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

I was born into a musical environment: my father, Bernard Rose, was a huge inspiration. He was a conductor, composer, scholar, organist, horn player, singer, inspirational teacher. I studied with him at Oxford and sang in his daily choir at Magdalen College, but before that I was a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, as was my father, his brother and both my brothers. At Salisbury we had about 8 services a week, with about 12 rehearsals, from the age of 8-13. I remember thinking at the age of 12 or so that I wanted to be in music, and thought conducting would be good. My father sent me to have lunch with his old teacher at the Royal College of Music, Sir Adrian Boult, and Boult gently grilled me for over an hour over lunch, insisting that I should only pursue conducting if I really wanted it. This helped focus my mind. Leopold Stokowski used to stay frequently at our house from when I was very young, and I think this must have had an influence on me also. As soon as I went to Oxford I began serious conducting, having already taken on a small Oxfordshire choral society.

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

In the early days Christopher Dearnley, Organist at Salisbury Cathedral, and my first piano teacher, was a strong influence. Then at my senior school my teacher for A-level played me Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Juenglinge”. I was 15 years-old, and it blew my head off. I knew from that moment that I would dedicate much of my life to ‘living’ music.

When I left school I studied ’12-note music’ in Vienna with a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, and this has been a strong influence all my life. Whilst at Oxford I became fascinated by the conducting of Pierre Boulez, and used to go to watch him conduct. This was my main conducting influence.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling?

The most challenging aspect is inspiring musicians, professional, students or amateur, to create exciting musical sounds, and, hopefully, display their enjoyment of this to the audience. Certainly, it is very fulfilling teasing the written notes into audible sounds, whether it be medieval music, Classical or music of today.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Through gesture as much as possible. When teaching conducting I stress the importance of “less talking is more music”. The fact that in the concert or recording venue at the moment of impact there is no speaking is a vital aspect of communication from conductor to musicians.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

My first role as conductor is my being the representative of the composer in the room, from whatever period. I always do masses of research into the composer’s background at the time of composition, etc, before studying a work. I have had the pleasure of working directly with many hundreds of living composers, and I am a composer myself, so feel I am “on their side”! If the piece is not written out logically I do all I can to persuade the composer to make the scores as logical as possible.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Stravinsky “Sacre de Printemps”

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg, Russia, is unbelievable!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are too many to list. It goes from Perotin in the 1150s through to Machaut, Byrd, Tallis, Sheppard, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Hummel, Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Xenakis, Arvo Paert, Steve Reich…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Achieving a fine/masterful performance.

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

The joy of performing at the highest possible standard; rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!

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

Still conducting and composing internationally

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The morning after a great concert!

What is your most treasured possession?

The autograph score of Bach’s B Minor Mass

What is your present state of mind?

Good! I’ve just finished editing a new CD in Latvia and am preparing for my 70th birthday concert in April. I am a lucky person!


Gregory Rose’s 70th birthday concert is on 18 April 2018 at St John’s Smith Square. The programme includes several premieres, including a piece for solo voice with Loré Lixenberg and a new Violin Concerto, specially composed for the acclaimed violinist, Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Full details here

Gregory Rose is particularly noted for his performances of the romantic and contemporary repertoires, having conducted over 300 premieres of orchestral, choral and ensemble music throughout Europe and the Far East. He studied violin, piano and singing as a young child and was a pupil of Hans Jelinek (Vienna Academy) and Egon Wellesz (Oxford University), both former students of Arnold Schoenberg, and of his father, the late Bernard Rose.

Gregory is Music Director of the Jupiter Orchestra, Jupiter Singers, Singcircle and CoMA London Ensemble. He has conducted many concerts and operas for Trinity College of Music, including concerts with the Contemporary Music Group, and operas by Poulenc, Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson, Scott Joplin, Berthold Goldschmidt, Samuel Barber, Nino Rota and Malcolm Williamson. He is a professor of conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

Full biography

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

I was born and educated in the United States in the middle of the last century. My father was an excellent pianist and a college professor of music and humanities. He taught in a number of small colleges and universities when I was growing up so we lived in numerous towns and cities covering a 3000 mile circuit around America: New York, Michigan, Idaho, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Florida. My mother was a modest amateur pianist who loved playing hymns and sat patiently with me in my early years of practicing the piano.

As children my younger brother, sister and I were encouraged to be creative, play instruments, sports, try new things, experiment, take chances and not be afraid to fail. My father was also a talented arranger and did a number of works for choirs, small ensembles, and marching bands. His enthusiasm for everything else Life had to offer had a profound influence on me not only as a musician but as someone who continues to enjoy an active life, playing sports, travel and adventure.

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

Probably the biggest single factor in becoming a musician and composer was a summer music camp 1957 while my father was studying for his doctorate at Florida State University (Tallahassee). Each summer the School of Music had a 6 week Summer Music Camp which attracted around 300 teenage musicians not only from Florida but the neighbouring states of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. At 14 I’d become a decent pianist and was advancing on the French horn. The FSU Music Camp was a combination of hard work during the day and wonderful evenings of concerts, dances, barbecues, and pool parties. The array of excellent large ensembles, choirs, theory and harmony lessons, conducting, and creative exercises were prelude to exciting evenings of hot, humid, hormonal socialising and mandatory cold showers. It was the perfect balance. I was excited and learned a lot.

One memorable occasion was a visit to our beginners’ conducting class by Ernst von Dohnanyi, a professor at FSU. He was a lovely old man who clearly enjoyed being around young people. We were told he was Brahms’s favourite pupil and were mightily impressed. He radiated a kind of old world mystery with his heavy Hungarian accent but also radiated a musty, old man’s whiff at close range during the lessons. His heavy accent made his musical life and friendship with Brahms all the more real and exciting. He showed us how to beat in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8 time and told us to keep our shoulders down, our heads up with eyes on the orchestra, not the score. One day, to our amusement, he gave us a treat- how to conduct 5/4- ever so exotic in 1957.

My father later studied conducting with Dohnanyi and I was allowed to sit in on some of his seminars. It’s a pity I didn’t write down some of Dohnanyi’s comments particularly about conducting Brahms. I remember his comments often ran something like: “In zu score it’s written ‘Andante’, but Johannes always liked to take ziss section a little faster, like ziss. Johannes said he’d vished he could change za tempo mark but of course it vus permanently printed… zo No, not possible.” I later studied piano, conducting and composition at Florida State University, then Ohio State University both of which gave me an excellent foundation I only grew to really appreciate later on.

A Fulbright Fellowship to Warsaw, Poland, 1972-74, behind the Iron Curtain, had a profound influence on me. I worked in the Experimental Music Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw which at that time was an amazing state-of-the-art electronic studio. Through that and the annual Warsaw Autumn Festivals I met most of the outstanding composers in that part of the Soviet Bloc at the time: Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Gorecki, Pärt, Schnittke, and many more. The Warsaw Autumn Festivals of 1972, ’73, ’74 radically changed my compositional outlook. Each festival was filled with one bone-crunching cluster piece after another and the festival lasted for a solid two weeks! I went to every concert- four a day. I was burnt toast by the end.

What saved me in my final festival (1974) was an English group called Intermodulation. Their performance of Terry Riley’s ‘Dorian Winds’ lifted me out of the clusters up into the clouds. Finally music that spoke to me, and I embraced it full frontal. It was a kind of instant white flag of surrender to the other side. My ‘Paramell’ (1974) for muted trombone and muted piano soon followed- modal and pulse driven. Later, meeting, working, and touring with John Cage completed my eclectic musical education by adding the ultimate tool to my musical toolbox- the idea of chance operations and experimentation. Ironically now is that I’ve moved back to revisit some of the earlier Polish influences in an effort to broaden further my harmonic and textural palette. So, like Henry Cowell, I want to live in the whole world of music, not just one corner.

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

The greatest challenge for any freelance person is surely earning a decent living. I’ve been freelancing in Britain and touring worldwide since 1974. Unfortunately the freelance profession has not gotten easier and, in fact, seems much harder, more competitive, and more difficult than ever. In the 1970s and 80s the BBC, Arts Council, and festivals all had much more money. My earnings from Performing Rights then were always a third to half my annual income. Over the past 40 years, in spite of more performances than ever, those PRS earnings have dwindled to irrelevance.

As a pianist I did lots of studio recordings and broadcasts for the BBC and many European stations. I had non-stop grants and commissions which seemed rather easier to come by then. Commission money now is definitely in shorter supply with far more of us chasing the dwindling sources. The challenge as a freelance composer is to earn a living using the expert skills we have all developed and dearly paid for over the years, and not to flip burgers at MacDonald’s to make ends meet. The arrival of Brexit does not look like a promising solution.

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

The challenge of a commissioned piece is usually the brief, the time frame and negotiating a proper fee. I like having a decent brief because it makes the first few decisions easy- the size of the ensemble, the duration, the context, the venue, and of course the deadline.

Where it can be a challenge is when the brief is too specific and uninspiring. My recent 40 min. orchestral score for David Bintley’s ‘The King Dances’ for the Birmingham Royal Ballet was an excellent combination of an exciting topic, a good scenario, and almost complete artistic freedom to do what I wished compositionally. The choreographer even wanted to use 10 minutes of music I’d already written for another occasion. The BRB commission was a delight, exciting, wonderfully realised by choreographer, lighting designer (Peter Mumford), and the costumes & staging artist (Katrina Lindsay). We even had generous rehearsal time for the production. The result? An extremely happy and rewarding experience. (See the BBC TV film of the making of the ballet – The King Who Invented Ballet which at c. 58:40 min has the complete performance of BRB performance of ballet, ‘The King Dances’). The downside however was the rather modest commission fee for 6 month’s hard work and not nearly enough money for copying the score and parts which had to come out of my fee.

The opposite end of the spectrum was an extremely well-paid commission for a 3 minute brass quintet. The commissioner in this case dictated a nightmare scenario: the mini piece which they stipulated was to reflect/echo the commissioning institution’s strengths in “medicine, science & technology, climate change, environmental sustainability, astrophysics, culture, human behavior, and philosophical beliefs.” A jaw-dropping brief for a 3-minute processional! The real passion-killer, however, was it had to be no harder than Grade 5 since the musical talents of their university students were modest! Now there was a true challenge (!), but all part of earning a living as a freelance composer. I managed to write the work and it worked. Fortunately no one asked me which notes were “astrophysics”, “medicine” or “climate change”.

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

I think every composer has people, ensembles and venues they like to work with, and certainly some you never wish to see again. I worked for many years in a duo with the pianist Philip Mead, a first rate musician and educator. We travelled all over Europe and North America touring programmes of new music and electronics. It was great fun and always exciting to perform together.

My work with John Lubbock and his OSJ chamber orchestra was always a complete pleasure and the source of several exciting commissions and recordings. The Smith Quartet is another ensemble that has been wonderful over the years, the results of which are two excellent recordings.

I have always had a good relationship with the BBC Symphony and working with them is always exciting and rewarding. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia with Paul Murphy was a wonderful experience because of Paul’s enthusiasm, expertise, and their brilliant realisation of ‘The King Dances’.

Venues are also vitally important. My ongoing relationship with Richard Heason, Artistic Director of St Johns, Smith Square, for example, has been absolutely exemplary in his enthusiastic production of large scale events for both my 70th and now 75th birthday concerts amongst the other collaborations.

With all these associations the enjoyment comes from the people who understand what you are trying to do and who work with you enthusiastically to help you realise just that. It is a symbiotic relationship so when we feed each other properly the results can be magical.

How would you describe your compositional language?

My music is tonally based but often makes use of the full panoply of harmonic possibilities from tonal/modal harmony/melody to bone crunching tone clusters and tone rows for dramatic effect. The musical structures are often based on the shapes of earlier centuries but modified to suit and exploit a modern format for each new commission.

How do you work?

Mornings are my best, most creative time. I get up early (05:30) and work 5 – 6 hours taking a short break every hour or so. I work on A3 landscape manuscript paper with a 2B mechanical lead pencil and a large pointed eraser. I hear the music in my head but check it on a keyboard. I have good concentration so can write under almost any conditions. I’ve never missed a deadline. Afternoons and evening are used for business work, copying music, promotion, meetings etc. I love having the evenings off going to the cinema, a concert, theatre, or out to eat.

Which works are you most proud of?

Most composers give birth to many ‘children’. A parent probably should not have favourites but with so many children, we all do! As in real Life, some kids just turn out better than others no matter how much time you put into their house-training, manners, education and grooming.

Of the nearly 200 or so ‘children’ I have, those who have turned out best are my String Quartet No. 1: in memoriam Barry Anderson & Tomasz Sikorski (with electronics), At the White Edge of Phrygia (chamber orch), Southern Lament (piano- for Stephen Kovacevich), Requiem: The Trumpets Sounded Calling Them to the Other Side (soprano, orchestra, chorus, fog horns), Varshavian Spring (chorus, orch), The King Dances (orchestra score for the ballet), A Dinner Party for John Cage (theatrical event for 12 singers in a chaotic chance determined dinner), Wilful Chants, (BBC Prom commission for the BBC Symphony Chorus, London Brass and O Duo percussion), Snakebite (chamber orch), Dark Sun – August, 1945 (large orch, chorus, radios), Haiku (piano, electronics, tape), Paramell (muted trombone and muted piano), Paramell V (2 pianos), and Christmas Triptych (sop, baritone, chorus, orchestra). I like many of the others but some still need a little more grooming and my detailed attention before I let them out to play too often. And yes, I should really try and visit them more often too.

As a musician, what is your definition of “success”?

For me success is writing a piece of music I’m proud of and having those feelings re-enforced by an enthusiastic audience response. My goal is to reach out to an audience and reel them in to a place they may never have been. Seduction is perhaps the best word. And it flies in the face of an attitude in the 1960s where it was popular to say “who cares if they listen!” as Milton Babbitt and the post Webern movement declared. For them, alas, the audience voted with their feet at the exit. I’d much prefer an audience on their feet at the end.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Pianists: Stephen Kovacevich in full flight playing solo, chamber works, concertos of core repertoire. Rubenstein and Ashkenazy playing Chopin, Marc Andre Hamelin playing anything hard, Philip Mead playing my music, and Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, and Dave Brubeck doing their thing.

Conductors: Toscanini, Solti, Bernstein, John Lubbock, Gregory Rose, Stephen Jackson, Grant Llewellyn, Paul Murphy, Sian Edwards.

Composers: Gesualdo, JS and CPE Bach, Berlioz, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Berg, Webern, Ives, Bartok, Henry Cowell, Gershwin, Varese, Cage, Nancarrow, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Hoagy Carmichael, Tomasz Sikorski, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Bob Dillon, Stephen Sondheim, John Adams, Louis Andriessen, and Helmut Lachenmann.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing the European premiere of Henry Cowell’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra on the Huddersfield Music Festival and breaking 9 strings with my forearm clusters in the opening movement.

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

The first 10,000 hours I figure gets you through the basics for stepping into this profession. The next 10,000 listening to music, analysis, and engaging with other art forms gives you insight, bench marks, and perspective. The next 10,000 consolidates the first two and takes you to a higher level but not to the top. The very top is determined by an X Factor which is the mysterious Joker card. Nobody can explain why some up there are the winners while similar, or better talents, can be the ‘also-rans’. What is sure, however, is that it always takes longer than you think to get where you want to go and the path is full of wrong turns and traps! The trajectory of your professional career is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping your eyes on the horizon but working hard on the daily detail is vital. Infernal desire and dogged tenacity as much as talent can be the key that unlocks that X Factor and deals you the Joker when it counts most.

If all you want is just a little fun in music, ignore all this. That works too, and you may lead a happier, more balanced life. Professional musicians have a rather chequered history in the ‘happy relationships’ department which makes interesting reading post-mortem but not at the time.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having a well paid commission to write something I’ve always wanted to write for instrumentalists, singers, conductor and a large ensemble of my choosing for an exciting venue that is to die for. Perform it, tour it, then record it with the ideal post concert location an exotic hideaway with the one you love overlooking a warm sea in the Caribbean or a rocky perch on the Amalfi coast.

My schedule? Work 5 hours in the morning, lunch al fresco, a couple sets of tennis, afternoon drinks into the sunset, a candle lit dinner for two, something visually and musically stimulating in the evening, and a late-night cocktail on a moonlit sea followed by an erotic poem in bed.

What is your most treasured possession?

My memory.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Try to imagine.

What is your present state of mind?

The ancient Arabic saying: “Live for this day, for tomorrow is only a dream, and yesterday, only a memory.”

Stephen Montague celebrates his 75th birthday with a weekend of special concerts at St John’s Smith Square, London, including several premieres. Further information here

Stephen Montague was born Syracuse, New York, 1943 and studied at Florida State and Ohio State Universities followed by two years in Warsaw, Poland as a Fulbright Scholar (1972-74). Since 1974 he has been based in London where he works as a freelance composer, pianist, and conductor but tours world-wide.
Major commissions include London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Proms, London’s Southbank and Barbican Centres, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Warsaw Autumn Festival, Paris, Singapore, and Hong Kong festivals. Conducting work has included the London Sinfonietta, City of London Sinfonia, Danish Chamber Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony and many others.




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

I definitely feel as if I came to composing music quite late in my music education. I was no wunderkind. In coming to composition at the age of seventeen, I felt that I had to catch-up with my peers: a feeling that I now understand as being totally irrational, but the weight of all that music that have come before used to make me want to walk away from the manuscript. Saying this, over the past few years, I continue to come across interviews by other composers who have said the same thing. Being a masochistic sort of bunch, I suppose we constantly – and often unconstructively – compare ourselves to what has come before. Mozart, Britten; or, more recently, Adès.

Nobody ever told me that composing music would make a good career choice. I remember seeing a concert of exclusively new music when I was 15 years-old at the then recently opened BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff. Years later I realised that it was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ New Music:Wales project in which composers from around Wales would have their orchestral works showcased, a project I ended up being part of myself. I remember sitting in the audience and thinking, “how can they get away with this?” A whole concert of NEW music. Being brought up, in hindsight, in quite a stoic and conformist area, the thought of having a concert of Beethoven and Mozart would have been very artisan, learned or even incredibly uncool. Let alone a whole concert of new orchestral music for the concert hall. It was alien to me. Alien, but the contrarian in me thought it was incredible.

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

Perhaps a cliché, but teachers have always had the most significant impact on me. The meetings that we have, often stumbled upon rather than planned in advance, are the driving force for me. It’s what gets me up in the morning.

I remember meeting my first composition tutor, Robert (Rob) Fokkens, at Cardiff University. It was like being knocked over by a bus. The wind got knocked out of you. That lightbulb moment. He had opened up a new world for me. Endless listening of composers I had not heard until then. Debussy, Crumb, Ligeti, Berio, Boulez and Volans. He provided me with the tools, made sure that I knew how to apply the cement, and then guided me through the construction of the wall. We built quite an open and honest means of communication. What worked in my music; what did not (this being the majority of cases); what to trim; what to build upon and how – I constantly questioned how I came to these decisions.

Ironically the other person to have had such an impact on me not only as composer but how I go about everyday life as a composer was Rob’s former teacher, Michael Finnissy. I met Michael only in 2014 and we have built such a special relationship since then. When talking about one of my works [hafan for orchestra; later selected for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ New Music:Wales Project], he remarked that it was “like a classy drag act and it’s screaming for the gaudy feather boa to be taken off”. Bizarrely, I knew exactly what he meant. I was going through one of those difficult hiatuses in my music. I no longer liked the music that I was writing. The honesty and frankness that our conversations were from that moment was refreshing for me. Where Rob and I would discuss how, Michael and I would discuss why. Michael and I now perform one another’s work, giving premieres and collaborating on projects. That’s what it;s all about. In turn, how Rob and Michael treated me as a young composer is the measure of how I teach students now.

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

I have already mentioned this, so won’t labour the point: playing catch-up. I remember leaving school and being so intimidated by all the ‘big, scary professional musicians’ out there who were infinitely better that I would ever hope to be. With hindsight, this is bullshit. We all have our own demons and personal agendas, and as the old adage goes, “we’re our own worst enemy”. It took me a while to shift these insecurities and the unhelpful comparisons I was pulling between myself and others who had twenty years on me. They naturally still often find itself rearing its ugly head, but I think you learn to deal with this as you get older. Perhaps because there are unfortunately bigger or more pressing things to worry about, like paying the bills? Even with much of what I do is centred on the making of music, the boring stuff always manages to creep into the periphery.

One other thing that I have reconciled myself to is the fact that having our own agenda (albeit sometimes masochistic or unrealistic) can be far healthier for us than to comply with the agendas that other people have for you. The sooner you nip the latter in the bud, the better. Be the best person you can be.

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

I actually take great pleasure in working to a brief or having a set of limitations to work with, which I have often found in the commission work I have had. I know many composers who love the freedom to let their ‘artistic juices flow’, but at the moment I could not think of anything worse. It must be all that ‘teenage’ angst (or the hangover of) still built up inside of me, but if I were left to my own devices it would be riotous. Saying this, perhaps I should let go? I could be writing very different music.

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

The collaborative aspect of it all. It seems pretty obvious, but I think composers don’t really grasp that when they start working with ensembles regularly for the first time. I certainly didn’t. Whether it’s the initial nerves of hearing your music performed live for the first time, or you are yet to discover that the way your parts are laid out is a minefield for a musician, you have to go through the rough to understand just how smooth the process can be. Having luckily worked with several ensembles on a frequent basis, now, you start to discover effective methods of communication or simply what makes them tick, with the aim of creating the best music possible. As a composer (even more so than a conductor) I see myself as a facilitator. I create the framework (the notes on the page) in which people can step into (the performer/listener). If the margins that I have created are correct or the best fit possible, then hopefully the outcome will be mutually beneficial and people begin to get on-board with what the music is trying to say.

It is the convivial nature of music which excites me. People coming together for one common cause: to create music. Full stop.

Of which works are you most proud?

Again, being your own-worst-enemy and all-that-jazz, I am only as good as my most recent piece. I take what I enjoyed or disliked from my most recent work and apply it to the next. Either as a compliment to the one gone before, or as a rebuttal.

I had the opportunity to write a work for CHROMA ensemble in 2015 and that was a real turning point for me. I feel I had hit upon something with blind bells, cry out. There is a certain economy in the treatment of musical gesture that created a sincerity and desired austerity. When they were playing it through for the first time, I turned to the person next to me (composer Helen Grime) and said “I’ll keep that!” It is now one of the only works of mine that I turn to now-and-again when I start to recalibrate or review my latest work. How did I achieve that, and can I recapture that moment? I don’t think I ever can. The music is so wrapped up in that work and the input the ensemble had in its creation.

I genuinely like the work that I am doing at the moment as I feel it actually has something to say. What I mean by that is that for the first time I am quite comfortable for this music to stand there naked without me having to dress it up in anyway or justify it (Finnissy’s words linger on subconsciously). I currently have a large-scale project entitled ‘national anthems’. It’s the first project that I devised myself and can feel proud of. I see these new works as my postcards for the world around us. More like anthems on a state of a nation, rather than something as literal as a set of verse-chorus anthems. The first was for six pianos (performed by New York-based, Grand Band, as part of the 2017 Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music); the second for solo clarinet (for Manchester-based, Chris Gibbons; a set for piano quintet and flexible ensemble (premiered by Mary Dullea, Tippett Quartet and musicians from Royal Holloway University of London at Kings Place in June 2017; and with projects lined up with Michael Finnissy and Carla Rees next year as part of it plus an anti-fanfare (for Magnus Lindberg, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Foyles Future First Players). Watch this space, I suppose.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is a difficult one, as I am still trying to establish that myself. I am fascinated with expressing myself in the clearest and most minutia way possible. I enjoy layering small cells of musical material on top of one another and often relish when these cells react with one another, sometimes creating a blanket of dense texture or of organic richness.

Friends and colleagues have said that my work is ‘minimalist’ or ‘post-minimalist’, but I am quite apprehensive with regards to labelling music. Particularly in an age where labels (not exclusively related to music but society as a whole) can be so divisive and misleading. I understand our need to compartmentalise things but I find that the fabric of my musical aesthetic is made out of all sorts of different things. Charlie Parker. Beethoven. Julius Eastman. Ligeti. Aphex Twin. Stockhausen. Meredith Monk. Victoriana. Hildegard of Bingen. Bronski Beat. My mind runs dry now, but these interests constantly change. Ironic considering many of the composers considered ‘minimalist’ categorically show disdain of this term. I am less militant in my disregard, but rarely think of myself as such.

How do you work?

As of often as I can.

I have found over the past few years, meeting all sorts of composers, of all ages, at residencies, concerts, universities, or at the bar, that the act of composing is painfully individual. Almost sacrosanct.

I use all the tools available to us today. Sometimes different variations of resources for each project. Despite being a person of routine in the everyday, there tends not to be a routine when it comes to the act of composing. Sometimes I map out the entire piece on paper, often I write out a substantial percentage of the work on manuscript before typesetting and occasionally (becoming more frequent, however unapologetically) I go straight to the computer. It’s personal to each project for me and often simply comes down to the timescale for the project.

There is a part of me that is mystified when composers living today say that they have a strict daily routine for composing music. The sort of building-block, compartmentalised, forever unpredictable career that I am shaping unfortunately doesn’t allow for this. There is no way I could carve out this sacrosanct slot every day solely for composing. I often find myself working in very intense short periods. Living with the work for weeks or months on end. Walking away from it. Allow it to rest a little. And then return to the old friend (or enemy, dependent on how the process is going). This seems to work well for me.

The one consistency that I do have however, one that I have found unmoveable, is that I need at least 25% (crassly charted) of the overall time spent on a project just living with the concept. Not writing a note. Just thinking. This always at the beginning of a project. I need to live with it for some time. Perhaps I have trust issues and I find it difficult letting this new thing into my life. Mentally rationalising it. Either way you want to think of it, this has proven an important part of the process for me.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are so many.

There are musicians and composers that I continually return to (Rameau; Beethoven; Cage; Andriessen; Lang) or I go through phases of listening to a whole back catalogue of a particular ensemble ad nauseam. I am currently listening to a lot of Anna Meredith’s work (Black Prince Fury, 2012; Varmints, 2016). I feel this conveyor-belt of listening and ‘Flavour of the Month’ model is quite common.

Likewise, and perhaps something I have already touched upon, my favourite musicians or composers are those that I am most recently working with. Certainly not in a superficial, kiss-ass sort of way. That sort of thing, or the people that inhibit these traits, I tend to stay clear of. I pump a lot of my energy in the here-and-now, and love investing time in the musicians I work with, getting to know them, what makes them tick. Get most from the process of making music.

There is also something to be said for the students that I work with. I get a lot from working with young people on new music. The immediacy. The idea that they (and I) are experiencing something totally new for the first time produces music that is so earnest and alive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are so many flicking through my mind. The first time I performed at the BBC Proms (in the Semi-Chorus I hasten to add, naturally not a solo spot). First concert that I curated. First concert I conducted. First premiere (one of the first was a real triumph as an elderly lady made a dramatic and affirmed exit during the opening 2-miniutes of a work of mine. Rather proud of that one).

However, the one that really sticks in my mind was the first classical concert I had been to. Thierry Fischer. BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Beethoven’s Fifth. I had an insanely supportive secondary school teacher. Carting me to concerts, open days and vocal workshops all across the country. As I had shown an interest in music during our classes (I must have been either 12 or 13), she had offered to take a few of us keen-beans to this concert in Cardiff. To open our eyes (and ears). And that was that. I knew instantly that I wanted to be part of something. To make music. I was unsure what that might have been at that stage, but I knew I wanted to be part of it.

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

I feel a little wary of imparting any such wisdom to aspiring musicians as I still feel like I am still finding my way through a dark room.

There are a few things that I usually find myself saying to students though.

Ask yourself why? Repeatedly. Why are you doing this? For composers, what makes this 5-minute work better than 5-minutes of silence? What are you trying to say? The more you venture deeper into the music world, you begin to realise just how small it can be. However, this is not always the case. We lose ourselves in our work and sometimes feel that this short new piece for violin and piano will simply get lost in the ether and sometimes we don’t ask what difference it can make to you as an individual or others. Embrace the product of your craft and appreciate what it may mean to you and others. Otherwise, what is the point?

In the same breath, take your work as a seriously as it deserves but the moment that you take yourself too seriously, the worse off you are. Music is a wondrous, marvellous, all-embracing thing, but we are not cardiothoracic surgeons. Thus endeth the lesson!

What is your present state of mind?

Having taken part in this interview/project and having had the opportunity to reminisce on all parts of my life, I feel lucky to be able to do what I love.

I am also wondering whether I should have another coffee?


Nathan James Dearden (b. 1992) is a composer and conductor, whose music is regularly performed across the UK and overseas by a variety of different instrumentalists and ensembles, from both community ensembles to internationally renowned musicians.

Nathan’s music has been commissioned, performed, featured and workshopped by a variety of established performers and ensembles including London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Tippett QuartetGenesis Sixteen, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, National Youth Orchestra of Wales, The Heath Quartet, Grand Band, the Fidelio Trio, CHROMA ensemble and The Dunedin Consort. His music regularly features in concerts across the UK and overseas, including at the Cheltenham Music Festival, Dartington International Summer School and Festival, International Young Composers’ Meeting and Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music. Nathan was an inaugural Young Composer-in-Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and Music Creator for Sinfonia Newydd in 2013. 

Recent notable performances include i sleep alone at Nagoya University/Japan (Jeremy Huw Williams; Paula Fan), anti-fanfare at St. John’s Smith Square/London (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Foyles Future First Players; Magnus Lindberg), two national anthems: it’s not working at Kings Place/London (Tippett Quartet, Mary Dullea, students of Royal Holloway University of London) and the bright morning star, commissioned as part of the Choir & Organ New Music Series (Choir of Royal Holloway; Rupert Gough).

Upcoming projects for 2018 include a new choral work for Cantemus Chamber Choir and Huw Williams, a multimedia collaboration with Carla Rees and rarescale, and a song-cycle collaboration with composer and pianist, Michael Finnissy.

Nathan has recently been awarded an Early Career Public Engagement Grant from the Institute of Musical Research in support of Spotlight Series: Finnissy at 70 and was selected as a London Philharmonic Orchestra Leverhulme Arts Scholar for their 2016/2017 season. In May 2017, it was announced that Nathan will be the inaugural recipient of the Paul Mealor Award for Outstanding Young Composers by the Welsh Music Guild.

Based in South East England, Nathan is currently Performance Manager, Visiting Tutor in Music Composition, Conductor of the New Voices Consort and New Music Collective and Postgraduate Research Scholar (MPhil./PhD) at Royal Holloway, University of London. Supervised by Mark BowdenHelen Grime and Julian Johnson, Nathan’s research interests include parody in music, and music as a form of social commentary. 

Nathan holds a Bachelor of Music (with Honours) from Cardiff University, where he was awarded the David Lloyd Music Prize for excellence in vocal studies and choral work (2012) and the Elizabeth Griffiths Award for his outstanding contribution to the musical life at Cardiff University School of Music (2013). He later graduated from Cardiff University as a Master of Music (with Distinction) in Music Composition with Robert Fokkens, Louis Johnson and Arlene Sierra, where his studies were kindly supported by Cardiff University, the James Pantyfedwen Foundation and the RVW Trust



(Photograph Marije van den Berg)

Photography | Marije van den Berg

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

The joy of discovering new things in music inspired me. I was self-taught, and I just found the notion of making music such a thrilling adventure.

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

I think a composer draws inspiration from all of the events in their lives. But looking back, I’m pretty sure some of the music I listened to when I was young provided some serious influence…the Beatles in particular. My flute teacher, Judith Bentley was also a huge influence. And then there are all of my colleagues…they continue to inspire me every day.

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

Starting out in my undergrad not knowing much of anything about classical music was an incredible challenge. For a long time I felt that I was climbing a huge mountain of knowledge, trying to pick up as many “pebbles” as I could manage to carry. But every step made me smarter and stronger. Along the way, I realized that one spends an entire lifetime learning.

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

Every piece is a challenge. To create something from nothing is a big thing. Sometimes I’m learning about a particular instrument’s needs (I just finished a tuba concerto…so I studied a lot of the repertoire and talked with various players to get a sense of what would be ideal in the piece). Other times, I’m trying to craft something that works for the performer(s). Then there is the challenge of getting notes on a page, which I hope the performer and listener will find interesting.

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

I don’t think it’s possible to make a generalization about this (I’m so lucky to be able to work with such a huge assortment of performers)…each piece is different and the challenges and pleasures change daily and yearly.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t know if it’s possible to be proud of one particular work. They all reflect so many things for me. But the one that feels very personal is “Blue Cathedral” … it seems to affect so many people. I’m sometimes surprised at how many instrumentalists and composers tell me this is the first piece of contemporary music that they encountered when they were younger. Even more surprising is how many people have performed it more than once. That’s one of the things that makes it special.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I let other people decide that for themselves.

How do you work?

I try to work every day, composing 4-6 hours a day: consistently, persistently, and conscientiously.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Impossible to name as there are literally thousands!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’m lucky to have had many incredible and memorable experiences. One of the most life changing was the Philadelphia Orchestra premiere of my “Concerto for Orchestra” which took place at the League of American Orchestras’ Conference. My life changed over night after that performance. Suddenly I was known, and commissions started coming in.

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

Make sure you love what you’re doing, as you’ll spend so much of your waking time doing it. Work hard and do it to the best of your ability. Share the joy with as many other people as you can.

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

Composing in my studio

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Composing in my studio


Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. Higdon started late in music, teaching herself to play flute at the age of 15 and beginning formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite this late beginning, she has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music and makes her living from commissions. These commissions represent a range of genres, including orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and wind ensemble.

Higdon holds a Ph.D. and a M.A. in Music Composition from the University of Pennsylvania, a B.M. in Flute Performance from Bowling Green State University, and an Artist Diploma in Music Composition from The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Hailed by the Washington Post as “a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit,” her works have been performed throughout the world, and are enjoyed by audiences at several hundred performances a year and on over sixty CDs. Higdon’s orchestral work, blue cathedral, is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral compositions by a living American with more than 600 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000.

Her list of commissioners and performing organizations is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Baltimore Symphony, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luzern Sinfonieorchester, The Hague Philharmonic, The Melbourne Symphony, The New Zealand Symphony, The Pittsburgh Symphony, The Indianapolis Symphony, The Dallas Symphony, as well as such groups as the Tokyo String Quartet, eighth blackbird, and the President’s Own Marine Band. Higdon has worked with musicians that include Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Hilary Hahn, and Yuja Wang.

Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January, 2010. Higdon also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing Higdon’s work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.”

Among her national honors, Higdon has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters (two awards), the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP. She was also honored by the Delaware Symphony with the A.I. DuPont Award for her contributions to the symphonic literature. Most recently, she was awarded the Distinguished Arts Award by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.

Higdon has been a featured composer at many festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood, Vail, Norfolk, Grand Teton, and Cabrillo. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with several orchestras across the country including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Wheeling Symphony and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Higdon was also honored to serve as one of the Creative Directors of the Boundless Series for the Cincinnati Symphony.

One of Higdon’s most current project was an opera based on the best-selling novel, Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. It was co-commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera in collaboration with North Carolina Opera. All performances in Santa Fe were sold out and Higdon’s opera became the third-highest grossing opera in the company’s history at Opera Philadelphia. Higdon recently won the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere.

Dr. Higdon currently holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at The Curtis Institute of Music, where she has inspired a generation of young composers and musicians. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press.

For more information: www.jenniferhigdon.com

573033393031_01Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My answer to this seems to change every time I answer it. My granddad was a massive influence on me musically. I come from a working class family. My granddad played jazz, and was mostly self-taught, but phenomenally gifted. He had an unbelievable ear. He regretted not being able to make more of his own talent, due to poverty and being drafted for WWII. So he was very encouraging of me in the early years, and remained so through my life. We sort of did our best to work things out together, by reading and listening together. But at the age of eight, I was dragged to Texas by a deranged father who had a fantasy of being a cowboy in the Wild West. He was an unemployed alcoholic almost the whole five years we were there, living his fantasy at the expense of his wife and kids. Apart from what we got at school, I was mostly self-taught until the age of 16. I taught myself the piano until that age.

Whilst in Texas I discovered classical music and Beethoven in particular. We had this percussion teacher at School who did these arrangements of classical music for the percussion group. It was very inspiring what he was doing, getting kids into listening to classical music that way. We played the arrangements, which would inspire us to go and listen to the originals – which many of us did. He sort of fostered this group of dedicated students around him, such that we would spend all our free periods hanging out in the music block. I heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and then I heard Beethoven and it was like – BAM!!! I’d previously been listening to the Beastie Boys and Iron Maiden. But when I heard Beethoven, all of that seemed so boring in comparison. So from then on, I just hoovered up classical music by looking for LPs in junk shops (there was nothing like BBC Radio 3 in Texas!). This music seemed all the more powerful at the time as my life was otherwise was so absolutely awful: I was being abused at home, bullied at School, we were living on food stamps and I thought nothing would save me. Then I heard Beethoven, and that was it! It seemed to contain the whole universe in it, and to speak to humanity at both its finest and most desperate. I get annoyed when I hear idiots these days saying classical music is elitist, and is only for the rich. That’s rubbish. I was a poor kid, in the most desperate of situations. And not only was that music speaking to me, it as the only thing speaking to me. Not only did it speak to me, it saved me. It saved my life…no two ways about it. From that moment on I discovered and that music had enormous potential to transform people in a way nothing else could, and decided that I would become a composer. Looking back that seems ludicrous: I had no access to proper musical education, and I was in the middle of a cultural void. But that didn’t matter. I decided that’s what I was going to do, so I did it. Moreover, I realized that if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it basically all on my own. And I think that was a good lesson because, to be a real composer, that’s basically what you do have to do anyway. Education can help you, but in the end you have to have something to say and be determined to see it through. I remember consciously thinking, ‘Right, I don’t have the access to the tuition those other kids have. So to be anywhere near as good as them, I’ll have to work twice as hard. But I want this to be my life…so I’ll work four times as hard as they do.’ And I did: I practised the piano at least seven hours a day, even on school days, by getting up very early. On weekends I practised the whole day. That in itself was hard, because the piano was from a charity shop that we got for free. Most of the strings were broken, so I would learn the fingering at home, and then take the music to school to play it on pianos with strings at lunchtime and break time. It sounds weird, but I think that did me good as it helped me to develop both an ear and an imagination. It helped me to hold pieces in my head, and to imagine what they might sound like rather than to hear what they did sound like. I may not have developed the composer’s imagination without that. I don’t know.

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

As I say above, my granddad, and my high school percussion teacher in Texas. The next piece of good fortune was ending up at the University of Exeter, and meeting the composer Philip Grange, who became my main teacher. I got in to university on a fluke, largely thanks to him seeing something in me in interview. I totally screwed up my A-levels. We were back in the UK then, and I did my A-levels whilst living in B&B emergency accommodation as registered homeless. I took my compositions to Phil in an interview, and he just saw what I was trying to do, so I got a silly low offer…so I just scraped in! Phil went on to become a life-long mentor and friend. He saw something in me, and was very inspiring, giving hours of his time. He also introduced me to Peter Maxwell Davies, who in turn became an advocate. At the same time at Exeter, there was the pianist James Clapperton and the musicologist Ken Gloag (both postgrads there). They similarly took me under their wings, and provided this combination of raw talent (James) and fierce intellect (Ken) such that they were the sort of musical Yin and Yang that shaped my approach. I think it also helped that they were both working class communists, and felt a need to protect me from all the Exeter posh kids. But that’s not fair on my fellow students: there was an inspiring crowd of undergrads around me there too: People like John Fosbrook, and James Mustard and Ellie Lane. Ken sadly passed away earlier this year. I miss Ken.

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

I have mostly found music inspiring and wonderful, rather than challenging or frustrating. The challenges and frustrations come with the stuff, and people, around music. I find the politics around classical music especially frustrating and, well ignorant, at present. But music is bigger and better than all that nonsense. I don’t really think of composition as a career: it’s a life choice: a decision to be part of something transcendent. If you want a career, become a banker or sell insurance. If you set out as a composer and expect it to be a career, you will be frustrated at every turn. If you think of it instead as being a process of having music in your head, a vision of what music can be, and writing it down and sharing that with people, it will work out better. There is nothing I abide more than ‘the professional composer’ – the sort of composer that swans around posing, more in love with the idea of *being* a composer than with actually composing. There is also the composer that is more interested in being talked about than listened to…but don’t get me on to that! Just watch Tony Hancock’s The Rebel if you want to get an idea of what I am talking about.

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

I don’t really care whether a piece is commissioned or not. I write what is in my head, irrespective of that. When I was younger, I used to think the worst thing you could do was miss a deadline. So I found that challenging. For me pieces need to grow for a long time inside me to be what I want them to be. I can see the reasoning in that way of thinking (not missing a deadline): no one wants to let people down. But as I have gotten older I realize there is something far worse than letting people down: letting music down (which ultimately amounts to a far worse form of letting people down). Music deserves the very best we can give it, no matter what. And if you compromise a piece by rushing to meet a deadline, no one remembers that you met the deadline or not, or at least they don’t remember that for very long. They do remember if you wrote a good piece or a crap one. And they remember that for a very long time. I only agree deadlines very far in the future. I write slowly; and I don’t take on many commissions.

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

I like to work with people that I like – as people and as musicians. Finding a performer that you really really click with is a real joy, and once I find those people, I tend to want to work with them again and again, because in working with them I feel that I learn more about music itself and about life and humanity. I don’t understand this obsession with ‘the professional composers’ of being commissioned by every ensemble under the sun. What’s that about? Being a composer is not so different than being in a band. It can take years to find the right drummer, the right guitarist or whatever. Once you’ve found the right drummer, why would you keep changing for the sake of it? Robert Plant was interviewed in 1975 and was asked if he would ever consider leaving Led Zeppelin and go solo. His response was total incomprehension, ‘But if I did that, who else would I have for a drummer, or a guitarist or a bassist than these guys? No, that just wouldn’t feel right.’ Unfortunately Bonham died in 1980, and then Plant went solo because as far as he was concerned that was the end of Led Zeppelin. Okay, I am not in a rock band, so I don’t need to stick to just three collaborators! But if I work with someone, it is always with a view to forming a long-term relationship that allows us both to learn and grow. I’ve had some wonderful collaborators: the Quatuor Danel (for whom I’ve written three quartets), The Lawson Trio, Richard Casey, Ignacio Lara Romero, the BBC Philharmonic… Mostly, I see working with someone as just forming an intimate human relationship. And I have never been into one-night stands!

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Starlight Squid’ was written in 1998. It’s had dozens of performances. I could lament that I only have one hit. But I’m completely glass half full on that one. I just think, ‘at least I have one hit!’ I like that piece very much as it is so fun. I suppose my Third Quartet is the greatest artistic achievement: a single movement 50-minute work that is one single shape. That took a lot of technique to accomplish. I also like my little ‘Scordatura Squid’ violin pieces, and my piano work ‘Notturno dalle fiamme del’inferno’.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Meticulous in detail whilst dramatic in structure. Music can have it all. I aim to write music that is optimistic, positive, direct and life affirming. When I was a student in the 1990s, I went to Huddersfield year after year and just seemed to be hearing this endless stream of dark, lugubrious, grey and pessimistic pieces; whilst on the other hand there was this facile post-minimalist thing going on that seemed like a timely shot of Prozac amidst all the depressiveness. I set out to reject all that: I wanted to create music that was direct, sincere, full of energy, made clear statements, and was not afraid to say what it wants to say – what I want to say.

How do you work?

In my head…almost entirely in my head. I used to make loads of sketches. With experience, and as my ear has improved, I have learnt to do most of that sketching in my head now. It had to happen as I was getting confused by all the paper, and losing stuff and getting all mixed up. It takes more time this way (in my head), but I think only because I am more thorough as a result. The advantage is the music is with me all the time, and I can work on it all the time – which is handy in boring meetings. I write everything down at the end in pencil sketch, and then go from there to Finale. I never ever do creative work at a computer, and discourage any student from doing that.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Beethoven, Bach, Led Zeppelin, Ligeti and Bill Evans. There are hundreds of others, of course. But those are the ones I keep coming back to. My favourite songs are Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Dancing Queen – again, the optimism!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That’s easy! James Clapperton playing the complete piano works of Xenakis in Exeter in 1992. It was such a powerful experience because it was so completely out-of-place and, well, just plain weird that it was happening there of all places. There we were, in the middle of nowhere, in a music department that was basically a cupboard, and James just played this concert of the most hard-edged music you’d ever heard in your life. I have *never* heard anything like it. Remember, at that time Xenakis was not the cannoized figure he is now. In those days, it was still completely shocking music. I didn’t know or understand what the hell I was hearing. I couldn’t decide whether it was rubbish or genius or what, but I loved the way it challenged me and made me think. And of course, James’s playing was at its absolute peak and the most exciting thing you could hear anywhere in the world.

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

Integrity is crucial. You must have core values and hold on to those no matter what. You also must be prepared to work extremely hard – good enough is not good enough – and realize that it is mostly down to you. You can have composition lessons. You can have excellent composition lessons. But in the end, all the work must be done by you. The world owes you nothing. No matter how talented you are, the world owes your talent nothing. That was the lesson I learnt from having nothing to start with. Having nothing to start with isn’t much of a hindrance really; as, if you want to be an artist, everything is down to you anyway. If you are a composer, you are not competing against the other composers in your class, your age or whatever. The competition is Bach. It’s Beethoven. It’s Stravinsky. That’s the standard, and music demands that you offer the best you can. I say ‘competition’, but ‘competition’ is the wrong word. It’s not competition. It’s more like these guys are your colleagues, and you owe it to them, and all the hard work they have put in to getting music to where it was when you came to it, to try to give it the best you can in return.However good a teacher you have, chances are you won’t find the equivalent of a Bach to teach you. And even if you did, he’s not going to download his genius into your brain. Someone can give you a kick start, but then you have to do everything else…which is most of it.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess my piano. I dreamt of having a grand piano as a kid, but couldn’t afford one. Being able to buy my Bluthner was a life-long dream come true.


Camden Reeves is a composer of contemporary classical music based in Manchester, England. Meticulous in detail whilst dramatic in structure, Reeves’ output encompasses many genres, ranging from large orchestral scores to chamber, vocal and solo instrumental works. In recent years he has been particularly associated with the piano through a series of solo works (pub. Edition Peters) and the colossal Piano Concerto of 2009.

Reeves is Lecturer in Composition at the University of Manchester, where he has taught since 2002.






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of which works are you most proud?

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Searching, questioning.

How do you work?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

Composing and performing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

What is your most treasured possession?

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





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

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

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

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

 (photo: ©Anna Agliardi)