JamesHeather_ModulationsLandscape_byFabriceBourgelle

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

Ever since my family took on a second-hand piano from a friend when I was 9 I started to make music, I used to play with a box on my head to learn to play freely without looking at the keys, it must of looked weird! Around this time I played a simple part in a school performance, an older pupil commented on how easy it was, that pissed me off! It was a formative moment for me in trying to improve. Music was important from the start, something impossible to truly articulate in words, it had a profound effect on me, I realised its power to connect in what seemed like an honest way,

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

My Granny on my Dad’s side and my Grandad on my Mum’s. Both used to compose songs rather than just play others. My Grandad having a more rule-abiding approach to composition and my Granny being a bit a more improvisation side. I remember re-tuning a piano with my Grandad at age 12 into equal temperament and writing down frequencies to see if modern pianos were tuned as they should be. My Dad and Brother were also early influences, they used to share music with me from classical to punk to techno and beyond. I think its quite common in the early days of composing to want to please those people who influenced you, before you gain confidence to branch out further afield without always needing nods of approval.

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

The biggest frustration was probably losing confidence to share my compositions throughout my 20’s. I was starting to work as a publicist for some bonafide commercial and critically successful artists at the record label Ninja Tune, that took up time and also meant the bar was set higher in my head to the standard of a composition needed. Additionally I felt more detached from my family and friends after moving to London and finding my feet in a new city, so perhaps I became more introverted with my art. I now see this as a useful period, as I never stopped composing, even on cheap small keyboards due to the lack of space I was living in. Perhaps this period was needed to not get too comfortable early on and work on a sound without commercial pressure.

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

I am only just starting to release music commercially so commissioned pieces are hopefully something that will come more in future. I have provided pieces to people in the world of sync & publishing, they need hooks at more regular intervals and certain styles to be followed, I enjoyed that process in the refining of my arrangements for sure, perhaps less so having to do a certain style for market. Luckily I do melodic upbeat songs within the more complex dark compositions, so I think it’s not a compromise as such, just a slight re-angling of my sound with full sign-off from me on the brand it might be associated with. Years ago I was also asked to write a song for a key moment at a wedding with a brief and ex-ample song. People asking for your music to help on a special day is a definite pleasure.

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

In the school and college days I found this frustrating, as it was a competitive environment with indie bands of the time, and usually people didn’t have the work ethic to follow through what we would plan over a beer! It was one of the reasons I became a solo pia-nist, with occasional dabbles in working with friends who made “beats”. I am now reaching a stage where collaboration is something I am interested in again, I am interested in taking my sound into unexpected environments, I’ve just done some work with a well known elec-tronic producer and a RnB singer so I am looking forward to that coming out. I have noth-ing against the classical world, but I sense it could be a bit of a cul-de-sac if that’s all someone did, It’s important for me to be cross-genre as an artist in collaboration where possible.

Of which works are you most proud?

I think the “Water Sonatas” album I did as in 2015 helped me with a bit more visibility,. It was the first time I uploaded an album to the internet and told anyone, I just put it all up online and gave away mp3’s, it wasn’t on stores. The organic sharing of it among journalists and music industry people was confidence-building and made me think my music could travel further. This led to my first released work “Modulations: EP 1” which is out on June 9th, on Coldcut’s record label Ahead Of Our Time (an imprint of Ninja Tune) with an album to follow later in year. The art direction on both releases is by Suki and I love how beautiful it’s all going to look!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say at the moment it’s a melodic language that modulates between keys freely but I want to explore a more dissonant language going forward, but one with a foot in harmony. My work has elements of soul and jazz in there too which clash subtly with a more classical framework. I want to explore this more too going forward. Within the DNA is a light and dark tension at play with hope bubbling beneath.

How do you work?

Ideally I have 48 hours with no distractions at home. In the morning I might not do any composing, I’ll do usual stuff like breakfast, watch TV, talk to friends and family and find excuses to put off the dusting! I might plan out roughly what i want to achieve in the compositions too, taken from notes I make during the week on feelings I’ve soaked up. As the day gets older and I feel I am reaching a peaceful state I will just play for hours, and record the bits I am most happy with. It has to feel like I am pushing new ground every time I step to the keys. Improvisation is something traditionally I feel comfortable in and never playing same thing the same way twice. More recently I have been relearning and fine-tuning my compositions from years of recording, looking back a little in order to have a set of songs people might recognise when playing live! I try to stop by 11pm so I can watch a bit of football to unwind from the creative zone and get my 8 hours kip!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

In the classical world I would say Beethoven, Debussy, Lisa Gerrard and Max Richter. I actually listen more to electronic and hip-hop music (among other styles) much more however these days. I like the rawness of Wiley and the consciousness of Roots Manuva and Jonwayne in the rap world. I also love Cinematic Orchestra, Young Fathers, Aphex Twin, Bonobo, PJ Harvey and Leon Vynehall form other genres, I could go on forever. I love mu-sic from every genre that feels like an honest explosion of the heart, whether thats conveying beauty or anger. To me my music is punk in spirit, but on first listen its anything but.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The live world is something I was initially very shy with and not something I pursued, I am happy in isolation. But in the right environment I do play on occasion. I performed a Sofar Sounds recently, where invited people watch a gig in a house and it goes onto YouTube. That’s a cool vibe, but to play somewhere like The Barbican one day is something that I’ll aspire to. I am ambitious and want to push myself in the live arena, but at my own pace. I wish more places had acoustic pianos!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to as-piring musicians?

The fallacy of self-importance is not a cool thing and not sustainable to a peaceful inner core. Be confident with your art but be interested in others too. Be humble and bend the rules.

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

Making a living out of my compositions in a varied manner, from albums to collaborations to score work, helping other artists get the exposure they deserve and continuing a spiritual, loving path with my wife.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I believe in joy, somewhere between happy and unhappy where the pressure to be perfect has been eradicated and the lows of imperfection measured against perfection are a distant memory.

What is your most treasured possession?

I feel I can live without any of the few possessions I have, in that respect I’m down with the monks! Without access to the ability to compose music though makes me feel like a metal spring is being pushed down in my stomach however!

 

On June 9th contemporary pianist James Heather releases “Modulations: EP 1” via the Ninja Tune imprint Ahead Of Our Time, which is Coldcut’s re-launched playground for free expression and experimentation.

These sparse pieces ebb and flow, slowly enveloping the listener in a subtly subliminal fashion. Heather’s minimalist approach allows the instrument’s rhythmic, tonal and melodic capability to take centre stage, offering an intimate encounter with the piano and its player. “Modulations: EP 1” is the first in a series of EPs that showcase a versatile handling of assorted emotions and styles.

The seven tracks are drawn from Heather’s large bank of self-penned music, which were written and recorded at different times and in various headspaces. ‘EP 1’ will be followed by an album in the summer, which represents a more unified body of conceptual work

Further information 

James Heather is one of the new school set of ‘post classical’ artists flourishing in the wake of the long, steady but recently accelerated success of figureheads like Max Richter, Ben Lukas Boyson and Jóhann Johannsson, and the wider public’s overdue but now burgeoning relationship with this varied genre.

Photo: Christian Hartlmeier
Photo: Christian Hartlmeier

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

I was taken by surprise – I had always enjoyed music and played the piano for quite a while, without becoming truly excellent. Then I was asked to play keyboards in a school band and suddenly found I enjoyed both playing and composing much more than I had thought. Soon I became absolutely obsessed, practicing 10 hours a day to make up for the lazy time before. And then I became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of band playing and veered more towards contemporary and classical music. I think that impressing the girls was also an extremely strong motivation. I was 15.

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

I listened to a lot of classical music LP’s when I was a kid, also to more progressive pop music like Emerson, Lake and Palmer (which impressed the hell out of me back then). My mother is a theatre photographer, so I was confronted with long and boring operas from a very early age on. I guess I like them more now. My favourite record for 5 years was a recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” played by Svjatoslav Richter, I played that record so often it completely wore out. I was distinctly aware that composing music was something magical and important, and I constantly heard my own music in my head but didn’t really know what to do about it. Later Erik Satie was the first composer I fanatically loved. I was always – and I still am – especially interested in the outsiders and eccentrics of music. Charles Ives was also very important. I was also lucky to have teachers who showed me interesting music and widened my horizon.

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

Realizing that not everyone will love what you do, regardless of how hard you try. And then having the constant courage to give a damn about it, to follow your own instincts, to follow your own intuition. Dealing with envy, your own and that of others. All of this is a constant challenge. Every morning I wake up and try to handle it a little better.

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

I only work on commissioned pieces, so I don’t really know the difference anymore. But of course I remember a time when I didn’t have commissions at all, and back then it was much more difficult to focus and to work with discipline, as there was no real goal, no performance ahead. Dealing with deadlines is harsh, but it has made me a better composer. The secret is to not accept commissions for which you cannot find inspiration, or even better: to have ideas that actually create the commissions you want.

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

It is always an advantage knowing who will perform your music, especially in the case of singers. But then you should always write in a way that everybody can perform your music, at least in theory, so I try not to get too carried away if great virtuosos perform my music. Of course that doesn’t always work. An orchestra too can be like a person, either you get along well or you don’t. I write easier for an orchestra that I already know, that has already played my work. But it is not essential, I also had very positive experiences with performers who I didn’t know before at all.

Which works are you most proud of?

I try to not give anything to anybody that I am not proud of in a way. And then I actually also try to not be too proud, to not constantly look at what I have done. I never listen to old pieces and bask in my glory. But in general the things I am the most “proud” of are my operas, my songs, my orchestra music, my chamber music. Which is already a lot of different things. It would feel strange to single out something, which does of course not mean that everything is equally good. But I really do not contemplate my work, I’m too busy writing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Too many to list here. This is not a cop-out – I truly feel that music history (including the present) is so diverse and rich that singling out anybody feels strange. All the names we know from the past usually deserve to be known, which still doesn’t mean I’m a big admirer of Richard Wagner. But I also respect his work of course. I constantly discover new things, and I also change my mind about composers. I used to loathe Feldman, now I like him. I used to like Prokoffieff, now I find him a bit dull. I felt nothing for Mahler, now he is extremely dear to my heart. I loved the first piano sonata from Kabalevsky, now I feel it’s a horrible, vacuous piece. If there is one composer who I always greatly admired and have never felt any different about it is Schumann. But there are more like him!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing a mixed program of contemporary and classical music to an audience coming from a slum in Lomé, Togo (West Africa). They had been lured into the concert hall by free food and had never heard any piano music in their life. I think they were the most open-minded and enthusiastic audience I ever had. But there were other memorable experiences – like failing to play a concert in Tijuana, Mexico, because there was no piano chair to be found…anywhere. True story, but I’ll tell it another time.

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

To never make the mistake to believe that anybody actually really knows what they are doing. To not listen to people who think they know what they are doing. To instead listen to people who are honest in their constant curiosity. To not listen if somebody says you shouldn’t do something, because then you should do it. In art – other than in life – it is really important to do the things that people do not expect from you. And this might also mean breaking rules that everybody thinks are set in stone. To realize that nothing is set in stone. To realize that all the music world is nothing but a big meaningless circus of vanities and to find the strength to believe in the musical truth that many don’t dare to confront because they take the easy way, because they are too scared. To acknowledge that the wonderful thing about music is that a lot of it is coming from a great unknown that we can (luckily) not map or fathom in its entirety. To be generous, to your friends and also to your colleagues. To absolutely believe in your own inspiration, no matter where it will take you. To take example in musicians and composers that you admire. To love. To write about what you love, not about what you think others might love.

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

At home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being at home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Sadly I have a collector’s heart and have many treasured possessions, among them a collection of 1500 board games, single malt whiskies, comics, films, books…sometimes it becomes too much. So I would probably answer that my single most treasured possession is my firm belief in the freedom and necessity of imagination.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living and learning.

What is your present state of mind? 

Hoping that the idiots don’t succeed.

Moritz Eggert was born 1965 in Heidelberg, Germany. After early piano studies he began his music education at Dr.Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt, first in piano (with Wolfgang Wagenhäuser) and theory, then in composition (with Claus Kuehnl). After finishing school he studied piano with Leonard Hokanson at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt. 1986 he moved to Munich to study composition with Wilhelm Killmayer at the Musikhochschule Muenchen. Later he continued his piano studies with Raymund Havenith in Frankfurt, and his composition studies with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich.

In 1992 he spent a year in London as a post-graduate composition student with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama. His main duo partner is the cellist Sebastian Hess. In 1996 he presented the complete works for piano solo by Hans Werner Henze for the first time in one concert, a programme that he continues to play with great success. In 1989 he was a prizewinner at the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music.

As a composer Moritz Eggert has been awarded with prizes like the composition prize of the Salzburger Osterfestspiele, the Schneider/Schott-prize, the “Ad Referendum”-prize in Montréal, the Siemens Förderpreis for young composers, and the Zemlinsky Prize. 1991 he founded – together with Sandeep Bhagwati – the A*Devantgarde festival for new music, which has taken place for the 6th time in June 2001. His concert-length cycle for piano solo, Haemmerklavier, has been a great international success with reviewers and audiences alike. Moritz Eggert has covered all genres in his work his oeuvre includes 5 large-scale operas, ballets, and works for dance and music theatre, often with unusual performance elements. 1997 German TV produced a feature-length film portrait about his music.

Among his more recent important works are the concert-length cycle for voice and piano Neue Dichter Lieben featuring 20 love poems by contemporary german authors, and the orchestra piece Scapa Flow. His next projects include the children’s opera Dr. Booger’s Scary Scheme for the opera Frankfurt (with Andrea Heuser) and the ongoing internet project Variations IV.XX for 21 composers and live musicians.

www.moritzeggert.de

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

In my late teenage years I’d dropped out of school and was working in a dull office job in London, but also playing keyboards in a rock band and having piano lessons. My piano teacher was also a composer, and one day I sat down and wrote a piano piece and immediately I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life – write music. It was very much a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. After that things changed completely and I went to university and music college for the next seven years to catch up on the training I’d missed.

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

All my composition teachers taught me useful things, but my lessons with Oliver Knussen were especially helpful. I studied with him privately for a couple of years. He’d put the music up on the piano and play it whilst scribbling alterations and improvements. It was very practical, and great to be around a musical mind with so much to offer.

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

Developing a musical language that is coherent and expressive. It’s been a slow journey for me, from atonal composing through to a style that is tonal/modal. I see music as about communication (what else can the arts be?) and for that one needs clarity of images and ideas; through this one reaches towards the strangeness that lies beyond our quotidian existence. As Paul Valéry once wrote “what is there more mysterious than clarity?”. I think that’ll go on my gravestone.

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

The pleasures are being paid to write it and having a performance at the end. The challenge is the deadline. I compose very slowly, almost every day for hours but only producing a few bars of music each week. I sometimes prefer to write pieces without a commission because they can develop at their own speed.

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

Working with orchestras and ensembles is incredibly exciting but there’s always limited rehearsal time, which can be frustrating. Because of this I particularly like working with soloists, especially keyboard players and guitarists as their instruments are capable of doing so much. I’ve written quite a lot of music for piano (and harpsichord) and had some fantastic performances where the players have really taken the time to get inside the music. Giving a pianist some music is like handing over a novel, they can immerse themselves in it in their own time and space.

Which works are you most proud of?  

Probably the pieces that reflect a temporary cohesion of my musical language at a given moment, in whatever guise that language presents itself. These would include the early orchestral piece Invisible Cites, the tango Milonga Azure, the White Books for piano, and recently Beyond the River God for harpsichord, and others.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Couperin, Stravinsky, Debussy, Mozart, Ravel, to name just a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s impossible to pick one as there have been many memorable concerts, in a generally terrifying way; first performances in particular are always nervy experiences. One of the most unusual performances, although it wasn’t a concert, was when an orchestral piece of mine was used as the modern test piece in the last Leeds Conductors’ Competition. I was able to hear it conducted and rehearsed in the semi finals by six different competitors.

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

Hard work and perseverance. I know that sounds very boring, but much the same advice was given out by the likes of Rilke, Mozart, Rodin, Ravel, and Cezanne. Plus, a relationship with all the arts. I’m a complete art gallery and book addict, and all these other arts feed into the music I’m writing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

West Ham winning the Premier League, but as that’s never going to happen I’d settle for the FA Cup.

What is your present state of mind? 

Positive!

Graham Lynch was born in London. He has a PhD in composition from King’s College London, and he also spent a year at the Royal College of Music, as well as studying privately with Oliver Knussen.

Graham’s music has been commissioned and performed in over thirty countries, as well as being frequently recorded to CD and featured on radio and television. Performers of his music include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Singers, Orchestra of Opera North, BBC Concert Orchestra, and El Ultimo Tango from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He has also worked as an arranger for the Belcea Quartet. His works have been played in venues as diverse as the South Bank, Wigmore Hall, Merkin Hall New York, Paris Conservatoire, Palace of Monaco, and from the Freiberg Jazz Club to a cake shop in Japan, and everything in between.

In 2009 his orchestral work, Invisible Cities, was used as the modern test piece in the Leeds Conductors Competition, and the same year saw the release of the first CD devoted entirely to his music, Undiscovered Islands, which received high critical acclaim. Since that time many of his works have been recorded across a wide variety of CDs.

Graham’s interest in many musical styles has resulted in pieces that reach from complex classical works through to compositions that tread the line between classical music and other genres such as tango nuevo, flamenco, jazz, and café music. These diverse works are in the repertoire of ensembles such as Las Sombras, Ardey Saxophone Quartet, Terra Voce, Dieter Kraus and Tango Volcano. He has also written educational music as part of the Sound Sketches piano series.

Recent commissions include Present-Past-Future-Present for harpsichord (Finland), Arche for violin (UK), Sing-Memory for guitar and harpsichord (Finland), and Lyric Duo for two saxophones (Chile). Premieres for 2014 will include Apollo Toccate for guitar (Finland), Beyond the River God for harpsichord (Finland), Trio Cocteau for piano trio (UK), and French Concerto for baroque violin, harp, and harpsichord (France).

Graham has been the recipient of funding and awards from many organisations, including the Arts Council, Britten-Pears Foundation, PRS, RVW Trust, and the Lyn Foundation.

http://grahamlynch.eu/

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

I’ve liked making up music since I was young. It became the thing I most liked doing, so I just carried on doing it. Parents were always supportive.

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

I worked for my uncle John Hardy in Cardiff between degrees, and still do from London. He has a refreshing, inspiring attitude to other people and to music.

Many teachers, in various different ways. The performers, writers, directors and other artists I work with. My colleagues and students at The Conservatoire.

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

Picking up work after finishing education. Dealing with uncertainty. Carving out time to compose in. Writing music can be challenging but it’s a relatively familiar, safe space to be in.

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

It still feels like a huge privilege knowing that someone wants your music – that the notes you’re writing are already wanted by someone. And they’re going to take those notes seriously and invest time and energy and feeling, to bring those notes to life.

Deadlines are useful too, for helping to justify keeping other people waiting for other work!

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

I love collaborating with musicians and artists in other fields. Discovering some of their artistic voice, their sound, their craft, their ideas – taking these and digging into them and finding something new for both parties, hopefully.

Which works are you most proud of? 

It’s always the most recent few works, so brass & percussion piece Torque, chamber piece Black Sea, short opera Adrift, unpitched percussion solo Drawing, vocal ensemble piece The Sickness of Angels.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

At the moment – Screaming Maldini, Richard Causton, The Organelles, Laura Mvula, Ligeti.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Thomas Ades’ violin concerto Concentric Paths performed by Pekka Kuusisto with the Britten Sinfonia in February 2012. And many Organelles gigs back to sixth form days!

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

Be genuine. Be resilient. Work with the best people you can. Don’t be satisfied too easily.  Say yes to everything until you can afford to say no to things. Make your own opportunities. Don’t believe the world owes you a living.

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

Here, but with a bit more room.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Dog.

Ed Scolding is a versatile composer with a strong interest in collaboration and drama. His concert music has been described as as ‘subtle and polished’ (Bachtrack) and ‘succinct, witty and apt’ (Norwich Evening News), and film music as ‘intense but under-stated… extraordinarily effective’ (Richard Paine, Faber Media Music).

Recent projects include Thrown for Sinfonia Newydd, percussion solo Drawing which won the Nonclassical Composition Competition, Black Sea for The Hermes Experiment supported by Bliss Trust / PRS Foundation and a score featuring Dermot Crehan’s Hardanger fiddle for short film The Blood of The Bear which has been screened in festivals across the UK and Europe including at the BFI and the Barbican Centre.

Collaborative projects include short opera Adrift produced by Gestalt Arts, work with rock band Screaming Maldini and electronic producer Hem (aka Geoim), a Mozart flashmob for Welsh National Opera, music for Third Stage Dance and for Anna Jordan’s play Freak.

Ed’s music has been recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Wales and performed by Exaudi, Music Theatre Wales, London Sinfonietta, Ayre Flutes, Aisha Orazbayeva, Ksenija Sidorova and Anne Denholm at Nonclassical, Southbank Centre, St. John’s Smith Square, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Monmouth Festival, Cardiff Music Festival, Bath Fringe Festival and Wales Millennium Centre.

A keen teacher, Ed is Assistant Director of Music at The Conservatoire, Blackheath, with responsibilty for the Saturday Music School and strategic direction, and teaching GCSE and A-Level music and music technology, theory, composition, technology courses and workshops.

Living in London, Ed keeps close links to Wales through his work as Publishing, Projects and Web Manager for quintuple BAFTA Cymru award-winning composition company John Hardy Music and sister label Ffin Records. Ed is a Council Member of the ISM and a member of the ISM Special Interest Group for composition. He examines Rock & Pop grade exams for Trinity College London, with exam tours completed in Thailand, Malaysia, UAE and Spain and throughout the UK.

Born in 1985, Ed graduated in 2008 from Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with First Class Honours then completed MMus Composition with Distinction and the LRAM teaching diploma at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011 with support from sources including Arts Council Wales, Seary Charitable Trust, Ismena Holland Award and Harvey Lohr Award.

www.edscolding.co.uk

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

I fear my answer may sound pretentious . . . When I was 12 years old there was a single moment when, while out walking, the idea came to me to be a composer and it was an idea which for the first time seemed to make sense of my whole life. It was quite unusual in that it wasn’t an obvious choice – I do not come from a particularly musical background

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

I see it as much as a vocation as a career. There are very many influences – it’s a life’s work. Anything that helps to reconnect new music with an intelligent audience has been important. I also love the simplicity and rigour of minimalism. Working with other artistic disciplines, especially but not exclusively in opera, has also been very formative

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

Again several. Being true to myself; understanding that recognition needs to come from within rather than without; and seeking a radical artistic path despite composing in a non-modernist idiom.

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

I think the obvious ones either way. It can be helpful to have a structure and a deadline. Even for the best organised composer creative work can at times be chaotic as well as totally absorbing. Similarly the timing of commissions can be a help or a further challenge.

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

It’s a commonplace of course but the best collaborations are those in which all those involved have a part in the decision making and there’s a huge range within music from individual performers who commission specific works to orchestra members who have little or no choice over what they play. At its best collaboration – the  highest sum of the best parts – can be the pinnacle of artistic work

Which works are you most proud of?

Well, I have put on ice much of my music before 1990. However, I am not one of those composers who doesn’t like to listen to his own music and I am proud of so many of my works since then. A breakthrough piece for me was Paradise Haunts (1994) violin and piano, later (1999) violin and orchestra. The short piano piece Endless Song (1999) is probably my most played work and there is a set of variations for Harp and Strings, Mapping Wales, based on it.  I’m also proud of the song cycle In Time of Daffodils (2006) and my last two operas –  A Chair in Love (2005) and Under Milk Wood (2014). Most composers have their ‘ugly duckling’ work. Mine is Cello Symphony (2004) – only one performance to date but there is happily a recording. (Thank you for this promotional opportunity, I think I’ve made the most of it!)

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Stravinsky, Elgar and Arvo Part are among them and I love listening to new pieces that I don’t know! I have the greatest admiration for new generation of young British performers also. They are really extraordinarily good. It is an odd realisation that the fees for classical musicians have decreased markedly as the standard of playing has increased.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been some very special concerts at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. The 1996 concert at Llandaff Cathedral with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Part, Vasks and Kutavicius stands out. Hearing the Kutavicius work – The Last Pagan Rites – prior to that at a cathedral in Vilnius following a very traumatic travel day was also memorable. Finally the premiere of Under Milk Wood: an Opera on April 3rd 2014 is still fresh in my memory

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

I think, excellence. As few compromises as possible. Never the middle ground, always the high ground. And spend as little time as possible teaching, administering, examining – crucial, wonderful skills though those are – and as much time as possible be it on composing or playing.

John Metcalf is a leading Welsh composer who has composed major works in many musical forms. While his cultural roots are in the heart of Wales, his work has a broad international following and is represented in a growing catalogue of recordings.

In 2009 he received one of four inaugural Creative Wales Ambassador Awards from the Arts Council of Wales. The awards recognise artists’ achievements, their standing in the arts in Wales and their capacity to push the boundaries of their art inherently as form and as a point of contact with contemporary Wales.

2010 highlights included the release in September by Signum Records of the ‘Paths of Song’ CD, containing Septet, Llwybrau Cân (Paths of Song), Castell Dolbadarn (Dolbadarn Castle) and Mapping Wales and a recording of his six piano palindrome Never Odd or Even in a multi-track version by Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen on Brilliant Classics 9171/7. On October 29th his new saxophone quartet On Song was premiered by the Lunar Saxophone Quartet at the Riverfront Centre, Newport. Several performances followed and the work was also released on Signum Records SIGCD233.

In Her Majesty the Queen’s 2012 New Years Honours List John was awarded an MBE for services to music.

www.johnmetcalf.co.uk

_MG_8764Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

I don’t recall the initial trigger(s) to take up composing but there was always a strong desire from about the age of seven to put dots onto the page.  Similarly, the decision to make a career appears to have been there from an early age in some form – it just always seemed to be the path I was destined to follow.

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

There are key figures and key works that have become significant in my musical life – those being Bach, Stravinsky, Debussy, Messiaen and more recently, Jonathan Harvey, George Crumb, Anton Webern and Matthias Pintscher.

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

The process of composing itself is by far the greatest challenge of my career to date.  Self-doubt and anxiety has often crippled my creative output for months on end.  I’ve also never been a composer to repeat the same technical trick over and over in my writing.  Every new piece presents a new problem to solve and each time the solution requires a different approach.  Perhaps this explains why I write so slowly.

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

I rarely write without a specific request for a work (with or without payment) and that brings with it certain pleasures such as working closely in collaboration with a musician or ensemble to develop a specific idea or sound.  The biggest challenges are always the deadlines and time-frames that often appear to get in the way of the creative flow.  It seems to be a common issue amongst artists, yet I am finding more and more that these goal posts can serve as great motivational forces when hitting a creative dead end.

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

I’m always interested in exploring new sounds often through the combination of electronics and acoustic forces.  Working with particular performers, especially those who have developed new performance techniques or use extended instruments, is really exciting because as a composer I get to try out sounds that perhaps nobody has written and heard before.

Which works are you most proud of?  

There are a few recent works that have been significant for me because they represent either a change in style or in the way I approach writing. Music of the Spheres (2006) for piano and planets  was a real labour of love due to hundreds of hours spent trawling through data files from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in order to find a few gold nuggets that could be turned into something of musical interest.  Despite all the effort, I am very happy that performing piano alongside a sonic representation of our solar system is accessible to anyone from about Grade 2 piano upwards.  Escape Velocity (2006) for accordion and string quartet is also an important work because it represents both a change in style that felt very comfortable for me but also because it demonstrates an attempt to explore and ultimately integrate two different instrumental forces into a single sound world. Fata Morgana (2007) for cello with Hyperbow, ensemble and live electronics is another key work as it represents the culmination of several years of research exploring the application of sensors and performance data in shaping and controlling the evolution of accompanying live electronics. It was also the first time I began to feel confident with my expanding musical language and with writing expressively at the extreme ends of the cello’s range. In this work, I felt that I had finally begun creating a more unified and meaningful connection between the expressiveness of the performer and the resulting reflections from the electronics through the aid of the sensors – something that has been a developing working method for me ever since.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

Not at all – I’m always grateful for a performance, wherever that might be!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

In addition to those composers I mentioned earlier who were of most influence in shaping who I am as a composer, I would include Ockeghem, Pergolesi, Prokofiev and some contemporary heavyweights such as Schoenberg, Ligeti, Boulez, Crumb, Magnus Lindberg, Helmut Lachenmann, Unsuk Chin, Harrison Birtwistle and GérardGrisey.

As for performers, I wouldn’t say I have any favourites as such.  Moreover, I just really appreciate and admire performers generally as I gave up myself after completing my undergraduate studies due to stage nerves.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are three that are particularly memorable for me – the London Sinfonietta’s 2008 QEH performance of Grisey’s complete Les espaces acoustiques; the Sinfonietta/Royal Academy 2013 RFH performance of Stockhausen’s Gruppen; and the Britten Sinfonia’s astonishing performance of Birtwistle’s Yan Tan Thethera at the Barbican this May.

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

In the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”.  If you don’t feel utter joy and a sense of deep passion for something, change direction and try something else.  Life’s too short!

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Tell us a little more about your new work ‘Morphosis’, recently premiered by Zubin Kanga. What was the inspiration/creative impulse for this work? What were the particular challenges of creating and performing this work? 

I’ve wanted to work with the wonderful Zubin for many years.  He’s a real collaborator and that excites me because it affords me space to try new things and to make mistakes – essentials in the quest for new methods of creating and working.  Zubin knew of my work with sensors and electronics so it seemed a perfect collaborative partnership.

Much of my recent work is fundamentally concerned with this notion of meeting points – of fusing apparently opposing sound worlds; moulding, mixing and states of flux. I see my work as becoming more sculptural of late – where musical ideas grow outside of their original form, then take an unexpected turn and morph into something else, perhaps falling back temporarily to allow the electronic reflections to come to the fore only to suddenly re-emerge with a fresh direction that overwhelms all proceeding shapes.  This concept of flow, of coursing and of flux is also at the base of Morphosis. Musical objects begin as simple chords surrounded only by their electronic reflections that are subtly influenced by the movement of the performers hands (the sensors being attached to the back of the hands and transmit three-dimensional movement data to the live electronics).  These musical objects are presented several times as if one is looking at a single object from different angles. They are joined together by the morphing states of the electronics into what I hope is a flowing musical argument that is both visually and aurally engaging.

Working with live electronics is always a challenge but is particularly so with the addition of sensors.  Speed is critical!  Six channels of data from the performers hands must stream into the laptop once every 20ms.  This data must be refined for musical processes.  Each movement must be carefully calibrated and assigned to a particular parameter of a digital sound process.  Vast amounts of number crunching are performed in tiny segments of time and any blip in the system results in either a click in sound or a fatal system crash.  All this must be performed from just a single laptop that gets slower the more processing is added.  As a composer, the months of computer programming can become unbearable.  Many challenges emerge: Which should I write first – the music or the electronic effects?  How will the sounds change if I do not fully know how the performer will try to control the sound through the sensors?  How can I impose limits on what the performer will do with their hands to shape the sounds?  All these questions push my creative process to the edge – something I fear yet something I crave too…. living on the precipice…. creating something new, something never before uttered…. it’s the ultimate drive….

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

Southern Italy full time – writing more than I teach

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Acceptance of myself and everything external

What is your most treasured possession?

My mind – all else is temporary

What do you enjoy doing most?

Dancing 4am, hot sand between the toes, cool breeze on the skin – Italian beach

What is your present state of mind?

Buzzy and tired – it’s 4.30am!

Patrick Nunn (b.1969, Kent, UK) studied composition with Frank Denyer at Dartington College of Arts, Gary Carpenter at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and Simon Bainbridge and Jonathan Harvey whilst completing his PhD in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music (funded by a PRS Scholarship).

He has been the recipient of many awards including the Birmingham New Millennium prize for Sentiment of an Invisible Omniscience (2010), the Alan Bush prize for Transilient Fragments (2008), a British Composers Award (solo/duet category) for Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows (2006), and the BBC Radio 3 Composing for Children prize for Songs of Our Generation (1995).

Patrick’s music has been performed widely in the UK and on the continent and has featured at more than fifty festivals worldwide. He has worked with a diverse range of collaborators, including the BBC Concert Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Kreutzer Quartet, Thalia Myers, Piano Circus, Icebreaker, Ballet Rambert, Gogmagogs, Composers Ensemble and New London Children’s Choir.

Under the auspices of Tod Machover (MIT), Nunn, in his role as Hyperbow Researcher at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote two new works incorporating Diana Young’s (MIT) Hyperbow design: Gaia Sketches for solo cello and live electronics (finalist in the New Media category, British Composers Awards 2006); and Fata Morgana for cello, ensemble and live electronics. Nunn presented the collaborative process between composer and engineer in a research paper alongside Young at the 2006 NIME conference at IRCAM.

In addition to his extensive work as an educator, Nunn has recently completed two ABRSM commissions for their Spectrum series, as well as a new work for the Tempest Flute Trio. His work Prism was nominated for the solo/duo category for the 2009 British Composers Awards and Pareidolia I for bass clarinet, electronics and sensors has been shortlisted in the Sonic Arts category for the 2012 Awards. He currently holds the position of Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. His music is published by Cadenza Music and the ABRSM, and also features on Red Sock Records (Music of the Spheres), NMC (Prism) and the Sfz label (Gonk).

© Patrick Nunn (Nov 2012)

www.patricknunn.com

Photo credit: Nick Fallon