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.

www.camdenreeves.com

 

 

 

simon-vincent-c2a9-anna-agliardi-2015
]

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)

warwick-blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of which works are you most proud?

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

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

How do you work?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Dead Can Dance 1988 at Sadler’s Wells.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

warwickblair.com

JamesHeather_ModulationsLandscape_byFabriceBourgelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of which works are you most proud?

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

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

How do you work?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

What is your most treasured possession?

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

 

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

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

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

Further information 

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

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

My mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy, so clearly I had a role model. As a child I was more inclined towards writing plays but gradually composing music took over. No-one pushed me towards a career in music, it chose itself, really.

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

Four composers: My mother, my husband David Lumsdaine, my first composition teacher, Jeremy Dale Roberts, and my last, Earl Kim.

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

Composition is always a challenge, and one that I welcome. Fashion is a frustration! For example, throughout the seventies and eighties almost everything I wrote was broadcast on Radio 3. Then for the next twenty years very little was broadcast. Now things seem better, as I shall be BBC Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’ (April 24-28 2017).

And ‘location’ as well as fashion perhaps, since I moved from London to York in 1994, and UK musical life is very London-centric. (But I love living in York.)

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

It is a pleasure and a stimulus to know the context of a piece – what kind of programme it is part of, who the audience are likely to be and above all, who the performers are. Occasionally it can be a challenge to keep composerly independence while meeting very specific demands of the commission.

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

A good working relationship with a performer is the greatest pleasure. And every medium offers its own pleasure – writing for orchestra is marvellous. Yet the challenge also lies in the medium. For example, composing an orchestral work might take a year, but there will only be two or three hours of rehearsal and maybe only one performance. An opera (also at least a year to write) will have two or three weeks of rehearsal and several performances or a run. A much more satisfactory ratio.

Of which works are you most proud?

‘The Old Woman of Beare’, a monodrama for soprano and large chamber ensemble, is perhaps my best piece. But I would also single out a couple of the chamber operas – ‘Light Passing’, a church opera set in Avignon in the 14th century, and ‘Dream Hunter’ which has a great libretto by John Fuller about the Corsican mazzeera.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Lyrical, dramatic. Harmony and voice-leading create and underpin the structure.

How do you work?

I work every morning (no email till after lunch!); I sketch with pencil and paper, then I use Finale to make the fair score. Sometimes I work at the piano and sometimes at a desk, it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

The best days are ones where I work right through but all too often life intervenes and I only get the morning.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I don’t deal with favourites really…Mozart, Janacek? Of my musical friendships, the New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead is a close friend whose music I admire very much.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The first rehearsal of my first big orchestral piece, ‘The Hidden Landscape’ for the BBCSO at the 1973 Proms.

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

Cultivate your inner ear! Then for the outer ear, know how to value silence and be active in combatting noise pollution,

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

In an opera house watching one of my operas.

What is your most treasured possession?

As a child, my cat. Now that I have no cat, and since I am writing this on March 29th when the Prime Minister took UK out of Europe, I’d say my EU (Irish) passport is my most treasured possession.

To mark Nicola LeFanu’s 70th birthday (28 April 2017), Radio 3 will feature her as ‘Composer of the Week’ from 24-28 April.  Upcoming performances of LeFanu’s music include a birthday concert on 10 May in York with the Goldfield Ensemble, the world premiere of LeFanu’s May Rain in Oxford with the Orchestra of St John’s  on 16 May and the world premiere of The Swan with Jeremy Huw Williams at the Beaumaris Festival on 30 May.  

Nicola LeFanu has composed over a hundred works which have been widely played, broadcast and recorded; her music is published by Novello and by Edition Peters.

She has been commissioned by the BBC, by festivals in UK and beyond, and by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists.

Her catalogue includes a number of works for string ensemble, and chamber music for a wide variety of mediums, often including voice. She has a particular affinity for vocal music and has composed eight operas.

She is active in many aspects of the musical profession, as composer, teacher, director etc. From 1994-2008 she was Professor of Music at the University of York. Recent premieres include works for chamber ensemble, for solo instrumentalists, Tokaido Road – a Journey after Hiroshige (music theatre) and Threnody for orchestra.

She was born in England in 1947: her mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy. LeFanu studied at Oxford, RCM and, as a Harkness Fellow, at Harvard. She is married to the Australian composer David Lumsdaine and they have a son, Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine.

www.nicolalefanu.com