photo: Malcolm Crowthers

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

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

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

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

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

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

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

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

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

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

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

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

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

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 

Cheerful

Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which works are you most proud of? 

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

Here, but with a bit more room.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.edscolding.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which works are you most proud of?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.johnmetcalf.co.uk

(photo: D Franssens)

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

The intention to become a musician came very early. As a small boy I was mainly concerned with percussion. When I was sixteen composing started to fascinate me, especially after hearing a concert with Stravinsky’s .The Rite of Spring’.

Making music continues to captivate me. It is so elusive.

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

I believe my travels. Africa taught me to experience a special joy in life and a new sense of rhythm and movement. India and Nepal inspired me in the area of spirituality. These foreign experiences were an inspiration to support my work with a deeper meaning. The link between music and spirituality became particularly important.

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

There are multiple ones! For instance composing my first major orchestral work, my first opera, basically any new commissioned piece is another big challenge. But the most ambitious project so far was definitely my work Antifoon (A resonating bridge) (2014) for multiple orchestras, wind bands, choirs, different ensembles, carillons and two solo voices. Composing this work was one thing, but also taking the musical direction of 500 musicians on different stages on a large bridge between Hasselt and Genk (Belgium) was an almost undue risk. I had conducted my work before, but this was certainly of a different caliber.

It was quite a relief when it all worked out great.

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

Knowing who you compose for and working together with particular, often excellent performers can be very enjoyable. I work with very diverse musicians and cultural institutions, but I am also artist-in-residence for the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and for Muziektheater Transparant. Both of them give me a lot of credit, I can shape my ideas in my own way, what I experience as an incredible luxury.

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

You can go into the depth of a work and to the extreme. You can compose for people who are anxious to perform your work and often for an audience that is getting to know you. Also the feeling that the performance will be in good hands, is wonderful and reassuring.

How would you describe your compositional/music language?

I start from my own Western contemporary language, which I developed over the years, undoubtedly influenced by idols such as Ligeti, Messiaen and Xenakis. I am also highly fascinated by the musical language from other cultures, including rhythmic structures such as tala’s from Indian culture, microtonality from Arabic music culture and rhythmic grooves (also ostinatos) from African culture, which I try to apply in my own way into my music. Furthermore, I am always looking for new performance techniques and new sounds. My greatest aspiration is always to connect with the audience through my music.

How do you work (as a composer)?

I start from inspiration around a certain idea or sound performance, which I intuitively try to understand and write down. I let my ideas flow, often at the piano. Then I search for certain systems, rhythmic or melodic motifs, harmonies etc. that are present in this inspiration. Subsequently I structure them in order to get a logic system and then I make a visual overview of the overall form, on one page. From that moment on I can start to work everything out in detail.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you can develop or realize what you personally had in mind. When a composition or performance sounds as you had imagined it and when a part of the audience can go along with your story or make their own interpretation of your composition / performance.

Tell us more about the new CD ’Nostalgia’

When David Ramael, artistic director of Boho Strings, approached me about the idea of recording my works for string orchestra, I immediately responded with great enthusiasm. Many of my orchestral works have already been recorded on CD, but none of my works for string orchestra. The openness and creativity of this young ensemble and their search for new ways to introduce contemporary music to the public, also inspired me to make new versions of two of my works, Nostalgia and In Deep Silence III. With five very different works, this recording spans a large part of my compositional life and in a few works also shows the influences of various cultures on my work, as an outspoken western composer. A fantastic added value is also that three top soloists, flutist Valerie Debaele, marimba player Lin Chin Cheng and clarinetist Roeland Hendrikx, made a great contribution to this project. I have the feeling and hope that we have made a very accessible and listenable recording.

How has your interest in Eastern philosophy influenced and shaped your composing? 

It became the foundation of my artistic thinking. It has also influenced my musical experience of time.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Tejas for orchestra and Disappearing in Light, but I think Void the most, a work for music theatre in commission of Muziektheater Transparant. There was no semantic text, only sound combinations I had designed myself. I worked without a libretto or a story. A deep and spiritual performance of 75 minutes arose from an abstract, Buddhist yantra inspired form, and the impact on the audience was huge.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

They are very different in styles, historical and geographical, ranging from contemporary music to jazz, pop and ethnic music. Some names: Ligeti, Xenakis, Messiaen, Harvey but also Miles Davis, Björk and Frank Zappa. Also musicians from various ethnic regions.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A concert that probably determined my musical evolution the most, was that with the Indian bansuri player G.S. Sachdev, in Antwerp in 1993.

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

Work hard and never give up. Have a positive attitude, an open mind, faith in your own abilities. Sometimes go against the flow, if you feel that it is right. Enjoy what you are doing. Communication is essential, both in terms of artists among each other, as with the audience.

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

I would like to compose really vast works, an opera for example.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Experiencing life intensely, with people I love and with music of course.

What is your most treasured possession?

Naturally you don’t possess people, but my family is very important to me.

Also health in the broadest sense – and of course music.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Very simple: composing

Joanna Marsh

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

Although I have composed from as far back as I can remember, I went into teaching and organ playing after university, as I had no role model in composition and no understanding of how a person would forge a career doing that. It really was Judith Bingham, who I met in my thirties, who helped me make the transition to being a professional composer. She had a very practical and down to earth approach but she was also very inspiring and I felt a strong affinity with the way she thought about music.

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

I find that as a composer living in Dubai, I need to be highly proactive. You can’t sit around waiting for commissions to find you, you need to think up interesting projects and connect with people who can help make them happen. And actually it has been challenging living in a society that has no government funded performing arts sector as the priorities of a nation do largely filter down from the top. There are no professional orchestras or musical institutions in Dubai so the natural places for a composer to find work don’t exist. Things are subtly changing but Islamic Art and local Arabic Music will always be first in line for attention, which is probably as it should be.

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

The commitment and investment of others in a work is often very helpful. Composing is very solitary and although there may be collaboration at the point where you meet the performers at the first rehearsal, generally you spend many hours alone in a room working on the music, thinking hard and crafting ideas. A commissioner will provide an initial direction for these ideas through the occasion of the performance and musical forces offered. And then of course, they provide the most helpful thing of all, a deadline! I have been lucky enough in that no commissioner has got in the way of the piece so far. I have colleagues who have had their commissioners move the goalposts during the compositional process (actually we need a different length, sorry it needs to be for strings not brass…!), which can really create havoc.

How do commissions generally come about?

Lots of different ways. Sometimes people have heard something of yours that they like and get in touch. It is usually the performers in this case. But sometimes you happen across people looking for a way to mark a special occasion or anniversary who may not be the actual players. You suggest some ideas and it dawns on them that creating a piece of meaningful art could give relevance and immediacy to something they care about. Always at some point in the process ideas are discussed that catch a spark of excitement that lead the potential commissioner to think this work should definitely go ahead, and you should be the one to do it.

With my last piece, Rupert Gough, Director of Choral Music at Royal Holloway, came to performance of Act 1 of my opera My Beautiful Camel with National Opera Studio last May. That work was in collaboration with David Pountney who wrote the libretto from a story I had devised. Rupert mentioned that they were looking to commission a piece about the suffragette Emily Davison, who was an alumni of the college, for a date in January with the London Mozart Players. I remember excitedly telling David, who instantly poured forth a number of fantastic ideas for a choral depiction of the famous Epsom Derby incident. I could see that a musical record of the entire occasion and its aftermath could make a very interesting cantata and indeed it captured the imagination of Royal Holloway so they decided to go ahead.

You’ve collaborated with librettist David Pountney to create a work which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which first gave women the right to vote. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

The cantata ‘Pearl of Freedom’ tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison’s ultimately fatal collision with the King’s horse Amner at the 1913 Epsom Derby. It opens with words that Emily Davison wrote in her diary about her passion for women’s suffrage. She uses the expression ‘Pearl of Freedom’ to refer to the prize that she was seeking, women getting the vote.

David created a text from original sources, juxtaposing factual elements from the day (the horses names, the riders, their numbers, their colours etc), with Emily Davison’s state of mind. He also includes commentary from various contemporary voices including King George V, the police sergeant on duty who listed Emily’s recovered possessions, and the Press. The only bit of text he invented is the race commentary before the collision between Emily Davison and the King’s horse Amner. He wrote this section in the style of Peter Bromley, a race commentator of a slightly later era, because no such live commentaries exist from this period.

Emily Davison was regarded as a loose canon within the Suffragette movement. Her militancy and extremism had considerably alienated the public. The work opens with jagged rising line of unison strings suggesting the intensity and turbulence of Emily Davison’s state of mind as she prepared and carried out her plan. She evidently knew that her actions would be far-reaching as she had commented to a friend that they should look at the press the following day. Her purchase of a return ticket to the Derby suggests that she was not planning to endanger herself fatally, however. The piece is around 20 minutes long and the final episode of the piece is devoted to Emily’s funeral, which was a very large scale public affair with 50 thousand people in attendance. The music of this section takes the form of a funeral march based around one of the hymns that was sung on the day “Nearer my God to Thee” with echoing quotes from Chopin Funeral March which was played throughout the procession.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s easier for a composer to explain the intentions behind the creative process than to describe the outcome, which is the listener’s experience. But there are a few general points. For example I am certainly drawn towards tonality. I like the gravitational pull of it but always try to look for a means of expression that is not the obvious. I also enjoy using snap-shots of ideas or idioms from old or ancient musical works that can impart flavour but take off in a different direction in my own music. Development is important to me, I aim to find a strong idea and work it through fully in a piece. Clarity of structure is critical. An interesting or quirky idiom is just an empty costume when there is no actual body to inhabit it. And line is essential, it carries the energy that is the piece.

How do you work?

I work best with a deadline that is not too far away, or at least with some mini-deadlines to help me measure out the time! Usually I find a long time needs to be set aside for the pre-compositional process. This is when the idea of what the piece is going to be gradually appear as if out of the mist. When I start the actual writing I always find that the first two minutes seem to take an inordinately long time, much longer than any other section of the piece. It feels like ploughing a furrow for the very first time. After that the composing seems to move on much quicker, probably because the ideas to be developed further are distilled by then. And I always have to remind myself not to panic as I start to get to the end of a piece. Endings are difficult. They feel like bringing a plane into land; too easy to make a bumpy landing and you really don’t want to crash.

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

You need to be open to what life brings you in the most general terms. We can all get a bit fixated on what we think our careers should look like and look to our contemporaries for a benchmark. It is not helpful. Don’t just think of the next thing coming up as the real opportunity, better than what you are doing now. What you have on your plate NOW is the opportunity; focus on that and the future will take care of itself.

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

I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed living in the Middle East and I hope my connections here will still be alive and well regardless of whether or not I am still living here. Otherwise really I just want to be getting up each morning excited about the projects on my desk. That would be more than enough to ask for.

31st January sees the world premiere of ‘Pearl of Freedom’ by Joanna Marsh, a cantata which tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison and her death at the Epsom Derby under the King’s Horse. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, in which women first gained the right to vote. 

 


 

www.joannamarsh.co.uk

(photo: Gautier Deblonde)

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

I started as a jazz bass player having become very interested in jazz as a teenager. I had studied classical piano from the age of 5, but took up the bass when I was 18.  I only started to compose in my early twenties and for this move it was the work of John Cage that was the key inspiration.

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

Initially it was Cage.

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

There have been many, but perhaps writing my first opera, a setting of Euripides’ Medea in Ancient Greek was the most challenging as it was the first thing I’d ever written for orchestra, for the stage, for the human voice and I’d only ever seen one opera live. In addition I was my own publisher and I had only 8 months to write it while teaching full time…

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

The main challenge, which is in fact a pleasure, is to get to work with many very different artists  – both with performers, choreographers, opera directors etc.

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

It is, again, the encounter with artists of real quality and I have to find what works best for them; that is to say, I always take account of their characters both musical and otherwise.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I’m not really proud of any of them! There are works that I think are of greater significance but I never proud of my own achievements though I take pride in the successes of others – my children for example.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

My favourite musicians are the members of my own ensemble, who are the finest singers and chamber music players I know, and with whom I have chosen to work. There are many composers whose works I enjoy and admire but none would be “favourites”!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but I would single out two. One was a concert performance of my first opera by BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra 11 years after the opera performances. The other was touring an old piece of mine, The Sinking of the Titanic, during the centenary year of the sinking, when I included my four children in my ensemble (my three daughters on viola, two cello; my son on double bass)

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

There are two:

Always keep and open mind and a spirit of enquiry (so as not to develop predictable routines) and make sure that you have a secure musical craftsmanship ( so that you are able to express your ideas without difficulty of technique).

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

I would like to be still alive and well, and in our home with my entire family on the Pacific coast of Canada (where we live for part of the year)

What is your present state of mind? 

Alert and as serene as possible

Gavin Bryars presents ‘The Bass in My Life’ with Daniele Roccato, double bass, who performs works by  Stefano Scodanibbio, Giacinto Scelsi, Ivan Fedele, Franco Donatoni, Daniele Roccato and Gavin Bryars at the Italian Cultural Institute London tonight.  The event is part of the Suona Italiano residency to promote Italian music. Further information here

“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” –Michael Ondaatje

Gavin Bryars’ full biography

www.gavinbryars.com