Tag Archives: interviews with composers

Meet the Artist……Richard Barnard, composer

richardbarnardhvrehside

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

Probably many things. I remember sitting at home at the piano, playing (I use the term loosely) Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, trying to work out how the hell he did it. Also my parents, teachers at sixth form and university: Martin Read, Michael Zev Gordon, Vic Hoyland and then Diana Burrell at GSMD.

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

Unfavourably comparing myself to other composers and artists. It’s so easy to descend into a Facebook-style Scroll of Shame where every successful and sparkly new thing makes you panic and think ‘I should be doing that!’ It is challenging to learn how to be influenced by other people’s ideas and techniques without feeling you have to follow their path.

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

First of all, commissions are fantastic. Everyone should commission composers AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! Pieces often take ages to write and there won’t be much decent new music that defines and enriches our time and culture if people don’t commission it.

It is also incredibly motivating to have that deadline and the vision of a future audience at the first performance anticipating your new work.

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

I write for a variety of people and situations, from professional singers and ensembles to school or community groups who have to learn things quickly and have fun doing so. Learning what works in what context is a tough skill. It takes a long time to master. I love writing for voice and I’ve been working a lot with solo singers recently. It’s great to have their voice in your head as you write and to think about the shape of the text, the breathing, the pacing and the drama of it.

Of which works are you most proud? My two recently commissioned song cycles, ‘Woolf Letters’ and ‘Early Stroll Songs’, which set Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister and Ian McMillan’s Early Stroll tweets. I’m also very proud to have produced three performances of my opera ‘The Hidden Valley’ at St George’s Bristol this year, working with an incredible team of artists – I did, however, need a very long lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I like to think it’s an English sound, rooted in nature, often starting from melody and the voice.

How do you work?

I work best early. I have a lot of ideas doing other activities (gardening, showering etc.) as it gives space and time for the brain to process ideas. When I was writing ‘Early Stroll Songs’ I got into a routine of starting composing first thing (6.30-ish) for a few hours: At the keyboard, with pencil, Manuscript paper, black tea. I could usually complete 1 short song each day or two. My wife often acts as an editor, offering a second pair of ears to help me hear the music from an audience’s perspective. Later in the day, if not teaching, I would do computer / admin-type work: Typesetting, emails, checking twitter too much, grappling with a labyrinthine funding application etc.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Starting out, my heroes were Bach, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Britten and Steve Reich, but I’ve recently been more drawn to the vocal music of Purcell and Handel, Mozart’s Symphonies, Schubert’s song cycles and the music of David Lang and Laurence Crane. I’m always interested in opera composers and I enjoyed Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds at ENO and Fairy Queen at Iford recently.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 or 17, I went to a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Southampton. We sat right at the back. After the concert, walking out into the car park, I couldn’t speak. It was such a visceral experience.

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

Listen to and interrogate lots of good music. Like what you write. Befriend performers. Don’t follow advice too much.

Richard Barnard is a composer based in Bristol. He studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and University of Birmingham. He has written operas, song cycles and choral works for Welsh National Opera, Opera North, BBC Singers, Bristol Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble, Siân Cameron and others. He has composed music for dance and theatre, and his chamber pieces have been performed internationally by groups including Delta Saxophone Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble and Kungsbacka Trio.

Richard curated the acclaimed new music series Elektrostatic at Bristol’s Colston Hall and Arnolfini for five years. He has taught orchestration and composition at University of Bristol and is one of the UK’s foremost composition workshop leaders, working with WNO, CBSO, London Sinfonietta, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Philharmonia Orchestra and Eighth Blackbird.

Richard Barnard on YouTube

Twitter@richardmbarnard

richardbarnard.com

Meet the Artist……Bernard Hughes, composer

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

I started composing of my own accord at about the age of 8, without anyone particularly inspiring me or suggesting I do it. I just started writing things down on bits of manuscript paper lying around the house. I remember once making up a key signature which combined sharps and flats and showing it to my father, who said there was no such key signature. I didn’t understand why that was, or why I wasn’t allowed to make up my own key signature. As to making a career from music, that was never intended. Most people who write music stop at some point, and I just never stopped.

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

I had an influential music teacher called Gwynne Lewis when I was about 10. He didn’t especially inspire me to compose, but he communicated a love of music and the joy of being involved in music. I have had a number of excellent teachers along the way, but the inspiration above all has been Igor Stravinsky. I didn’t discover his music until the shockingly late age of 16 or 17, but once I heard the Rite of Spring I never looked back in my devotion to his music. First hearing the Symphony of Psalms was an unforgettable experience.

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

As with all composers, the challenge is to have your music heard. In this I have been pretty lucky, but every composer wants more and higher profile performances and commissions.

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

Having a particular occasion or performed in mind can really help to shape a piece. I had a commission that got more and more precise; in the end it had to be a wordless choral work based on a visual work of art by an artist I knew. And the piece turned out to be quite unusual as a result.

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

I’ve been lucky to work quite often with the BBC Singers. When you have a piece sung by them you can be confident they will get it right – working with children as I do much of the time, there is always the possibility for a collapse. But technical expertise is only half the battle; it is particularly fun to work with groups and individuals who enjoy the challenge of new music.

How would you describe your compositional language?

A question composers tend to dread. First, I would certainly say that my language is different from piece to piece, depending on the circumstances and context. Next, I would say that I am interested in using tonal materials in a non-tonal way, if tonality is interpreted narrowly as meaning music that has a sense of home key and a hierarchy of other keys, and that modulates away from and back to the home key. Under this narrow definition, Steve Reich’s music, for example, is not tonal, although it uses diatonic chords. This is a fertile ground for me (although my music sounds nothing like Reich). For example, my choral pieces often use diatonic chords, but I am rarely able to write a perfect cadence. I am also interested in the use of modes, such as the octatonic collection, or invented modes. In summary, my musical language tends to be a bit ‘safe’ for those who like hardcore modern music, and a little bit tricky for those who like straightforward ‘classical’ music.

How do you work?

I use a mixture of pen and paper and computer. I am at the tail-end of the generation trained pre-computer notation – I first got Sibelius in my 20s, when it was a new (and by today’s standards, primitive) software. I now don’t know how I ever managed without a computer. First thoughts for a piece usually come on my feet, either walking round the block or in the shower. Notes will often first come at the piano, sketched onto manuscript. I also often print out music at an intermediate stage and write onto the printout with amendments. I think it is so useful to have visible drafts – one of the downsides of a computer is that once you change a note, the original is gone. But the main use of the computer is for checking the pacing of a piece – which is, for me, the ultimate challenge. Do the events of the piece happen at the right psychological moment?

Which works are you most proud of?

It would have to be the two large-scale pieces I have written for the BBC Singers. ‘The Death of Balder’ in particular, is an original conception – a ‘radio opera’ for choir on a Norse myth – and I am happy with how it turned out, after a great deal of uncertainty while composing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

As mentioned above, I am a huge Stravinsky fan, and always will be. Of contemporary composers, I really love Judith Weir’s music (she is also an extremely kind and generous person), Magnus Lindberg, Thomas Adès, Julian Anderson and a French composer called Guillaume Connesson, who I only discovered through reviewing a CD.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was lucky enough, as a child living in Berlin in the 1980s, to be taken to hear the Berlin Philharmonic a few times. The two occasions I particularly remember were hearing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and – the first time I went – Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21. I was about 10 and both completely blew me away, just the sound of the orchestra, and I still love both pieces. I also remember, at one of those concerts, the second half being a Shostakovich symphony, which I hated; Shostakovich symphonies still don’t do it for me.

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

I think it is a responsibility of composers to listen widely, and to music that is not necessarily instantly amenable. I think too many people, young people in particular, are too narrow in their range of listening. In one sense there is no excuse for not listening widely – my excuse as a youngster was that it was difficult to access music, apart from Radio 3 and my local library’s tape collection. But the flip side is that there is so much music available now that it can be difficult to wade through it all. But it is important for composers to have open ears.

‘I Am The Song – Choral music by Bernard Hughes’ was released in April 2016 on the Signum Classics label. More information

‘The Knight Who Took All Day’ from the book by James Mayhew with music by Bernard Hughes will be performed on Sunday 29th January 2017 at Hertford Theatre, Hertford, conducted by Tom Hammond. More information

Bernard Hughes studied Music at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, graduating with a first-class degree. He subsequently studied composition at Goldsmiths College, London under Peter Dickinson, and privately with Param Vir. Bernard Hughes was awarded a PhD in Composition from Royal Holloway College, London, studying with Philip Cashian. Bernard Hughes is Composer-in-Residence at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London.

Bernard Hughes’s music has been broadcast on Radio 3 and King FM in Seattle, and he appeared as a conductor on the Channel 4 series Howard Goodall’s Twentieth Century Greats. Bernard writes regularly for theartsdesk cultural review website.

More about Bernard Hughes here

Meet the Artist……Jonathan Woolgar, composer

1f-xbxgwWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I started composing as soon as I started learning the piano. Going to the theatre as a child was an important inspiration – I wanted to write theatre music, and still do. Serious composition started when I went to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester for 6th form and I suppose I have never looked back.

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

Influences have come and gone over the years, but Stravinsky and Wagner have loomed large – somewhat disparate figures but as with most music there are connections under the skin. The early Stravinsky ballets naturally had a huge influence on me as a teenager, though now I would take Symphony of Psalms any day. Wagner came later. There is nothing like the sense of immersion you get from being in the middle of Tristan or Parsifal. In terms of teachers, each has had an important impact on me in different ways, although I’m especially grateful to Giles Swayne for teaching me to cut the crap – he is that rare thing, a composer completely without bullshit.

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

While I can’t think of anything specific, the sense that a piece hasn’t lived up to what I wanted it to be is always agonising. On the other hand, that’s what leads me to write the next one. They’re all steps along a road and I have no idea where it leads.

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

The greatest challenge and the greatest pleasure is that there is a deadline. The piece would never get finished without it.

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

More pleasures than challenges – knowing who or where I am writing for provides a focal point.

Of which works are you most proud?

I feel the work which has come closest to what I wanted it to be was a piece I wrote for a very good friend of mine, pianist Philip Sharp, called ‘Five Anatomical Sketches’. The music is unusually austere for me, but I felt that I was able to boil the material down to its expressive essence, and Phil performed it superbly.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Communicative without compromise.

How do you work?

I compose whenever I can, I have no special routine. Time and space always yield better results. I also take frequent long walks to work ideas through. Many compositional breakthroughs have come on those long walks.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I’ve already mentioned Stravinsky and Wagner as influences, and other musical loves include Chopin, Mahler, Adès, Beethoven, Adams, Britten, Monteverdi, and so on, and so on… In terms of performers, while I don’t have any particular favourites, I have recently been enjoying Boulez’s Mahler symphony recordings and also luxuriating in the voice of Iestyn Davies.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a performer, it was singing in the chorus for Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ at the Royal Festival Hall with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Hill – who brought along the Bach Choir too. It is a silly piece in many ways, and yet it works so incredibly well and the ending is wonderfully ecstatic. As a listener, I will always remember my first Prom fondly, which was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles performing Adams, Mozart and Strauss. I was swept away by the wonderful atmosphere and the wonderful repertoire.

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

I don’t like the phrase “be yourself” – I would rather say “do what you must do”. Have something to say and discover the best way in which to say it – that is the communicative impulse. I don’t mean communication in the lowest-common-denominator sense, I mean the sharing of music between humans on any scale. Writing and performing music is a way of saying “HERE I AM” and “HERE WE ARE”, nothing more and nothing less.

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

Writing music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Companionship.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Hearing great music with great people in great places.

What is your present state of mind?

Existentially drowning.

Jonathan Woolgar is the joint Cambridge University Musical Society Composer in Residence for 2016-17. This includes writing a piece for the Cambridge University New Music Ensemble, which will be premiered on 2nd February 2017 and conducted by Patrick Bailey

Composer Jonathan Woolgar is particularly interested in music as drama and music for the stage, and his work draws from a wide range of musical experience, aiming to engage every kind of listener.

Jonathan has had works performed at the Bridgewater Hall and the Royal Albert Hall by ensembles such as Manchester Camerata, Onyx Brass, Aurora Orchestra and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2010 he won the BBC Proms Young Composers’ Competition. His music has been recorded for commercial release by the choir of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and he also enjoys close associations with contemporary music ensembles The Hermes Experiment and Khymerikal. Jonathan is Composer in Residence at Eton College for 2015-17, and will be Composer in Residence for the Cambridge University Musical Society in 2016-17. His one-woman opera, Scenes from the End, ran in London and Edinburgh this summer, while future projects include performances at St Mark’s Basilica, Venice and St John’s Smith Square.

Whilst currently based near London, Jonathan originally hails from Pontefract in West Yorkshire. He attended Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester from 2008-10, studying composition and conducting with Jeremy Pike and Gavin Wayte. From 2010-13 he read music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge where he graduated with First Class Honours and studied composition with Giles Swayne, going on to study with David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music.

jonathanwoolgar.com

Meet the Artist……Moritz Eggert, composer

Photo: Christian Hartlmeier
Photo: Christian Hartlmeier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which works are you most proud of?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

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

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

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

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

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

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

What is your most treasured possession? 

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

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living and learning.

What is your present state of mind? 

Hoping that the idiots don’t succeed.

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

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

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

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

www.moritzeggert.de

Meet the Artist……Shiva Fesharecki, composer

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

I’ve always been obsessed with making music. I was improvising with pots and pans when I was a toddler and a small child. I had set-up a station in the corner of the kitchen that I would use to experiment with sounds. Since then, it’s simply been the same idea but in different contexts.

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

My everyday surroundings, the spaces I occupy, and my friends and family are my biggest influences. My idols are Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.

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

I constantly re-shape and re-think the way I compose and the contexts and people I work with. All in all it is hugely rewarding, but it also feels like I am starting from scratch all the time.

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

Challenges on working on commissions are making sure that the organisers and funders trust and respect your vision and don’t try to compromise it (although I do pick commissions carefully). The pleasure is having the space and time to be able to be truly creative on a daily basis and make a living out of it.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award Holder – tell us more about this?

It’s really amazing receiving this award, and it’s brilliant that it has been sculpted to suit each individual recipient in terms of the resources we receive from it. I have spent the last few years working in experimentation and as a collaborative composer; meeting loads of different people, experimenting in a whole host of settings, in different disciplines and different worlds, and constantly re-shaping and re-defining what I do. Thanks to London Music Masters, I now have the resources to refine my practise, and come back to my classical routes to compose a purely orchestral piece for the London Contemporary Orchestra, with a fresh new perspective due to all my explorations in other contexts.

I am also incredibly inspired by the creativity of children. Having worked in a variety of creative and educational settings with young people, and been massively influenced by the way they think, I am looking forward to applying my own ways of working with young people on the LMM Learning programme: I hope I can offer some interesting approaches.

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

I have this new rule now that I only work with people who are down to earth and easy to get on with, so that the creative process feels free and not rigid. I don’t really mind if they’re musicians or not, or what their background is, as long as they’re nice and we can form a bond. Only then can creativity flow and can we utilise each other’s strengths.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t really have a singular work that I am most proud of, but I am proud of the way I have grown immensely as a person and composer in the past year especially. I feel like I understand things more clearly and what things are truly important in life and art.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Physical.

How do you work?

I try to change-up the way I compose constantly, so that nothing is ever on autopilot. Sometimes it’s with a manuscript, or at my turntables, or maybe I’m in a club dancing and composing at the same time. But my music is experiential, so I try to really mix-up my processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I think my favourite artists are the people I have recently collaborated with such as Haroon Mirza. I am forever grateful for how he has transformed my attitude on art and experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably performing my composition for turntables and orchestra at the Roundhouse in front of the LCO way back in 2010. We were all so young and relatively inexperienced then, yet so much drive, commitment and a unanimous want between us all to take risks. It was incredible. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big gig. People were queuing up literally round the roundhouse to try and get returns when I was arriving.

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

To stick to your ideas, have faith in them, and commit. Don’t waste your time getting frustrated. Go with the flow. Enjoy.

 

Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987) is a composer and turntablist working closely with the physicality of sound. With electronics, she focuses on sampling, as well as analogue and bespoke electrics that generate ‘real’ and pure sounds of electricity, over computer products. With acoustic instruments, she is concerned with the interaction of tone, orchestration, texture, movement and space. Since 2013, Shiva works mainly as a collaborative composer, and uses deep improvisation, explorations into different worlds, or chance events, to create her collaborative teams. She also works with children and young people in a variety of creative environments, and does seminars and projects at universities and music/art colleges.

A scholar and graduate of the Royal College of Music under Mark-Anthony Turnage, Shiva has awards ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, to British Composer Award shortlisted works. She has had performances at major UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbican, Roundhouse, and has had working relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and London Contemporary Orchestra. She also works in and around a variety of contexts and bespoke environments to create spatialised site-specific works. Additionally, Shiva has worked and toured with musicians ranging from cellists Natalie Clein, Oliver Coates and Colin Alexander, to video-gamer/youtuber Freddie Wong, jazz organist Kit Downes and artists Simon Fisher-Turner and Haroon Mirza. She sometimes DJs, and presents experimental classical music on NTS Radio in Dalston.

Future projects include a realisation of Daphne Oram’s groundbreaking work ‘Still Point’ for Double Orchestra, 78 rpm vinyl discs and microphones in collaboration with composer and Oram-specialist James Bulley. ‘Still Point’ predates the work of an entire generation of composers and artists in its radical use of live electronics (including turntable manipulation and sampling with live orchestra) and is one of the earliest known examples of a work for turntables and orchestra.

London Music Masters

 

 

Meet the Artist……Peter Byrom-Smith, composer

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

As a child there was no real music in our house, or reading materials as such, mainly due to my mum’s mental illness. As a result of this, and of course other problems in the family, I didn’t actually speak or really communicate until about 6 or 7 years of age. However, I had obviously listened to much music, both radio broadcasts and recordings, mainly at schoolfriends’ houses, or at school itself, which I totally soaked up at each opportunity – everything from the Beatles and the Monkeys to Beethoven and Mancini. When I got my first musical instrument, a guitar which was purchased through a shopping catalogue operated by a friend’s mum, and for which I paid by doing potato picking on farms, and  as a newspaper delivery boy, I sort of just started playing back what I’d heard, improvising along the way of course, trying to pin down correct pitch, melody, rhythm, etc. of each song/piece until I’d got it as close as the original. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time of course.

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

From above, you can obviously see I didn’t have the possibility of music lessons, so I am completely self-taught in music. However, I studied very hard, seeking the knowledge of this strange craft known as music notation, and how to turn ideas in my head into something I and others might play one day – daydreams, maybe, but a very determined Yorkshire boy/man I became, constantly trying to hear/read more music all the time. Many musicians have been an influence, and still are, on my life really: Elgar, his struggle for recognition as an artist, plus his wonderful musical structures enchanted me early on; Neil Young, his stories of life in both his lyrics and musical arrangements, appealed to a young teenager in the 70’s; Gershwin, with his amazing cohesion of jazz and classical genres were to lead me to  carry on this ‘cross genre/culture’ idea in all my later work! Of course, as a fifteen year old boy I truly had no idea where I was going with this magical thing called music, with its strange terms, dots, lines all over the place, but I read everything from ABRSM theory books to  Antony Hopkins books on music and listening/analysis,etc and from Ferdinando Carulli’s great little book ‘Guitar Method’ to the symphonies of Mozart, etc. too – all an education. After school, I was determined to write music one way or another and now I had found a way of communicating my thoughts and feelings I was on a roll!!

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

When I left school at 15/16 years of age, I wasn’t sure how I would do it, but boy was I gonna try and write music as I thought it should sound, and whatever meant something to me,`i was really hoping that somehow people would understand my thoughts and what I was trying to say. Of course, easier said than done, but I learnt very quickly how to be flexible, playing in theatre pits, busking, pop bands, teaching, as well as giving recitals with my own music, I managed to build a small, very small, reputation on the large music scene in UK. Persevering however, I accepted my first true commission for a soundtrack to a lecture series at a local art school, which I both arranged and and multi tracked on two cassette players – a truly awful result I’m sure, but people liked and used it, so a win win situation, as people say now, eh. Of course, frustrations come as an artist, as you try to get to where you think your journey should take you, but as always in life, you carry on, taking rough with smooth and never regret artistic choices, or directions, as you always learn something from the experience – well I certainly did, and after over 40 years of being a composer I’m still getting a thrill and learn something new every work I produce.

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

I work in all genres of music: film, theatre, pop/rock music, animation, concert works,etc, and, or so, because of this cross genre working, I have worked and continue to work and learn from such a variety of musicians and their different backgrounds and approaches to music, its really a truly pleasurable experience and exciting, each time am opportunity occurs for me to share ideas and develop my thoughts into musical sounds form the performers. I am not very computer literate at all, I have no music software, and no idea how it works. When younger, I actually wrote all the parts out by hand, even the large orchestral works, brass band pieces and songs. Luckily, for me, I now have an assistant who I get to turn my stuff into files, which then can be emailed around the world the same day, which I find pretty amazing, although slightly confusing how it does so, at the same time! I am very lucky that I have found a career in something, i.e.; which is truly all I know about, and that people approach regularly for new works – now an animation, then a concerto, now a theatre piece, then an album for a rock band to arrange/produce,etc – all of both equal importance in the musical world and in my life.

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

I always approach my work in the same way now, as when I was a young boy. First of all, I try to arrange a meeting, face to face, as I don’t like the impersonal, remote meetings; phone, emails; Skype, etc, however, this can be impossible sometimes; for example, I have a long term project in Japan, and another project coming up in Poland, so will have to talk on Skype, etc, until each visit, but otherwise I’ll jump on a train – my favourite form of transport – and meet to discuss/talk through everything over either a lunchtime meal, or a few pints in the pub, as either way is very constructive to me! Meeting musicians, either in concert hall, or in the studio is always a pleasure and, to be honest, an honour too to me. I am very happy to enjoy what I do and also appreciate that I’m fortunate that I found how to both express my life, thoughts, emotions, etc, through music, whilst at the same time making a living at it too. This is important part of my philosophy, as coming from a working class background and growing up on a large council house estate in the north of England, I’m very proud of my roots, therefore wish to share with others! I’m also very lucky that all the musicians I work with from any of the genres, seem to respect my thoughts and expertise in composition, although of course, when it comes down to specific technical things like fingering, bowing, phrasing etc ,etc I am always totally in their hands – a genuine collaboration I like to think.

Of which works are you most proud? 

I have composed so much stuff over the years, and have been so lucky that nearly everything I’ve written has been either performed, recorded or broadcast at some point. So trying to pick a particular work out is very difficult, as you could imagine, but maybe I can quickly suggest a few that stick in mind. ‘Suffolk Serenade’ (mezzo,horn+strings) was a joint commission with my wife (writer Gillian) to write a ‘complimentary’ piece to Benjamin Britten’s ‘Serenade’ for the Britten centenary. At the interval, the concert was actually down in Suffolk of course, I was approached with a dilemma – the audience would like to hear it again! Yikes, I thought, as did the conductor too, as it lasted over 30mins in total – although, I may add the orchestra and conductor were very keen and seemed to like it thoroughly too. Anyway, that was amazing that an audience and musicians enjoyed my scribblings so much that they were willing to suffer more tonal distress….hee, hee, from me and was great for a premiere of a contemporary piece of music was accepted on first hearing. Another important piece was a work I wrote for the theatre entitled ‘The In Between Space’. I was composer in residence for Converge at the time, which helps provide student lessons in music, drama, dance, creative writing,etc,for people with mental health issues. I wrote the incidental music soundtrack and was invited to attend the two days of performances – truly wonderful they were too.The last one I choose is the most recent too. I am at present working on a joint project with Japanese composer Nobuya Monta; we are having joint concerts and recordings of our music,both in UK and Japan.On Sunday 17th July this year he visited the UK and we launched our first event: Concert and CD launch of ‘Heading for the Hills’ at Blueprint Studios ( where we recorded it) an album of Japanese and British music for string quartet. First the Strata String Quartet played a selection of the tracks from the CD, then, whilst the studio played back the whole album, we toasted a new adventure in Japanese/British musical culture which we hope to develop over the next few years. It took a lot organising, as you can imagine, bringing performers, studio and record label all together and on board for a journey which was developing as we went along – a truly musical adventure,but if you want it to happen, it will.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I suppose my musical language is really a combination of many styles, it crosses many musical boundaries really. To be honest, I’ve never actually paid any attention to trying to write in any style at all, whatever comes out of my head I scribble down, then wait to hear the performance – either live or recorded. As I have worked with so many musicians and on so many projects over the years on numerous variety of commissions, I’ve no doubt been subconsciously influenced on what I’ve heard and learnt from each experience and each project – which is exactly what I did when I started at this composing malarkey I suppose. One thing I’m very certain of of though a lot of my individual voice emanates from Elgarian melody, jazz harmony and rock/folk rhythms – all styles of music I liked when I was a youngster and still enjoy listening/playing now too!

How do you work? 

When I receive a commission, for film, concert hall or studio work, I tend to think a lot about the project and meet with the performers to discuss my ideas. Collaboration is very important to me as a composer,sharing thoughts with the players is pretty inspiring to me,as we bounce around ideas off each other and I get to know them and likewise – this so important,I feel anyway. Then I think a little bit more, often walking around, or on my many train travels, until the piece is completed in my head and I have a clear vision of the finished work. I then sit down to use pen and paper to write the score; it doesn’t matter if it’s for full orchestra or a soundtrack for animation etc, I still like the intimacy and immediacy of ink and stave – transferring thought directly to paper. If I need to get score/parts to the other side of the world, I’ll get someone to turn my manuscript into computer ‘stuff’ and email it to players,otherwise I’ll pop in post, or better still, I’ll revisit them and hand over in person.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love concerts and enjoy the ‘buzz’ even the tuning up at the beginning has always made the hairs on the back of neck stand up – although,alas, a few less hairs these days! I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres, but I suppose Elgar, Rodrigo, Michael Nyman, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead are all composers and musicians I enjoy listening to regularly and still get great inspiration from. I enjoy listening either live performances – which I much prefer – although I enjoy broadcasts and recordings too of course.I used to do a lot of teaching, which I really enjoyed and which taught me a lot, I actually think we learnt off one another, they from my knowledge and experience,me from their open minds,new exciting ideas, my students would bring along a selection of stuff they were enjoying,o ften from musicians I’d never heard of, which have become favourites, like Arcade Fire, and Einaudi too. Whilst I do a little teaching now, mainly as a guest lecturer at different universities/colleges, etc, I still find it invigorating to listen, explore and find new sources of musical sounds and ideas – I think this is very important for a composer.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Other than the excitement at my first rock concert aged 12, by prog-rock band Hawkwind, which was scary and amazing, in equal measure, I seem to remember one of the most memorable and truly overwhelming was a performance Elgar’s cello concerto – many years ago, at York University Central Hall. In the final, agitated fast movement, there occurs a refrain from the slow movement, of that delicious, hauntingly beautiful melody, which builds then dies away bit by bit. Well, in this performance as the slow theme dissipates to Elgar’s dynamic instruction, probably a ‘ppp’ the melody did just this and also something else, which I still can’t quite figure out how, but however the cello sings totally solo then ..gets, quieter ….quieter, quieter, slower……….then almost inaudible. At this moment I and I believe everyone else in the audience held their breath………then after what seems like ages the baton beats and were off for the final orchestral flourish and crashing last few bars. But,the few seconds took me to a really musical and totally magical place that I still recall, not all the concert, but that moment, and I wish I had experienced more of these moments in time – although I’ve been at a few others,close but not so sublime!

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

I think, just my personal thoughts these of course, that a musician should always strive to be themselves. Yes, learn from others, study the works of others, but please develop your own style. As composers, we feel we have something individual to say, so it’s very important that we develop our own voice to say and express this. Also, to enable this to happen I feel it’s very important to listen to as wide as possible, and practical, as much music from as varied sources and genres as possible. It’s very important to not become stagnant, or complacent in your music, audiences and musicians deserve better than this and more importantly so do you as a composer. I enjoy writing, listening and learning, still, absorbing from anywhere and everywhere; art, theatre, concerts, broadcasts, socialising, travel, all are very important to me to help keep my feet on the ground, except on a plane of course, but also keep my mind, eyes and especially my ears open and help me continue to work in the 21st Century.

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

I hope I’ll continue to learn more of the art of composing music from around this small world of ours. It’s a small, but beautiful planet with a wide variety of peoples and cultures and as the technology develops it brings both closer together and hopefully understand one another through art, and particularly in my case music.Sharing our musical ideas across the globe helps composers across the globe develop a new ‘palette’ from which to draw their individual colours to express. I for one, will strive for another ten years to do this. Continuing to have the opportunity to explore new new musical horizons, writing more compositions which cross the boundaries of musical genres.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting in a pub beer garden drinking a nice glass of cold cider and eating a cheese ploughman’s with my wife; I believe the nicest things in life are often the simplest.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Parker fountain pen, with which I sign all my finished scores.

‘Heading for the Hills’, Peter Byrom-Smith’s new album for string quartet is available now

Peter Byrom-Smith is an internationally renowned composer. Writing for and performing with many musicians from across a wide spectrum of genres, Peter’s musical journey has taken him on many trips around the world. His music has been performed, broadcast and recorded in U.K, Europe, Singapore,  Japan and U.S.A. by numerous musicians. He is as happy to have his music performed in small country churches as he is at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. 

His music crosses boundaries: a melange of sounds, bringing together elgarian melody, jazz harmonies and rock rhythms. 

In an ever growing portfolio of work, which includes pieces written for full orchestra and chamber musicians. He also regularly works with pop/rock musicians, both in the studio and in live performance, as well as writing sound tracks for film and theatre.  Peter’s work is performed regularly and he receives frequent commissions for new music.  

www.peterbyromsmith.com

 

A new home for Meet the Artist

Established in 2012, the weekly Meet the Artist interview slot, in which musicians and composers reflect on various aspects of their creative lives, has gone from strength to strength and is now an integral and very popular part of The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s content. To celebrate this, Meet the Artist now has its own dedicated website.

Meet the Artist interviews will continue to appear on this site every Thursday, while the new site will act as a supplement with a growing catalogue of interviews with both well-known classical musicians and composers and young and up-and-coming artists. Do consider following the site in order to receive updates every time a new interview is released. In addition to interviews there will also be news, reviews and other articles relating to the artists featured on the site.

I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to share so many fascinating and often unexpected insights from such a wonderful range of musicians and composers, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken part in the Meet the Artist project so far for their contributions to the series.

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Meet the Artist……Sophie Dunér, composer and singer

sophie_duner_buenos-aires3

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

Elvis Presley – for his dynamics. However, my very first instrument was the piano and I wanted to be a `cocktail bar pianist´. Then I changed to voice. I had a short introductory period singing pop though, pretty soon coming to the realization that my artistic `mood´ was far too `serious´ and complicated for the task. I was looking for something more complex, artistically. That led me to enroll in jazz studies at Berklee College of Music (vocal performance & composition). Apart from the jazz studies, I also attended classes in classical singing as well as in contemporary classical composition.

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

Igor Stravinsky, Charles Mingus, Kurt Weill, Paco de Lucía, Cathy Barberian, Björk. I was also very fond of all types of ethnic and dynamic singing, which was a big influence on my expression in jazz. When it comes to composers, I listened to a variety, spanning from jazz, world music to contemporary classical – I always needed all of them to feed my ears.

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

To explain what type of music I do, finding the right people to work with and finding the right venues to perform at. Making my music sound the way it should. Achieving consistency in work opportunities & controlling and combining it with my mood.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My latest string quartet CD ‘The City of My Soul’ (produced by Michael Haas) and a track called “La Finadita” from the album ‘The Outsider’ by F. Tarrés and The Arida Conta Group. I am also very pleased with a performance I did with electric cello last year as well as some tracks from an upcoming vox & acoustic bass (jazz) CD. I also enjoyed a gig I did at `Festival O/Modernt’ in Stockholm (with a string orchestra among other combos.) A gig at `Festival de Música Cotemporánea de La Plata´ in Buenos Aires was also great – it was audiovisual as well.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love to sing music with angular melodies. With extreme highs and lows! That way, I can express varied vocal colours in my different vocal registers and vocal `placements´. I also love music with interesting rhythms and change of meter, and with a lot of energy and groove. I also like dissonance. And space, with dynamic attacks! Basically, anything that is vocally challenging is fun and stimulating.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My choices are related to what type of gigs I have at the moment.  It´s also dependent on for whom I write and who I collaborate with. And where I am offered concerts and work – it’s all interrelated.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I like theatres. And I loved `Confidencen´at Ulriksdals Slott (where I recently performed) Another interesting venue to perform in was an ecological farm outside Zürich. Or a dusky jazz club. Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Basically, I like venues with a soul and which have their own personality.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment: to perform, `Caravan´ by Juan Tizol, `Weird Nightmare´ by Charles Mingus, `Addicted to Love´ by Sophie Dunér. To listen to:  the last part of `Petrushka by Stravinskij and track n° 2 from the CD “Bach por Flamenco” by Miriam Méndez, “Un amour de Swan” by Hans Werner Henze , “Weird Nightmare” by Mingus with singer Lorraine Cusson + “Cubana Be Cubana Bop” by Dizzy Gillespie.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Igor Stravinsky, Charles Mingus, George Antheil, Louis Andriessen, Thelonious Monk, Alberto Ginastera, Concha Buika, Paco de Lucía, Hans Werner Henze, Dizzy Gillespie, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzola, Bill Frisell, Erik Friedlander (to mention a few!)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

On a jazz jam session when the audience screamed after my solo and the one I did recently at Festival O/Modernt and PARMA Music Festival last summer.

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

Take risks – better to fall and then rise more interesting afterwards than to stay safe.

What are you working on at the moment?

My own new original (jazz), angular pieces with extreme highs and lows as well as with lots of energy, rhythm and time meter changes. I will record with the electric cellist Jeremy Harman in July in Boston (with whom I performed at the PARMA Music Festival last year.) 

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

In a place where both mind and heart are combined and satisfied. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What is your most treasured possession?

My imagination.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Composing, singing, painting, drawing, biking, hiking, photography, animals, cooking, comedy and have kids comment on my art and music.

What is your present state of mind?

Eager and unquiet.

Sophie Dunér is a singer, songwriter, composer, arranger and visual artist from Sweden who has lived and performed in the United States and Spain. Originally a jazz singer, her writing and performing have evolved into a unique style of wild, risky, passionate and exhilarating music for vocals and string quartet.

www.sophieduner.com

Meet the Artist……Yfat Soul Zisso, composer

26-apr-soul-zisso-contemporary-voices-web-131063328970695992Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
When I was 14 I started writing songs and realised I had so much music in my head that I didn’t know how to write down, as I couldn’t play any instruments. This led to a ‘eureka’ moment where I just knew that composition was what I was meant to do in life, which resulted in my deciding to go away to boarding school to study for an A Level in music from scratch when I was 15. 

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My teachers (both composition and instrumental/vocal) and friends have had the most significant positive impact on my career. They have taught and supported me, always being honest and therefore helping me improve and acknowledge both the good and bad. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 
Having only started studying music at age 15, my greatest challenge was catching up with everyone else: first with general music and performing and then with composition. This meant always making sure I was working harder than everyone around me, and not giving up even when it meant not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for years and years on end.  

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 
Each piece is different and special in its own way. I treat the compositional process as a type of meditation, seeing the players playing in the hall inside my head, hearing what they’re playing and how it works spatially in the space. Once the initial idea of the piece is established, it’s all about answering all the different questions about what the piece is trying to do and how, until I can hear the whole structure in my head and can write it down.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Every different instrumentation brings with it lots of possibilities and new ideas, which is always exciting. Working with musicians I know and admire is particularly great as it’s easier to write a piece that is influenced by them as players / singers and has that added element of being written especially for them. I find writing pieces for myself to perform (as a soprano) the most challenging – it’s like a constant battle between my performer side wanting to perform strange extended vocal techniques and my composer side needing to justify every choice compositionally.

Which works are you most proud of? 
Poke – a piece for large mixed ensemble I wrote two and a half years ago for a workshop with BCMG. Even though it was the only piece I’ve written in the last three years that has only been workshopped rather than performed, I worked on it for a solid three months and am very proud of the level of detail and complexity in it. I hope it’ll someday get a proper performance. 

From the Darkness, for symphony orchestra – this was my first attempt at writing an orchestral piece fresh from finishing my undergraduate studies and my chance to use all I’ve learned about orchestral writing from sitting in on weekly rehearsals and watching countless concerts (another attempt to catch up, this time by a 1st study singer catching up on orchestral knowledge). I’m still proud of this piece because it shows how much I’ve progressed in just a few years, from a singer who couldn’t tell apart oboe and clarinet colours to using the orchestra in ways I haven’t even seen being done before. 

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Ligeti, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Radulescu, Saariaho

What is your most memorable concert experience? 
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have my first orchestral piece ‘From the Darkness‘ chosen to be workshopped and then performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The experience of having my piece played by one of my all-time favourite orchestras when I didn’t think it even stood a chance to be chosen was surreal and overwhelming, one which gave me hope for the future and that I would never forget. 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 
That pieces of music need to have a reason to exist, be it an idea or structure that comes across – there’s no point to writing pieces that just sound pretty without having something to say. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Working professionally as a freelance composer and teaching composition at a University / Conservatoire 

What is your most treasured possession?
I have a few items that, to someone who doesn’t know me, might seem childish and bizarre but actively help me compose. These include a ‘touchy-feely’ hamster book, a squeezable orange octopus toy (with its knitted hat), and my personal scores for the Berio Sequenza III for female voice and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (which are both symbolic in reminding myself I can overcome massive challenges when I set my mind to it)

How do you work?

I usually compose in what I like to call my ‘office’, which is essentially sitting on the floor in the hallway of the Conservatoire, opposite the composition notice board. It may sound bizarre (and passers-by keep wondering what I’m doing there or assume I’m queuing for a practice room), but it really helps to think about new pieces away from a piano or any other instruments at first in order to get a clear idea in my head of what I want the piece to sound like and do. The sound of lots of different students practising nearby actually becomes a kind of white noise that helps clear my head and I really prefer it to silence, and lots of people walk by so it doesn’t feel too alone. To add to the weirdness, I’m usually surrounded by my ‘composition aides and mascots’ which help me deal with stress – quite often I’ll be sitting there hugging my copy of Berio’s Sequenza III and petting my hamster book. I heard I’ve become quite a mystery for pianists who frequently practice on that floor.
How would you describe your compositional language?

I really like using different types of microtones to explore less common soundworlds. My pieces used to be mostly harmonic-series based but in the last year or two I’ve been frequently experimenting with other microtonal soundworlds, which feels like exploring a wealth of unexplored territory. As part of my doctoral research at Birmingham Conservatoire I am researching microtonal singing in order to create my own unique microtonal language that will incorporate voices as well as instruments, which is why I’m currently trying out lots of different ways of using microtones. Another side of my compositional language is influenced by my work as a performer – using extended techniques and/or a greater sense of acting/performing, especially for voices.


Carla Rees and Xenia Pestova premiere Hidden Elegy for alto flute and piano at The Forge, Camden, on 6th September 2016. Further information and tickets here

Ever since commencing on her music studies at the relatively late age of 15, Soul has been dedicated to her dream of becoming a composer. She graduated from Cardiff University, studying with Arlene Sierra and Robert Fokkens and for a brief time studying with Alison Kay, before commencing on a Masters and later a PhD in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire under the tuition of Joe Cutler and Howard Skempton.

Her music, which has been described as “curiously original” (Wales Online) and having “real character and sensitivity” (Wales Arts Review), has been performed by the likes of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Orchestra of the Swan, Xenia Pestova and the Fidelio Trio across the UK, Europe and Canada in a wide range of venues including Wells Cathedral, Hoddinott Hall and Stratford Town Hall, and festivals such as the Cheltenham Music Festival, Occupy the Pianos and Frontiers new music festival.

Her interests range from the use of different microtonal soundworlds and textures to children’s books and the exploration of various extended techniques. She is also interested in writing for dance and has composed music for Rambert Dance’s Vintage Rambert project.

In addition to composing, Soul is also a singer, specialising in performing contemporary repertoire, including Berio’s Sequenza III for female voice. She is a member of Via Nova chamber choir, has performed as both soloist and choral singer across the UK (including at the Wigmore Hall and at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) and abroad and is committed to promoting new music, which includes premiering many new pieces, particularly ones for solo unaccompanied voice.

www.yfatsoulzisso.com

Meet the Artist……Scott Wheeler, composer

2751c7d40-04b5-aae9-56825b8f0700ef0fWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

It was a slow process, with music growing into such a presence in my life that midway through college I realized it had taken over, so I switched from pre-med and never looked back.

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

That has changed many times: As a teenager I tried to play piano like Erroll Garner, then more like Keith Jarrett. In college I fell in love with the music of Edgar Varese and Stefan Wolpe, but listened about as much to Bonnie Raitt and the Band. In more recent years my work in opera led me to Verdi and my work in ballet to Prokofiev. Next week I might mention different names, but just now these are the influences that spring to mind.

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

My challenges are the same as those of most composers: almost all orchestras and opera houses pay lip service to the importance of new music but in practice consider it a risk to their box office. So our work as composers is marginalized, perhaps set apart as a prestige item; classical music as a whole is correspondingly impoverished. Wonderful music is being created and performed all over the world, but you wouldn’t know it from Lincoln Center or similar places.

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

I find it most inspiring to be given very specific guidelines, such as “an oboe quartet of about 15 minutes, to be paired with the Mozart for the same ensemble.” Or “5 minutes of fight music that becomes a love duet, for changing numbers of dancers.” These are both challenges and pleasures.

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

For most of us this is the usual situation, and it’s a healthy one, because as a composer I don’t write for the audience – I write for the performer, who in turn shares the music with the audience. Performers can do that best if I can write effectively for them – show off what they do best, while giving them something a little unlike the rest of what they perform. I love tailoring the music in that way; it also offsets the essentially solitary nature of composing.

Of which works are you most proud?

My four operas, because I think the way I combine the various elements that make up opera (text setting, stage timing, vocal deployment, use of the orchestra) is not like anyone else’s, and works better than most. Each of my operas is full of the most radical music I could think of, and at the same time each one reaches out passionately to the largest possible audience of non-specialist listeners. I try to combine those goals with anything I write, but opera feels particularly congenial.

How would you characterise your compositional language? 

I’m a “notes and rhythms” kind of composer. There is lots of life left in traditional musical devices, in fact more life than there is in straining for extremes or following musical fashions of any kind. I enjoy inventing unusual melodic lines, finding surprising moments for traditional chords, and combining fairly simple rhythms in unexpected ways.

How do you work? 

It depends on the piece. If I have a text, that helps me to organize the music. A dance or film scenario gives me another kind of structure. A portrait done from life is a combination of meditation and improvisation. A tribute usually starts with some sort of core of pre-existing music around which I spin other notes and rhythms.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I return over and over to the music of a few composers of roughly my own generation. In no particular order: Judith Weir, Stephen Hartke, Lee Hyla, Arthur Levering, Poul Ruders, George Benjamin, Chen Yi, Scott Lindroth. I’ve also played and conducted music by most of these composers, and highly recommend any of them to listeners looking for a fresh musical experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Here are a few: Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony when I first heard it live; Sibelius 6th symphony live; The Band in concert; the opportunity to conduct Ramifications by Ligeti and Corpus Cum Figuris by Poul Ruders.

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

Composers should write what they actually want to hear; performers should play and sing what passionately inspires them; audiences should demand excitement, not settle for what the PR agents are peddling that month.

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

Writing more music, probably in New York.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  

Coffee and composing in the morning, friends and a good meal in the evening.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Nothing physical – I treasure my family and friends.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides composing? Playing tennis, I guess, if I could only find the time to do it more.

What is your present state of mind? 

Opening out to new possibilities.

 

Scott Wheeler’s new album ‘Portraits & Tributes’ (works for piano 1977-2014), performed by Donald Berman, is available now. Further information here

scottwheeler.org