle of an execrable piece of music (can I say that?) at Blackheath Concert Halls, exclaiming “Stop that horrible noise!”

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

Work harder than you think possible. Make it your duty to work at your technique. Be generous to people. Support other composers. Never take performers for granted. Listen to everyone’s point of view. Don’t panic when things aren’t running as smoothly as you’d like. Learn from your mistakes. Listen deeply and intelligently. Take every opportunity that is offered to you. Be passionate about what you do (quietly if you want!) Remember that the musical world intersects with every other bit of your experience so make music part of your life, not all of your life – your music will be better for it. Don’t give up. Don’t be scared.

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

By the sea.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There’s no such thing.

What is your most treasured possession?

My daughter (yes, I know, she’s not a possession, but she is my treasure.)

What do you enjoy doing most?


What is your present state of mind?

Accommodating – my cat has slowly taken over more and more of the chair I’m sitting on to write this and I am now balancing on the edge with my feet jammed against the skirting board!

Sadie’s music has been performed and broadcast across the globe in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Vilnius Philharmonie Hall and the SBC, with works released to critical acclaim on Naxos, NMC, Cadenza, Toccata Classics, Sargasso, BML, Divine Art/Metier, and Clarinet Classics. Many of her compositions have been inspired by the traditional musics of old and extant cultures with cycles of pieces based on the folk music of Afghanistan, Lithuania, the Isle of Skye, the Northern Caucasus and the UK.  

Highlights of 2015 include the release of a portrait CD by Toccata Classics, appointment as Cuatro Puntos  

Composer-in-Residence 2015-16 and Guest Directorship of the 2015 Irish Composition Summer School. Notable 2015 performances include works at the International Mozart Festival in Johannesburg, in Pietermaritzburg and Stellenbosch, SA (Renée Reznek), Late Music Festival (Chimera and the Albany Trio),  

Bergen Music Festival (Peter Sheppard Skaerved), Club Inégales (Dr. K Sextet), Bristol (SCAW), Seaton  

(Trittico), Isle of Rasaay (Sarah Watts/Antony Clare/Laurence Perkins), Huddersfield (Nancy Ruffer), York Spring Festival (Geert Callert), National Portrait Gallery and Wiltons (Peter Sheppard/Eve Daniel/Roderick Chadwick), Holbourne Museum (Elizabeth Walker/Richard Shaw), Shaftesbury (Madeleine Mitchell/Geoff Poole) and Hartford, Connecticut (including radio and TV broadcasts with Cuatro Puntos and the Hartford Community Orchestra). September 2015 will see the premiere with 10 subsequent performances of Gulistane-Nur for string sextet and youth ensemble in Boston, Massachusetts and Connecticut, supported by an Arts Council England International Development Award and the Ambache Charitable Trust. Sadie is currently writing works for the Afghanistan National Youth Orchestra (Kabul, December 2015), Rusne Mataityte/ Sergey Okrushko (Vilnius, September 2016), Frano Kakarigi (Granada, November 2015) and David Heyes (Teppo-Fest 2016). Sadie’s music is published by UYMP and Recital Music.  She has several works on the Trinity Examination Syllabus and in the ABRSM Spectrum Series. Full details of her past and current works can be found at and on her website