Tag Archives: female composer

Meet the Artist……Helen Grime, composer

news-3412Who or what inspired you to take up composing and pursue a career in music?

I was surrounded by music from a young age and went to a music school (city of Edinburgh Music school, then St Mary’s Music School) where everyone was encouraged to compose. It’s difficult to put my finger on what exactly inspired me to pursue composing but I think it was this ethos combined with individuals such as the pianist, Peter Evans and ecat (Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust at the time)taking an interest and performing as well as commissioning me.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

Coming to London and studying with Julian Anderson and Edwin Roxburgh made a real shift. They introduced me to so many composers as well as ideas and techniques, and this really instilled me with a desire to always be ambitious with he music I write. Studying in Tanglewood (2008) and working closely with composers Oliver Knussen, Augusta Read Thomas and others was also a very important time for me, not least because I was immersed in the music of Elliott Carter during their celebration of his centenary.

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

Having my son, in 2013, has been a real challenge, although not a frustration. I was used to devoting any or all my time to composing and this had to change, I’m much happier for it though!

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

Each commission has its own challenges, this may be linked to a brief. It often feels like you have to learn composing anew for each piece and that’s tough. Another challenge can be the pressure you feel to produce your best work and not to let the commissioner/organiser/individual/performers down, this can be very daunting at the beginning of the composing process.

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

Working with musicians for the first time, whether soloists, singers or orchestras can be very exciting but also completely nerve racking. I want so much for them to respond well to what I’m doing and also enjoy learning and performing my music. My music (everyone tell me) is pretty difficult and detailed, even when I fell I’m doing something very simple. I know it takes a huge amount of energy and time to embrace a new sound world and am always incredibly grateful when musicians seem to get what I’m doing and really believe in it.

Which works are you most proud of?

It takes me a long time to feel really comfortable with a piece and it might take several years and different performances for me to let go and enjoy it. For this reason it’s a difficult question, also, how I feel about a piece can be linked to other people’s reactions at the time or the performance. I think I’m most proud of some chamber pieces such as Aviary Sketches for string trio and my Three Whistler Miniatures for Piano trio. I am proud of my Violin Concerto just now, but it’s not receiving its premiere until December so I will have to wait and see! Often I’ve had particular compositional challenges in these works but don’t feel I’ve had to compromise on my language or original vision for the piece.

How would you describe your compositional language?

My language is detailed and intricate. I am drawn to rich harmonies, initially influenced by Messiaen, Takemitsu and Boulez, and long expressive musical lines. I love to create different layers in my music and often slow music exists at the same time as fast music. Clarity and focus, as well as a dedication to always get exactly the right notes, are always paramount for me.

How do you work?

I work in a spare bedroom and spend a lot of time sketching on manuscript and using piano. Once I have developed and discarded a lot of material as well as discovered what I want to try to achieve in a piece, I start using Sibelius software alongside, always moving back and forth manuscript to rework and draft passage. This is usually pretty extensive.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Difficult to say, but Ravel, Stravinsky, Janacek, Byrd, Bach,Ligeti, Knussen feature pretty highly- obviously there are many others, living and dead, but these are composers whose music I love in its entirety.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Berg violin concerto with Christian Tetzlaff when I was an usher at the Usher Hall during the the Edinburgh International Festival.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians and composers?

To always keep a core of self belief and never ever give up, even in really tough times. Keep an open mind but always be true to your musical identity and don’t compromise on that.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Snuggled by an open fire with a good glass of red and a good book on a winter day.

Helen Grime is Wigmore Hall’s first female Composer in Residence. Helen will compose three new pieces as part of the residency, beginning with a piano concerto for Huw Watkins and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and will also contribute to the hall’s Community and Education programme. The first event of the residency will take place on October 15 with a day of concerts devoted to the composer’s music and figures that have influenced her work. Further information here

Born in 1981, Helen studied oboe with John Anderson and composition with Julian Anderson and Edwin Roxburgh at the Royal College of Music. In 2003 she won a British Composer Award for her Oboe Concerto, and was awarded the intercollegiate Theodore Holland Composition Prize in 2003 as well as all the major composition prizes in the RCM. In 2008 she was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to study at the Tanglewood Music Center where she studied with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas. Grime was a Legal and General Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music from 2007 to 2009. She became a lecturer in composition at the Department of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, in January 2010.
Helen has had works commissioned by some of the most established performers including London Symphony Orchestra, BCMG, Britten Sinfonia, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center. Conductors who have performed her work include Daniel Harding, Pierre Boulez, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Sir Mark Elder. Her work Night Songs was commissioned by the BBC Proms in 2012 and premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen. In 2011 she was appointed Associate Composer to the Hallé Orchestra for an initial tenure of three years. Her first commission for them, Near Midnight, was premiered on May 23, 2013 and a recording of her orchestral works performed by the Hallé was released as part of the NMC Debut Disc Series in 2014, which was awarded ‘Editors Choice’ by Gramophone Magazine. 

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.


Meet the Artist……Aleah Morrison-Basu, composer


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

My Mum and Dad. They gave me the opportunity to have piano lessons and I’ve never looked back. A few years later they encouraged me to learn more instruments so I chose the clarinet and harp initially, but my Mum said no to the harp because it was too big, so I chose the marginally smaller cello as an alternative. I was enrolled in dance lessons from the age of 4 so learnt to love performance from a young age. I loved to put on shows with my cousins for our parents and grandparents. I took this to another level when I forced my sister and a friend to perform a rendition of a track from the show Starlight Express whilst on roller skates in a school assembly. My piano teacher and music teacher encouraged me to pursue performance and composition. To be honest I never imagined doing anything other than music so I think I have always been pursuing a career in music without actually realising it.

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

I’ve never really had one or two important influences. More a continual building collection. Daily I’ll be influenced by many different things whether that be a piece of music, a painting, photograph, philosophical article or an approach someone takes on life. I’m a very reflective person so can be influenced by the simplest of things like watching a bird splash about in a puddle. I’m driven by the belief that there is only one life we live in our current form. Therefore we should either be striving to achieve a goal or, at the very least, enjoy what we are doing. Not everyone has this choice so we shouldn’t take it for granted.

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

The first thing I think of is staring at a blank page when I know I need to compose a piece for a deadline. But this is a daily challenge. The greatest challenge of my career though is probably getting people to listen to my work when there are so many other artists work they could also be listening to.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

There are two pieces I composed for a pitch for an advert. There are also some cues from a film score that I’m particularly proud of because of their emotive drive. The type of music which makes your hair stand on end.

Favourite pieces to listen to?  

This changes weekly, even daily. Today I’m really enjoying Beautiful Lie by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL

Who are your favourite musicians? 

There are too many too name. My favourite musicians are ones whose music has elements which will intrigue me and which I have an uncontrollable urge to immediately analyse. Whose music is utterly captivating to listen to because of all the different compositional elements. To name just a small number would be Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elfman, Johann Johannson, Max Richter, Clint Mansell, Kronos Quartet, Goldmund, Nils Frahm, The Glitch Mob…there really are too many from so many different styles.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Unfortunately I have a very poor memory so I expect there have been many. However, there are a few I still talk about. One was when Muse performed at SWSX many years ago before they were as big as they are now. They were absolutely incredible. The type of musicians where you can tell they breath music. For the same reason, Jill Scott and Mumford and Sons were also extremely memorable. But more recently, I’ve seen a few film score composers in concert who have been absolutely wonderful. Namely Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. I came away more in awe than when I went in. There are a number of theatre productions that have literally left me speechless as well.

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

Explore concepts you feel uncomfortable with. Face your weaknesses. Learn to take a step back from your work and hear it from a different perspective. Don’t ignore your gut instinct. Learn to accept and see criticism as constructive feedback but also be confident in your own mind and opinion where necessary.

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

To still be making a living out of composing music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Working from a studio that looks out to the ocean.

Aleah Morrison-Basu’s first narrative piano and electronics album ‘Evolving Reflections’ is released on 8th July 2016. 

Aleah is a London-based composer working out of her studio in central London. Always enthusiastically looking for new and interesting collaborations with musicians, composers, Film, TV and Theatre directors as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, music supervisor and co-composer. 

Distinctive melodies, emotive scores. Nominated for 2015 MAS Award for Best Original Score for Feature Film and Best Original Score for Short Film. Music composer for feature films, TV series, short films, TVC’s, branding films, interactive theatre. 

Aleah has composed scores for a number of award-winning short films and recently co-composed her first feature film, released in September 2015 in UK, USA and Canada. 

Also, has been composing scores for a number of TV documentary series, currently working on her third score.

Clients include BBC, HBO, Head, Adidas, Kia, Hyundai, Wilko, Three mobile, America’s Cup, Philip Stein, The American Heart Foundation, McVities, Georgia Tech, Harvard amongst many others. 

While composing, arranging, orchestrating and music supervising for Zelig Sound, Aleah is continuing her passion for collaborations in other creative art forms working as a freelance composer and arranger for film/ TV/ and theatre directors.


Meet the Artist……Kate Simko, composer


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

Music has been my number one passion since I was a child. I started with classical piano, but then had a realization that I wasn’t fully fulfilled performing others’ music, and that I needed to take a risk and try to find my own musical voice. I went on to study electronic music composition and piano at the university, and have been on an obsessive never-ending journey since!

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

Growing up my biggest influences were my grandmother and father. Both were very passionate about classical music. My grandmother played classical piano and organ until her early 90’s, and my dad listened to classical music constantly and took our family to Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts. Then in my teens the big influence was Chicago house and Detroit techno, and then next IDM music on labels like Warp and Ninja Tune, pre-fusion jazz, and soul music. It was inspiring to be in Chicago in the 90’s when post-rock took off too. Thrill Jockey and bands like Tortoise were combining electronics into rock music in a new way, and it was an exciting time to experience music evolving.

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

The biggest challenge was rising above being a local musician. Taking my career from local shows to other cities in the states, and then touring and releasing music internationally, took a lot of hustle. My husband is also from Chicago, so it wasn’t easy for us to pick-up and leave. He agreed we could move to London if I was accepted into the Royal College of ‘Music Composition for Screen’ Masters program. The program accepts about ten students per year, but I was determined! I felt trapped and like I’d hit a creative wall in Chicago. So I think the greatest challenge was extracting myself from that situation, and putting myself in a better place to create and expand.

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

I love working on commissioned pieces. Whether a film score, a song for a compilation, or a bespoke piece for a performer, I really enjoy having set parameters going into it. Like Stravinsky’s famous quote, “The more constraints one imposes the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

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

The biggest challenge is organizing it! We’re all busy people, so finding a time we can all be in the same room can be like a Tetris game. There are so many pleasures. I’ve met so many incredible people who dedicate their lives to their passions and bettering themselves. It’s a a great little bubble of a world.

Which works are you most proud of?

The debut London Electronic Orchestra album. This is a few years of exploration and experimentation all coming together, and I’m very excited for it’s release.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

John and Alice Coltrane are two of my favorite musicians. My favorite composers are Chopin (piano works), Eric Satie, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The first big London Electronic Orchestra concert in 2014 for a 36-piece orchestra at the Britten Theatre. I was figuring it out as it went along, but we pulled it off! It gave me the confidence to keep going with the project.

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

Believe in yourself and focus on your craft.

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

I would like to be touring internationally with London Electronic Orchestra, composing new music, and writing film scores. Basically continuing on the same path.

London Electronic Orchestra


Purchase the album

Kate Simko has carved an international career as an electronic music producer, film composer, live performer, and DJ. Hailing from Chicago, Kate’s music reflects the influences of the city’s underground sounds, as well her background in classical piano and jazz music.


Meet the Artist……Soosan Lolavar, composer

soosan-220x220Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

I always enjoyed music as a child and played recorder and then oboe growing up. I only really got into composing at the age of 16 when I was experiencing such horrific stage fright that it became clear I needed a different outlet. However, I came from a completely non-musical family so had no concept of how to turn this thing I enjoyed doing into an actual career. Perhaps the penny dropped at some point in my third year of undergraduate – studying Social and Political Sciences – when I realised that composing gave me the greatest pleasure of any activity in my life, and that if I wasn’t doing something creative I would lose my mind.

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

All of my teachers who have helped me more than I can say, but especially Cecilia McDowall, Oliver Leaman, Dominic Murcott, Stephen Montague and Reza Vali. Also, hearing ‘Atmospheres for Orchestra’ by Ligeti completely changed my life.

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

Believing that I can do it, having the courage to make an artistic statement, dealing with failure, organising my life and work despite the total absence of a schedule, making money.

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

Commissioned pieces are wonderful because you know you are working with people who are excited about contemporary music and keen for a challenge. There is always that worry that you’re going to deliver something that they will absolutely hate, but you can’t think about that, as then you will simply never write anything. You just have to believe that if you do something with enough integrity, it will work as a piece of art.

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

I’ve done quite a bit of work with children and voluntary musicians so that has its own challenges in terms of how difficult you can make the parts, but also how interesting they have to be too. If you’re writing for an orchestra of children and you make the trombones count 200 bars rest then it’s likely those trombonists will be put off contemporary music forever. I feel that in a case like that, I have a duty to make their parts interesting so in the past I have experimented with handheld percussion and singing in the context of a large ensemble. The great thing about working with an ensemble like The Hermes Experiment is that you feel nothing is off limits. When I told them I wanted to write a piece that combined the melodies of Iranian classical music with Renaissance Counterpoint, they didn’t even bat an eyelid. And that was wonderful.

Which works are you most proud of?  

The pieces where I held onto an artistic idea in spite of being terrified it wouldn’t work; working my way through that vulnerability and coming out the other side intact always makes me feel quite proud.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Ligeti is my shining beacon of inspiration at all times. Also Stravinsky, Berio, Morton Feldman, Rebecca Saunders and Xenakis. And I believe Bach is good for the soul.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Memorable concerts seem to either be incredibly exciting or make me sob uncontrollably. One was Johannes Moser playing the Lutoslawksi Cello Concerto and then a Bach Cello Suite as an encore (I sobbed in my cheap seat). Another was Lisa Batiashvili performing Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto which was just incredible. And also a rehearsal of the Berlin Phil conducted by Simon Rattle performing Mahler 2 (I couldn’t get a ticket for the performance), in which I cried throughout.

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

That self-doubt is both productive and good and will make you a better artist in the end. That you should strive at all times to do something new, whatever that may mean. To remember to be nice to people, as everyone in music is baring their soul and doing the best they can. To not neglect your personal life and relationships: practising the piano for 8 hours a day may make you a great pianist but it won’t ultimately make you happy, only people can do that.

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

I actually wrote a 10 year plan as an exercise with some friends last year. It involved composing, teaching, travelling and love. I don’t want to tell you the details as for some reason I’m scared it won’t then come true.

New works by Soosan Lolavar will be premiered by The Hermes Experiment at The Forge, Camden, London on 16th February, together with works by Giles Swayne, Ed Scolding, Claude Debussy and Richard Rodney Bennett. Further information

Soosan Lolavar is a British-Iranian composer, sound artist and educator who works in both electronic and acoustic sound, and across the genres of concert music, contemporary dance, installation, film, animation and theatre.

Her work has been performed at the Royal Festival Hall, V&A,  National Maritime Museum,  ICA, Chisenhale Gallery,  LSE New Academic Building, Blackheath Concert Halls,  Jacqueline Du Pré Music Centre,  Bonnie Bird Theatre, Circus Space and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

In 2013 she was selected as one of two Embedded composers in residence at the Southbank Centre and received funding from Arts Council England, Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Iran Heritage Foundation to pursue ‘Stay Close’, a ten-month project exploring contemporary classical music as a means of cultural exchange between the UK and Iran. In 2012 she won the John Halford Prize for Composition awarded by Ian Pace and was selected as part of the Adopt a Composer scheme funded by PRS for Music Foundation and run by Making Music, in partnership with Sound and Music and BBC Radio 3.

She holds degrees in Social and Political Sciences (University of Cambridge), Musicology (University of Oxford) and Composition (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) and her research interests include the politics of gender and sexuality, post-colonialism and the music industry and postmodernism in electronic musics. She has worked as an Assistant Lecturer at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, leading a course on music, gender and sexuality and at City Lit Adult Education college where she teaches classes on music and opera appreciation, film music and music gender and sexuality.


Meet the Artist……Sally Whitwell, composer and pianist

Pianist Sally Whitwell
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
When I was a kid, I lived in an extended family household i.e. my grandmother came to live with us. She brought her imposing beast of an instrument with her, a huge steel framed upright that she and I would play duets on, or sing songs together like Cockles and Mussels or The Wedding of the Painted Doll. I just felt drawn to the instrument. Maybe it was the bonding time with my grandmother? Maybe it was that it was the biggest toy in the house? I don’t know. I think it chose me rather than the other way around.
You are also a composer. Who or what inspired you to start composing?
My partner Glennda inspired me to start composing. At the time we met, we were both working strange hours. Musician hours are crazy at the best of times, and she worked rather unpredictable shift worker hours, so we found ourselves ‘dating’ at mostly odd hours of the night. I’ve always been a bit of a cheeseball and love Romantic period poetry, Shelley, Keats, Byron… Suddenly She Walks in Beauty Like the Night had great significance to me, so I wrote a choral setting of it and gifted her with the world premiere informal performance in our little shopfront studio we share (she’s a visual artist). My friend Michelle Leonard was at the performance and immediately asked if she could buy it for her community choir the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus. Thus my composing career was borne from love.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career, as both pianist and composer?
There are too many of those to list and I actually don’t like to single out someone over anyone else. I will tell you, however, what it is that these people have all done. They’ve made me feel capable of doing this crazy music thing. There is nothing so empowering and motivating as someone looking you in the eyes and saying “You can do this.” After that, it’s up to you to work hard at perfecting your skills and accumulating knowledge and experience that enables you to move people through your music making in whatever form that music making takes.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Having the courage to attempt new things. For example, when I was approached by Universal/ABC Classics to record my first album of solo piano music (Mad Rush: solo piano music of Philip Glass) I hadn’t played a solo piano piece in public for 17 years. I’d been happily working as an accompanist and chamber musician all that time, thinking that any kind of career as a soloist was not a thing that I was good enough to do. But I got thinking about it and realised that they’d never have asked me if they didn’t think I could do it, so I did it.
Which performances/recordings/compositions are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my latest album I Was Flying. It’s the first album I’ve recorded of all my own compositions, which is quite daunting but exciting too. What makes me particularly happy with it is the opportunity to invite a whole lot of my colleagues from the Sydney music scene to be a part of it, flautist Sally Walker, soprano Alexandra Oomens, violinist Kirsten Williams, the Acacia Quartet and VOX (the youth ensemble from Sydney Philharmonia Choirs). There’s just so much incredible talent here. It was rather emotionally overwhelming to be in the studio thinking to myself that at least 60 people were slogging their guts out to bring my little dots and squiggles to life. I had a few teary moments. Haha.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
My own! Because they are all me. All of me, actually, and nobody knows me like I know me. Gosh, that’s a bit confronting.
How does your performing influence your composing, and vice versa?
Being a composer makes me increasingly aware of the value of detail on a musical score and how that manifests in terms of the dramatic shape of a piece of music. As a composer, I like to write with a considerable amount of detail in tempo and articulation, dynamic and phrasing, but I try not to make that detail stifling for a performer. They need some space for interpretation.
What are the particular challenges and pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? (if relevant) 
Hoping that the composer gives you the score far enough in advance for you to have time to learn it properly, which is often not the case. Such timings aside, it’s quite a challenge to learn the particular language of a composer whose works you haven’t performed before. You might make some decisions about what you’re going to do, and then they don’t like your interpretation, so you end up having to make some huge changes at the last minute. Sometimes this gives you an edge in performance though, so that can be a positive thing. It’s just a bit scary! When the composer is open and communicative and willing to be flexible, it is a joy to work with them. When they are prescriptive about interpretation or inflexible in any way, it can become strained.
What are the particular challenges and pleasures of working with other musicians, ensembles etc, as both composer and pianist?
As a composer, I love hearing what different performers bring to my music. Playing my music with other performers is the best way to learn about writing for various instruments. It can be tricky if said performers are not forthcoming with advice, or if they are less than helpful with the advice they do give. It’s about communicating well and having the same goal which for me is always to communicate something to a listener, to make them feel something.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I’ve performed in concert halls and churches, convention centres and jazz bars, school halls and shearing sheds… none of them are better or worse, they’re all just different. What I find makes the difference is the connection with the audience. If the audience is in the right zone, it’s a great place to perform!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I enjoy performing my own music the most, because it makes me feel that I’m really communicating something personal. Likewise I like to listen to people perform their own compositions because I feel I’m getting the whole of them as a person. It’s what continually draws me back to Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Zoe Keating, Björk, Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell, Rufus Wainright… I’m also listening to rather a lot of musical theatre at the moment ostensibly for research purposes, as I’ve just written my own musical Cog in the Machine. It’s interesting to explore the theatrical side of music making. I feel I may drift more and more in that direction. We’ll see!
Who are your favourite musicians?
It changes all the time, but at the moment I’m listening to lots of Björk, Agnes Obel and Olafur Arnalds. Being a performer/composer myself, it is particularly nice to see how others are doing at it.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Too many to list! My most favourite recent concert was in a Steiner school here in Sydney. The kids there were genuinely curious and open to new experiences, the whole atmosphere of the school was really positive. The campus was like an enchanted glade, there was even a picturesque waterfall, and it appealed to me that I got to wait outside near the chicken coop in the sunshine prior to my lunchtime performance.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Do your theory homework. Seriously, I use those skills every single day of my life and I’m so thankful for them.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
For myself, it’s connecting with people in all sorts of ways but primarily through my music. This world needs some joy and I try to provide that through what I create.

Award winning pianist Sally Whitwell maintains a busy freelance career as performer, conductor, composer and educator from her base in Sydney.

Sally’s album All Imperfect Things; solo piano music of Michael Nyman won the 2013 ARIA Award for Best Classical Album as well as Best Engineer for ABC Classics very own tonmeister Virginia Read, the first time that a woman has ever won this award.  Additionally, her debut album Mad Rush: solo piano music of Philip Glass  won her the 2011 ARIA for Best Classical Album.  Her sophomore album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward is a truly unique compilation of film music where she played not only piano but toy piano, harpsichord, recorder and melodica.  Sally’s fourth album I Was Flying is now available, featuring her own compositions in the art song, choral and chamber music genres.

Recent solo concert appearances for Sally have included the world premiere of the Philip Glass Complete Piano Etudes for Perth International Arts Festival and Ten Tiny Dancers, an all-singing-all-playing-all-dancing cabaret piano recital for the Famous Spiegeltent season at Arts Centre Melbourne.  In 2014, Sally will travel to Los Angeles and New York City to perform again with Philip Glass.  She will also be touring extensively within Australia, including shows for Adelaide Fringe Festival,  concerts at Riversdale for the Bundanon Trust and various trips to regional centres on the NSW South Coast and Byron Bay.  As a vocal advocate for classical music by women composers, Sally is currently curating a chamber music concert series in her home town Canberra. In Her Shoes features music by women creatives across the centuries, which she’ll be performing with Acacia Quartet, cellist Sally Maer and soprano Nadia Piave.

Sally other great love is choral music.  Currently she is a staff conductor and pianist for Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children’s Choir with whom she has performed throughout Australia and in Europe, Asia and the Americas.  She has devised semi-theatrical choral shows for Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Bel A Cappella and Door in the Wall, composed new works for (and with) Sydney Children’s Choir, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Woden Valley Youth Choir (ACT), St Ursula’s College Toowoomba (QLD) and had her choral works performed by Gondwana Choirs, Canberra Choral Society, Brisbane Birralee Voices, Moorambilla Voices, various ensembles from the Arts Unit of the NSW Department of Education and Kompactus – Canberra’s Compact Chorus.  She’s looking forward to presenting workshops on collaborative composition at the 2014 Queensland Choral Conference presented by Australian National Choral Association. 



Meet the Artist……Sadie Harrison, composer

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. http://www.afghanistannationalinstituteofmusic.org/ http://www.cuatropuntos.org/about-us.html

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 www.uymp.co.uk and on her website www.sadieharrisoncomposer.co.uk  

Meet the Artist……Errollyn Wallen

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

There were several triggers — playing the piano, hearing Chopin in my ballet class, twiddling the knobs on the radio and discovering the range of classical music, a history teacher at school suggesting it as a possible career. My uncle told me I was a composer when I told him about the sounds in my head.

Eventually it became an inner necessity to compose.

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

J S Bach is my greatest inspiration. Gemini (founded by Ian Mitchell) gave me my first commission and I am continually learning from the musicians, collaborators and institutions I work with.

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

The greatest challenge is always how to manage one’s time —and finances — in order to do the work.

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

The challenge is to create a work which extends my range of musical thinking whilst also satisfying the brief of the commission.

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

I relish composing for specific performers — it always shapes the music. In composing Hawks and Horses I had the sound of Peterborough Sings! In my mind. I had already spent time in Peterborough so was able to get to know the personality of these special choirs and their brilliant conductor, Will Prideaux.

Every performer is unique and the challenge is to compose a work which lets the performer/s shine whilst bringing them something fresh and new.

Tell us more about your new work ‘Hawks and Horses’

What was the inspiration behind this work?

The inspiration was twofold — the sound of the range of voices (from young to old) and the way in which I came across Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91. Last year I was going through my Uncle Arthur’s house after he died and found a small book of sonnets which had an inscription in the front noting that that Sonnet 91 was about the giver and the receiver of the book. Was my dear uncle the intended recipient or was the book a second hand book? I will never know; but I was reminded of the power of words, the power of love and friendship. This is true for us at any age — which is why I decided to set Sonnet 91 for Peterborough Sings! which comprises a youth choir, a male voice choir and a women’s choir. As I was setting the poem I began to imagine the Peterborough landscape centuries ago.


Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force, Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill; Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse; And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure, Wherein it finds a joy above the rest: But these particulars are not my measure; All these I better in one general best. Thy love is better than high birth to me, Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost, Of more delight than hawks or horses be; And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:    Wretched in this alone, that thou may’st take    All this away, and me most wretched make.

How has working with Peterborough Sings! influenced the way you have composed the work?

I have never composed a work for children and adults singing together and am very excited to hear how the combination will work. It was invaluable spending time with Will and the choirs beforehand as that has had a profound influence.

Which works are you most proud of?

I have composed so much music. I am fond of all my works and am constantly surprised how the circumstances in which they were composed can have no influence on the finished work. I am very proud of my opera, the Silent Twins (librettist April de Angelis) which was performed at Almeida Opera Festival in 2007.

I also favour some of my simple songs which I perform at the piano myself. What’s up Doc? is a one-off and composed in a matter of minutes. I love performing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Ella Fitzgerald, Daniil Trifonov, J.S.Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel. So many more..!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing my works performed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, knowing that they were being broadcast simultaneously to a billion people around the world was overwhelming. The work which also provided total concert experience was the première of Carbon 12 : A Choral Symphony for Welsh National Opera at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Carbon 12 is an oratorio about the history of coal mining in South Wales. The librettist, John Binias and I felt that we had achieved something bigger than ourselves. Everyone in that concert hall was somehow part of the story we were telling onstage.

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

When you think you’re done, give it 10 per cent more.

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

In sensational health after representing Belize in the 100m at the Olympics

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being by the sea or in the sea. Preferably with family and friends.

What is your most treasured possession?

I’m not very good at treasuring possessions. I do always need a piano however and I have a very nice Steinway upright. I also love my copy of the CD, ERROLLYN, framed by NASA. It orbited the earth 186 times.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Thinking, composing, playing the piano, singing, eating. I ADORE recording too!

What is your present state of mind?

Juggling the present with the past and the future.

This August will see the premiere of Hawks and Horses, a new work by internationally acclaimed composer Errollyn Wallen, the “renaissance woman of contemporary British music” (The Observer), best known for her works Principia and Spirit in Motion which featured in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Commissioned by music education charity Peterborough Sings!, the work was written for the city’s award-winning choirs Peterborough Male Voice Choir, Peterborough Voices and Peterborough Youth Choir, who will perform it for the first time with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at St John’s Smith Square in London on Sunday 30th August, with a regional premiere to follow at Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre on Sunday 6th September.


Meet the Artist……Fiona Bennett, composer

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

I had my first piano lesson at just four years old, my dad would love to have played but came from a family who just couldn’t afford lessons. He played me Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony when I was about seven years old and I vividly remember being bowled over by the storm section. My first pop single was the Adagio from Spartacus and Phrygia which was in the charts because ‘The Onedin Line’ was a very popular TV series. I began writing songs when I was 15, mainly due to my father’s encouragement.

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

Coming from Wales and being surrounded by music in school the whole time meant it was a huge part of my life, right from the very beginning. I really enjoyed piano lessons, took my first exam when I was just six and music was always my great love. Sounds daft but significant influences are every single piece of music I’ve ever heard, all the classical greats plus Barry Manilow and Abba. I love good pop music and Abba wrote the best, most beautifully constructed songs. I don’t have a favourite composer, too many to choose from!

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

Small hands! I have always had to choose my music carefully. Rachmaninov was never going to be possible but I played Mozart, Mendelssohn well. Becoming a mum meant being permanently busy and not having the time (or inspiration) to write. I didn’t compose a note between 1998 and 2011 but when my elder son was working towards his Winchester College entrance exams and spending lots of time at his dad’s to study, I began playing again.  Within a few months, I had composed the whole ‘A Country Suite’ album, eight pieces for piano.

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

I wrote to order early in my career. Jingles, incidental music for TV drama but I’m afraid I prefer working independently and putting together music for my own enjoyment (which, thankfully appeals to a wider audience too). I am a huge fan of Debbie Wiseman (she and I studied with James Gibb at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1980s) and she is expert at composing to pictures and being able to change things quickly. I am still very much a full time mum and would find that aspect very challenging. I still write at the piano with manuscript paper and a pencil!

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

Again, this isn’t something I do much. I composed a piece for SATB choir back in 2014 and it was a huge thrill to sing in a choir actually performing a piece I had composed in the beautiful setting of Douai Abbey in Berkshire.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I was a prolific songwriter in my teens/20s/30s and the first song I wrote ‘Ti a Mi’ (Welsh for ‘You and Me’) was a big hit for me. It has generated a lot of royalties over the years and is still played on the radio now.  I am very proud of ‘A Country Suite’: it has some lovely melodies and the piano pieces are rather more complex than they sound!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love good music, melody, harmony and so, as well as classical music, I loved 1970s pop music, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Wizzard, Sweet, Slade, The Osmonds. In terms of classical music, I adore Puccini, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Bach.  I love a big romantic melody!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing ‘One Voice’ in Barry Manilow’s choir at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1982 was very exciting.  My own ‘Concert for Autism’ was very special too. I put on a free concert at St Nicolas’s Church in Newbury in September 2009. I invited along some of Newbury’s most talented musicians and we raised almost £5000 for the West Berkshire branch of the National Autistic Society. I sang, played Mozart duets and a massive ragtime medley. It was great!

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

I am not one to sweat over a piece. If it works, it tends to come quite quickly and I rarely (if ever) change things. If it works and sounds good, just do it.  I have broken many of the ‘rules’ of harmony and counterpoint, parallel fifths and octaves, parallel fourths. I’m not a fan of tritones and haven’t used those as yet but never say never! If the piece I’ve written sounds nice to the ear, is well structured, has a good intro, beginning, middle and end, then I’m happy.  If you have to keep changing it all the time, chances are it wasn’t that great to begin with.

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

Happily married and sharing my life with my new fiancé, John. He is also a trumpet player and we both practise together! Aw!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Loving someone special and knowing they love and cherish you too.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am not a big one for ‘things’ but my new engagement ring is very special to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Several things: attending concerts with John, playing the piano and realising a new piece is starting to form, going for pizza with my two amazing sons, walking my greyhounds in the woods.

What is your present state of mind?

As happy as I have ever been in my whole life!

Fiona Bennett’s ‘New Lady Radnor Suite’ is available now. With a nod towards Hubert Parry who composed ‘Lady Radnor’s Suite’ in 1894, Fiona has composed and dedicated her new album to her friend, Melissa (The Countess of Radnor). 


Meet the Artist……Dai Fujikura, composer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm, maybe writing my first opera SOLARIS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which works are you most proud of?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

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

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

Full biography here