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

The piano was the biggest and loudest thing in the house so I turned to playing the piano and never looked back. Both my mum and dad worked on their own projects in life and so the concept of working for another was alien to me. A life in music was always on the cards and I just kept doing what I loved and after a few twists and turns, here I am.

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

I know it sounds cheesy but it’s just all and everything that’s going on in my life at the time. Who I meet. I don’t listen to music anywhere near as much as people may think but fill my days going down various rabbit holes usually around technology or some collaboration. Recently working on the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,  I learned a LOT from Gareth Fry, the sound FX designer, that I found as a constant source of inspiration for the music. Growing up I loved going to raves and have always loved the energy but equally would the next evening go to hear a performance of some Arvo Paert. I’ve not really been someone so into lyrics. Perhaps the biggest influence on my lyrics was working with Guy Sigsworth when I was in the duo Frou Frou. Here I learned not just what it’s like to sing my lyrics, but actually more importantly what it’s like to listen to them. I’ve never just let anything go as as result since!

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

The music industry, the slowness of payments (if at all), not knowing what’s going to come in or how when I was signed to various labels over my first 10 years of my career. Later in life, with the development of the Mi.Mu gloves, it was funding and lack of resource to good advice in growing small businesses. All my creative endeavours I would never change but the business side is 90% tiresome when it comes to recorded music and flow of rights. I am actively hoping to help this shift toward a music industry that makes sense for music makers in the emergence of a music maker database via a decentralised Identity tool we call The Creative Passport.

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

The new set of limitations in each collaboration I find is actually that which drives my creativity the most, or learning a new subject matter. Time is also one of those limitations when you’re working with others but this is equally welcome. It’s the art of letting go and just sometimes being happy with being good enough rather than always going that extra last mile at 5 in the morning for a month. The diversity is what keeps me feeling alive and if there’s one constancy in my creative life, it’s that I’m always take on projects I literally know nothing about at first because I want to be taken to new places in my mind.

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

In my career I’ve always been able to choose the people I work with so I can honestly say I have had no real challenges, the pleasures are endless and if I find someone I really love to work with, I try my best to have an excuse to work with them again as the best combo is when you get to work with people you love to be with, not just find the collaborations challenging or interesting.

Of which works are you most proud?

It’s not just coz it’s my latest but I am very happy with the album of music from the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play. It’s given me a real chance to share so much of my musicality in one body of work. It tested my theory skills in the many transitions between so many different tempos, key and time signatures as a result of weaving together 100 cues into a hopefully enjoyable album. I’ll probably never have another excuse quite like it to share so much past work in a new context. Also for many people they consider me a song writer yet here there is only a minute’s worth of lyrics amongst 78 minutes of music, so I get to shine a light on all the other parts of music making I so enjoy.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m finding answering this question quite hard! I’ve never had to try and describe it before. A sound for me often has precedence in the studio above a chord structure and I tend to write and produce at the same time. I do seem to have lot of arpeggios in my work and for pop music, or whatever it is I write, it’s pretty dynamic. I do play with patterns and layers as I like to get a lot out of a motif. I get a bit tired of my old tricks and so actively seek out projects to help me move on, this could be working in a different country or taking on writing music for a different format or media.

How do you work?

I generally work alone on the music in my studio though enjoy collaboration with others greatly.  I work long hours at a stretch If I’m lucky and get into a flow. I’ve always done this in the small hours though with a child and so many projects outside of making music, I’ve had to get better and finding that flow on tap whenever I have half a moment spare! To be honest though, how I work or approach a song is often wildly different each time I start as usually the distance between pieces is months these days, I feel I almost have to learn how to do it all over again! The Harry Potter & The Cursed Child play is the first time in my life I’ve ever reused old work. I’ve always started from scratch, as I’ve never really got around to having a particular way of writing as even when something really works I am so forgetful I’d not remember to try it again.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I find it quite exhausting and upsetting to know there’s so much music out there that I’d love but may never get to know. My friend told me the other day that it’d take 170 years of constant listening to everything on Spotify once and that’s nowhere even near all the music in the world to be discovered. To add to this I don’t make time to listen to music amongst everything else. I am lucky to know many incredible musicians and composers and just their creations alone sustains and enable me to enjoy the time I get to listen to music. Jon Hopkins always has me revelling in awe of his sound works and attention to detail, Improvisationally with live electronic music has to be the genius that is Tim Exile. Mica Levi I love as she’s written both film and pop music I’ve loved and I’m just discovering the tech prowess of Emilie Simon, so after I’ve listened to her music, I may add her to the list too!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be sustained by your creative output but to never have to repeat yourself musically to generate more income.

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

Find things that interest you and see where it takes you. Say yes to things you feel are slightly out of your comfort zone often. Always complete a project if others are depending on you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I would like to be in a place where there is little to no admin in my life around getting work discovered and paid for. The inefficiency of the music industry and how little it really supports music makers irritates me so much. I hope in 10 years time The Creative Passport or something else will be helping to solve these issues. If there’s any musicians reading this and curious to know more, please go to myceliaformusic.org/creative-passport. And so with that, I long and live for flow in my creative, family, social and business lives, so they seamlessly coexist as often and effortlessly as possible.


Imogen Heap is a self-produced British recording artist. She has written and produced four solo albums, one as one half of Frou Frou, and has collaborated with countless and varied artists including Jeff Beck, Taylor Swift, Mika and Josh Groban. She has two Grammys, one for engineering and another for her contribution to Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’, and is also the recipient of the Ivor Novello Award, The Artist and Manager Pioneer award, the MPG Inspiration Award and an honorary Doctorate of Technology for her MI.MU Gloves work. Earlier this year she won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, out now on Sony Classical.  In 2014 she envisioned a music industry ecosystem through Mycelia and released ‘Tiny Human’, the first song to use smart contracts on a blockchain. This month, Heap embarks on a year-long music and technology world tour.

imogenheap.com

(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kruser)

 

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

The piano was the biggest and loudest thing in the house so I turned to playing the piano and never looked back. Both my mum and dad worked on their own projects in life and so the concept of working for another was alien to me. A life in music was always on the cards and I just kept doing what I loved and after a few twists and turns, here I am.

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

I know it sounds cheesy but it’s just all and everything that’s going on in my life at the time. Who I meet. I don’t listen to music anywhere near as much as people may think but fill my days going down various rabbit holes usually around technology or some collaboration. Recently working on the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,  I learned a LOT from Gareth Fry, the sound FX designer, that I found as a constant source of inspiration for the music. Growing up I loved going to raves and have always loved the energy but equally would the next evening go to hear a performance of some Arvo Paert. I’ve not really been someone so into lyrics. Perhaps the biggest influence on my lyrics was working with Guy Sigsworth when I was in the duo Frou Frou. Here I learned not just what it’s like to sing my lyrics, but actually more importantly what it’s like to listen to them. I’ve never just let anything go as as result since!

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

The music industry, the slowness of payments (if at all), not knowing what’s going to come in or how when I was signed to various labels over my first 10 years of my career. Later in life, with the development of the Mi.Mu gloves, it was funding and lack of resource to good advice in growing small businesses. All my creative endeavours I would never change but the business side is 90% tiresome when it comes to recorded music and flow of rights. I am actively hoping to help this shift toward a music industry that makes sense for music makers in the emergence of a music maker database via a decentralised Identity tool we call The Creative Passport.

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

The new set of limitations in each collaboration I find is actually that which drives my creativity the most, or learning a new subject matter. Time is also one of those limitations when you’re working with others but this is equally welcome. It’s the art of letting go and just sometimes being happy with being good enough rather than always going that extra last mile at 5 in the morning for a month. The diversity is what keeps me feeling alive and if there’s one constancy in my creative life, it’s that I’m always take on projects I literally know nothing about at first because I want to be taken to new places in my mind.

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

In my career I’ve always been able to choose the people I work with so I can honestly say I have had no real challenges, the pleasures are endless and if I find someone I really love to work with, I try my best to have an excuse to work with them again as the best combo is when you get to work with people you love to be with, not just find the collaborations challenging or interesting.

Of which works are you most proud?

It’s not just coz it’s my latest but I am very happy with the album of music from the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play. It’s given me a real chance to share so much of my musicality in one body of work. It tested my theory skills in the many transitions between so many different tempos, key and time signatures as a result of weaving together 100 cues into a hopefully enjoyable album. I’ll probably never have another excuse quite like it to share so much past work in a new context. Also for many people they consider me a song writer yet here there is only a minute’s worth of lyrics amongst 78 minutes of music, so I get to shine a light on all the other parts of music making I so enjoy.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m finding answering this question quite hard! I’ve never had to try and describe it before. A sound for me often has precedence in the studio above a chord structure and I tend to write and produce at the same time. I do seem to have lot of arpeggios in my work and for pop music, or whatever it is I write, it’s pretty dynamic. I do play with patterns and layers as I like to get a lot out of a motif. I get a bit tired of my old tricks and so actively seek out projects to help me move on, this could be working in a different country or taking on writing music for a different format or media.

How do you work?

I generally work alone on the music in my studio though enjoy collaboration with others greatly.  I work long hours at a stretch If I’m lucky and get into a flow. I’ve always done this in the small hours though with a child and so many projects outside of making music, I’ve had to get better and finding that flow on tap whenever I have half a moment spare! To be honest though, how I work or approach a song is often wildly different each time I start as usually the distance between pieces is months these days, I feel I almost have to learn how to do it all over again! The Harry Potter & The Cursed Child play is the first time in my life I’ve ever reused old work. I’ve always started from scratch, as I’ve never really got around to having a particular way of writing as even when something really works I am so forgetful I’d not remember to try it again.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I find it quite exhausting and upsetting to know there’s so much music out there that I’d love but may never get to know. My friend told me the other day that it’d take 170 years of constant listening to everything on Spotify once and that’s nowhere even near all the music in the world to be discovered. To add to this I don’t make time to listen to music amongst everything else. I am lucky to know many incredible musicians and composers and just their creations alone sustains and enable me to enjoy the time I get to listen to music. Jon Hopkins always has me revelling in awe of his sound works and attention to detail, Improvisationally with live electronic music has to be the genius that is Tim Exile. Mica Levi I love as she’s written both film and pop music I’ve loved and I’m just discovering the tech prowess of Emilie Simon, so after I’ve listened to her music, I may add her to the list too!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be sustained by your creative output but to never have to repeat yourself musically to generate more income.

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

Find things that interest you and see where it takes you. Say yes to things you feel are slightly out of your comfort zone often. Always complete a project if others are depending on you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I would like to be in a place where there is little to no admin in my life around getting work discovered and paid for. The inefficiency of the music industry and how little it really supports music makers irritates me so much. I hope in 10 years time The Creative Passport or something else will be helping to solve these issues. If there’s any musicians reading this and curious to know more, please go to myceliaformusic.org/creative-passport. And so with that, I long and live for flow in my creative, family, social and business lives, so they seamlessly coexist as often and effortlessly as possible.


Imogen Heap is a self-produced British recording artist. She has written and produced four solo albums, one as one half of Frou Frou, and has collaborated with countless and varied artists including Jeff Beck, Taylor Swift, Mika and Josh Groban. She has two Grammys, one for engineering and another for her contribution to Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’, and is also the recipient of the Ivor Novello Award, The Artist and Manager Pioneer award, the MPG Inspiration Award and an honorary Doctorate of Technology for her MI.MU Gloves work. Earlier this year she won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, out now on Sony Classical.  In 2014 she envisioned a music industry ecosystem through Mycelia and released ‘Tiny Human’, the first song to use smart contracts on a blockchain. This month, Heap embarks on a year-long music and technology world tour.

imogenheap.com

(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kruser)

 

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

Free instrumental lessons in primary school in the 1970s were pretty important. Someone from the London Borough of Brent music service came into our class and we all did various kinds of ear tests which involved saying if a note was high or lower than another, or louder or quieter. Apparently I did ok which meant I was allowed to learn the violin. From then onwards, I was always making up my own tunes and improvising. Then I struck lucky going to study at Huddersfield Polytechnic in the late 1980s. It was very immersive time, what with the festival, and we were really encouraged to compose and present our own works in performance.

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

Both Dutch and Polish contemporary music has been very influential for me. I spent three years studying composition in Poland which was a very liberating time, and I was attracted to the physicality of sound in a lot of contemporary Polish music. There is also a directness and rawness to a lot of Dutch music, and a sense that everything can be accommodated; that we can draw upon everything that has been a meaningful part of our musical past irrespective of genre. But perhaps the biggest influence in the last decade or so has been spending such a lot of time with my composition colleagues and students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. I’ve learnt so much from them.

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

I think challenges and frustrations can be positive as well as negative. In recent years, my time for composing has been quite stretched, with a pretty demanding teaching position and also having a young child, but then it’s meant I have to use the time available well, whilst also challenging the way I work. It means I have to be more relaxed and let go of the inner-perfectionist demon, which has perhaps resulted in a different sort of music.

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

Every piece brings both pleasure and pain, although hopefully much more pleasure ultimately. There’s the struggle of the blank page at the beginning, and then the joy of something previously unimagined coming into being little by little. The context of the commission is important to me; who is it being written for? Whose commissioned it? What’s the context for the performance? I want to bring as much if that as I can into the piece and create something intimate.

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

I’ve been lucky to work with a few very special performers quite regularly over a number of years, people like the Fidelio Trio, Orkest de Ereprijs, Sarah Leonard and my own collective Noszferatu. They’re close friends and that sort of relationship leads to a special trust or bond that develops over time. That’s a really great pleasure.  Then there are new projects with people you haven’t worked with before, and there’s often a great excitement and energy to these as you begin to work out what makes each other tick.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m proud of all the pieces on my latest NMC album, ‘Elsewhereness’, and also the previous albums Bartlebooth (NMC) and Boogie Nights (Birmingham Record Company).

How would you characterise your compositional language?

The language can be quite multi-faceted, drawing upon broad range of influences from post-minimalism and jazz through to the baroque and experimentalism. I aim to absorb these influences, not pastiche them, allowing them to come out as something else through the filter of my own individuality. There is often a broad emotional range from exuberance to introversion, darkness to technicolour.

How do you work?

Generally quite slowly, searching for a way in to the piece, an idea, a concept. Sometimes the material leads the way, showing its own possibilities.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Lots. Beethoven, Stravinsky, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Louis Andriessen, Martijn Padding, Errollyn Wallen, Howard Skempton, Michael Wolters, Ed Bennett, Sean Clancy, Andrew Hamilton, Bach, Trish Clowes, Richard Ayres, Laura Mvula, Schubert, Andrew Toovey, more, more, more….

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To keep going and to help others along the way

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

Try and improve the world a little; be serious about what you do, but don’t take yourself too seriously; don’t be an old composer when you’re a young composer; perfection is dull; “success” isn’t everything; don’t lose sight of the magic of music; be generous, kind and help others.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with my family, today I walked in the woods with my wife and son and it was the most beautiful autumn day.

What is your present state of mind?

I’d say it’s in a pretty good state, but in need of sleep (my little boy was awake most of last night….)

*The title track on the new CD ‘Elsewhereness’ was commissioned for the launch concert of the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. 

Joe Cutler : ‘Elsewhereness’. Released 19th October 2018. NMC Recordings / NMC D246

Launch concert for ‘Elsewhereness’ at Birmingham Royal Conservatoire on 16th November 2018


joecutler.com

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

As a young child there was a lot of music around the house and I listened to Jacqueline du Pré play Bach’s Cello Suites every night before bed. I am not sure how attentive a listener I was – I believe the aim was for me to drop off to sleep! – but I refused to accept any other interpretation of that music! As for my decision to make cello my career, I became accustomed to the life of a touring artist on a series of cruises starting when I was five years old, during which I had fantastic experiences performing amongst top professionals, signing autographs and even being interviewed by Richard Baker before rushing back to the swimming pool!

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

I grew up attending my father’s concerts with cellist Alexander Baillie and listening through the door to their rehearsals at home. Musicians were often guests at our house and I remember discussing the finer points of ‘Lord of the Rings’ with Dame Emma Kirkby, whose individual approach to singing has always seemed the most natural to me. Lately, I have been influenced more by ideas and principles of making music than by specific performers: I am not aiming to emulate any cellist in particular but to reach my own personal sound in ways I am discovering myself. There are cellists whom I greatly admire such as Mstislav Rostropovich and János Starker, but I have been more often inspired by musicians in other fields such as the conductors Claudio Abbado and Carlos Kleiber, the violinist Julia Fischer and pianists Claudio Arrau and Arthur Rubinstein.

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

The greatest challenges have been projects that I embarked upon with a view to expanding the repertoire of the cello. In 2014 I performed Jan Vriend’s ‘Anatomy of Passion’, a 30 minute work for cello and piano composed in 2004. It was a formidable challenge, not only because of great technical demands and complex rhythms to coordinate with the piano, but also because I decided to perform the piece from memory which I believe made my performance more convincing. More recently, I arranged and performed Bach’s iconic ‘Ciaccona’ from the Violin Partita No. 2 in venues including London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s College Chapel. This was an enormous statement, to take a piece which means so much to people and adapt it to another instrument which made it essential for me to transcend the substantial technical difficulties of performing this on the cello and create a performance which was musically worthwhile and not just an impressive show of technique.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I try to make every performance better than the last, but rather than pride, I experience enjoyment when I play. My performances of the two pieces mentioned above have been some of the most rewarding concert experiences of my life. I am also happy that the recording I made at nineteen years old of the Chopin Cello Sonata still seems relevant to me despite the six years of development I have had since then.

Which particular works do you think you play/conduct best?

I play a wide range of repertoire, from Bach through to brand new pieces and I try to approach every type of music with the same philosophy – to take a fresh look at the score and try to interpret what that particular composer means in their notation. I then put one hundred percent of myself into every moment of the music, no matter what the style. Having said that, I think music by Benjamin Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich suits me well and I find the technical challenges of music from the 20th and 21st centuries to be the most fascinating. In terms of conducting my repertoire is smaller, but I have most enjoyed conducting 19th and 20th century music. In particular, I conducted Strauss’ Metamorphosen with the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra in 2017 and since I felt a particular affinity with the piece I found it very natural to memorise and perform.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season as a performer and also as conductor?

My repertoire choices are often taken in collaboration with musicians I am working with and I am very lucky to perform regularly with my father, pianist James Lisney. We both enjoy crafting programmes with a unifying theme and have toured several of these ‘project’ concerts with titles such as the Beethoven Grand Tour (the five Cello Sonatas), Cello Song and Russian Connections. I enjoy playing contemporary music so I make a particular effort to fit some new music into most of my recital programmes. As for concerti and chamber music that is often a little more out of my control but I am eager to play all sorts of music!

You are also a composer and conductor. How do these disciplines impact on your performing career and vice versa?

My work as a composer impacts directly on my cello career as I often perform my own music. My conducting contributes less obviously to the rest of my career (though I have conducted my own music) but I believe that the experience of leading an orchestra through various types of music has improved my concerto playing and opened my eyes to particular considerations in composition. My experiences as a cellist are central to everything I do and it is almost impossible to separate it out. Of course, the technical knowledge is crucial to composing for string instruments but also the experience of performing gives me a certain empathy with musicians I am writing for; I take great care to ensure that the music I compose is rewarding both to perform and to hear.

As a composer, how would you describe your compositional language?

This is a question we composers are asked very regularly and I am still struggling for an answer! The aspects of my music which might constitute a style or language are by nature the ones that recur in many of my pieces and as such, they are the very elements it is difficult to identify in one’s own music. My orchestration is often detailed and delicate, but I am not adverse to thicker symphonic textures. I do not write in a strictly tonal idiom but I think it is clear to listeners that I have a background in western classical music, and tonal direction is central to my music. I am very motivically-led and this is often the focus of my compositional process. I begin with one or two ideas which I develop, combine and transform in the same way Beethoven, Wagner and so many others have done before.

How do you work, as a composer?

Since I have never had my own piano I have become accustomed to working in silence at a desk. I tend to start out on manuscript paper and when I begin writing I usually have a significant portion of the piece mostly if not fully composed in my head. At some point in the process I will ‘run out’ of music and at that point I look back at what I have written so far and examine the possibilities. Later on I type everything into Sibelius [music notation software] but I do not use the playback function except for checking mistakes – I am much more likely to hear a typo than see one!

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

I find it very rewarding to write specifically for certain players or ensembles. For example, in 2017 I composed ‘Thread of the Infinite’ for the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra in the knowledge that they would perform this piece unconducted, directed from the violin by Thomas Gould. In this case I made sure that the coordination between parts was clear enough not to require a visual cue from a conductor and inserted several soaring violin solos for the Leader. I have recently written a piece ‘Spiralen’ for Ensemble Recherche, who specialise in the highly complex music of composers such as Brian Ferneyhough and Helmut Lachenmann. My music is far removed from this idiom but I found it very rewarding to work out what new things these musicians were capable of and how I could absorb this into my own style.

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

Many of the most challenging aspects of being a conductor are administrative! At this stage in my career I am running my own orchestra which involves a lot of non-musical tasks such as organising parts, venues and marketing. This means however that I have autonomy over the artistic direction the orchestra takes which I find very exciting. I love rehearsing with musicians and find it very interesting to think about how different musicians respond to words and visual cues. I often have to say something in two or three different ways to get all the players in a section to respond in one way. If I want a particular quiet sound, for example, some of the violinists might pick that up from my beat, others would benefit from some metaphorical suggestion and the final group might respond best to a specific technical instruction such as bow position and speed of vibrato.

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

I see my role as a facilitator with a interpretative opinion… I wish to give the players both the framework and the freedom to perform, which involves bringing everyone together to a unified vision of the music. I hope that in a concert situation I can help inspire the players to find something magical and then very often as a conductor our work is done – less is more.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are many works I would love to conduct, particularly some works by George Benjamin such as ‘At First Light’.

ce599-jl-conducting-sco
Joy Lisney conducting Seraphin Chamber Orchestra

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I feel entirely free when I am performing and my main motivation in pursuing a career in music is to get the opportunities to show people the music that I love and believe in.

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

What I have learnt so far is to approach every work with humility and love; look at every work from a composer’s perspective, put one hundred per cent of yourself into it and value that input. I have also learnt that your understanding of something you take the time to discover by yourself is so much deeper than something given to you fully-formed. The journey is essential.

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

10 years sounds an unimaginably long time and I cannot immediately see where my current trajectory will take me. I suppose that my ultimate goal is to be able to perform the music I want to perform to a willing audience(!) and I hope that I can combine the three strands of my career – cello, composition and conducting – to have a fulfilling musical life.


Joy Lisney is one of the most exciting young musicians to emerge in recent years. Her early promise as a cellist was highlighted by Carlton Television when they chose her, at the age of six, as a possible high achiever of the twenty first century.

She has since fulfilled expectations with a distinguished international career, launched by a debut series of two concerts at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 2012.

Joy has enjoyed collaborations with artists including Dame Emma Kirkby, Alexander Baillie, Howard Williams, Huw Watkins, the Allegri Quartet and the Wihan Quartet and also performs regularly in duo with her father James Lisney. Venues for duo recitals have included Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, St. George’s Bristol, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and St. John’s Smith Square. In 2014 she performed all five Beethoven cello sonatas in a single concert in a tour concluding with a sold-out performance at London’s Southbank Centre. Projects in 2017 have included a Schubert Quintet Tour with the Allegri Quartet, concerto performances by Prokofiev, Haydn and Turnage and the Cello Song recital tour.

As a passionate advocate of new music Joy has commissioned two new works from the Dutch composer Jan Vriend, the first of which she recorded on her debut CD in 2012. In 2014 she performed as a London Sinfonietta Emerging Artist at the BBC Proms in a concert broadcast on Radio 3 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies. In April 2017 Joy performed on the opening night of the Park Lane Group Recital Series at St. John’s Smith Square, giving a solo recital including two premieres, one of which was her own composition ScordaturA. Joy has also given European premieres of works by Judith Weir and Cecilia McDowall.

As a composer, Joy has won the Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Arthur Bliss Prizes and she was also Composer in Residence at Cambridge University Music Society for 2016-17. Joy is in the second year of her PhD in Composition at King’s College, Cambridge, supported by the AHRC, and is Honorary King’s College Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar. Her first string quartet was premiered by the Arditti Quartet and she has since had music performed at the King’s Lynn and Aldeburgh Festivals and the Park Lane Group Series.

Forthcoming performances this season include the Elgar Cello Concerto and the Brahms Double Concerto (with Emma Lisney), the premiere of her new work for chamber ensemble, and concerts at Temple Music Foundation, West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, St George’s Bristol, the Purcell Room, and St John’s Smith Square.

Joy is also the founder and conductor of the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, a string orchestra which combines the best players of Cambridge University with young professionals from the South of England.

joylisney.com

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

I have written music ever since I started playing the piano (around age 6 I think). I used to feel guilty for making up pieces when I felt I should have been practising ‘seriously’! I had a lot of encouragement from various instrumental teachers, and at school, and later at the RCM junior department. However, this encouragement was towards a career as a performer, not a composer. I never studied composition and it would never had occurred to me to do so. I’m not even sure that I knew you could! When I was doing GCSE music composition, my music teacher at school told me I should be concentrating on composition seriously and I should take lessons at junior RCM. I actually had a bit of an argument with her about this as I thought it was a crazy suggestion – I was going to be a viola player and most composers I’d heard of were dead!

Halfway through the undergrad course at the RCM, I injured my left hand quite badly and was told that was it basically, as far as a professional career playing the viola was concerned. I did my final year at a university, mainly by writing a huge dissertation on the Bartok viola concerto (!), but also taking the advanced composition module as I felt it was something I might have a chance of passing. After I graduated I just carried on writing and once I had three pieces I thought were fairly respectable I applied for a masters in composition at Goldsmith’s College. Starting there was a massive shock – I knew nothing about composition really and very little about contemporary music outside of the viola repertoire!

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

There are so many great composers writing now, and I think it’s a very interesting time for women composers in particular. I am very conscious that my work is insignificant compared to many others, but this inspires me to carry on improving my writing. I am grateful to my first composition teacher, Judith Bingham, for helping me when I was first starting out and to Kenneth Hesketh for really challenging me in my writing.

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

I was incredibly lucky with my early compositional career. Up until I was about 30 or so, things really went along pretty nicely and easily. I was doing all the usual young composer stuff and getting some good commissions. Things then went downhill a bit as I was struggling a lot with the conflict between writing how I wanted to write and how I felt I ‘should’ write. There were some challenging things going in in my life as well at that point, and I didn’t write anything for about 3 years. I then had a baby and started writing again! This is probably not a recognised way to rejuvenate your composition, but it worked for me! The frustrations now are that I have very little time to devote to the business side of composition and living out of London makes it extremely hard (both time wise and financially) to travel in for concerts and networking. I also need to be a lot more practical in terms of making money as I have my son to support, so I spend most of my working time teaching.

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

Since the birth of Edward (now 3 years old), I have only written a few pieces and they have all been commissions. Even before then, I pretty much always wrote with a specific performance or performer in mind and I would find it very hard to write any other way. The challenge for me now, with a young son, is the deadline, but without it I would probably never write anything at all!

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

I have found that the stranger the compositional brief, the better the results can be! Sometimes, I find that too much freedom and choice can be a bit overwhelming and haven’t resulted in my best pieces. I have written a couple of pieces for Carla Rees (rarescale) and her quarter tone alto flute. This was a challenge for me, but one that was easily met as she was so generous with her time and advice during the early compositional stages. By the time I was half way through the piece what I was doing felt totally natural to me and the piece was written relatively easily.

Of which works are you most proud?

I am proud of all my pieces in the sense that they all exist in their own time, for a specific purpose. Even the few which I would happily never hear again have played a part in my compositional journey. I know which works I think are ‘better’ in terms of compositional technique or which ones have been more successful, but this doesn’t mean I am any prouder of them.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m afraid I can’t answer this one!

How do you work?

I think a lot before starting the piece and usually have it sketched in my head before I start. Once I can hear bits of it reliably then I get to work with manuscript paper planning out the structure and what ideas will come where. If there’s a time limit (which there usually is) then this bit is very important, and I won’t move on from it until I am happy. It saves so much time in the long run. Then I just write the piece from beginning to end! I will sketch each section on manuscript paper until I am happy with it and only when I have a large chunk of ‘finished’ music will I go anywhere near Sibelius [score-writing programme]. Some of my composition pupils write directly onto Sibelius and I would find that extremely hard.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

This is a hard one, but I never tire of listening to Mendelssohn, Schumann or Stravinsky. I love Bach but I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I find Beethoven’s music a bit of a struggle to enjoy – even though I obviously admire his work a great deal.

Among more contemporary composers, long time favourites are Julian Anderson, Thomas Ades, Judith Weir and Oliver Knussen and from the younger generation I like what Ed Nesbit, Helen Grime and Charlotte Bray are doing very much.

I love listening to recordings of ‘old school’ string players such as Fritz Kreisler, Albert Sammons, William Primrose etc. The fact that the performances aren’t ‘perfect’ or anywhere near today’s sound quality somehow adds to the appeal for me.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am making a living from music (a mixture of composition and teaching). I feel very lucky to be doing something I enjoy, so in that respect I feel successful.

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

Don’t expect to do everything at once and make the most of every opportunity while you can.

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

Alive – and still enjoying my writing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m not sure that this exists other than for brief moments. I feel content if my family is healthy and happy and there aren’t too many outstanding bills to pay!

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.


Elizabeth Winters has established herself in the UK as one of the leading composers of the younger generation. Her music is regularly performed throughout the UK, by performers as diverse as the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Singers, Ensemble 10/10, Rarescale, The Orlando Consort, Aurora Nova and the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral. Her works have been programmed as part of LSO Discovery, the Presteigne Festival, the Royal Opera House ‘Exposure’ Series, the Leeds International Concert Season, the European Capital of Culture Concert Series, the Aldeburgh Festival and during services at St Paul’s and St Alban’s Cathedrals. Several works have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Elizabeth won a British Composer Award (2009, Making Music Category) for her orchestral piece The Serious Side of Madness. Other competition successes include first prize in the 2015 Orion Orchestra Composer Competition and first prize in the Liverpool Capital of Culture New Composer Competition. Elizabeth recently received funding from The Composers’ Fund to support the creation of a composition studio. The Composers’ Fund is a PRS for Music Foundation initiative in association with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Born in 1979, Elizabeth studied at the Royal College of Music and Goldsmith College, where she gained her MMus in Composition with Distinction. Her principal composition teachers were Judith Bingham and Kenneth Hesketh. She has also worked with Julian Anderson, John Casken (Lake District Summer Music Composer Residency) and Colin Matthews, Michael Gandolfi and Oliver Knussen (Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme). Elizabeth also enjoys working with young musicians and been commissioned by the National Youth Recorder Orchestra and the Farnham Festival.

elizabethwinters.com

 

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

At the time, I really didn’t think about it much. My family are scientists and doctors who love music and played LPs in the house most of the time. So I grew up surrounded by music, but never imagining that it could be such a big part of my life. My curiosity led me to find a piano teacher, and eventually my parents saw I was serious and supported me to take lessons in piano and solfege. The curiosity grew and I was improvising soon after I could play. So, the desire to create has been there all along, and I was surrounded by a supportive family.

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

I consider my surroundings very important to what I do. I write music which I’d like to share with my family and people I feel close to. it’s more than a profession, it’s part of my personality, part of my life. The fact that I grew up around non-musicians makes me appreciate the natural, life-long relationship which can develop between people and music, when one might not necessarily be part of a musical family. Having said that, if it were not for the music I listened to as a child, I might not have been inspired to make this my life, so Bach, Schubert, Brahms, are very important, eternal inspirations, as well as all the performers who I’ve worked, particularly those I’ve known since my student days – Maxim Rysanov, Kristina Blaumane, Roman Mints.

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

One of the aspects of this profession, which I’m constantly having to learn about, is the way you pace yourself. I need to find a peaceful state of concentration in order to create, it takes some time to slowly shut the world off and begin to work. Once the music is written, there is the complete opposite – talking to musicians, explaining your work, communicating what you’ve been working on for months in a few minutes during the tight rehearsal time. It’s a complete gear shift, and each time it takes some effort to be in either gear.

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

There’s nothing like a deadline to help the creative process! The possibilities are so endless that having some guidelines, like instrumentation and duration, help some of the decision making. But I also really enjoy the research part of the project, so for example I chose to compile the text for my Immortal Shakespeare cantata. The research into the plays and choosing the right text which would fit the structure of the work took a considerable amount of time, which I enjoyed.

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

For me, the best thing about working with musicians who you know and even more importantly, who have played your music, is that you don’t have to explain as much. There is only so much you can achieve with notation, one composer’s articulations (or lack of) might be interpreted differently to another. For example, much of my string music is played ‘on the string’ and to a musician who hasn’t played it before they might first read it and play off the string and not give it a second thought. Long phrases, nuances of dynamics, trusting the music to do what is there and not asserting too much on it- are all qualities which I value in musicians who I have worked with repeatedly.

Of which works are you most proud?

There is a story to each piece, and like many composers I feel there is a reason for each work and these works can take on almost human characteristics (like Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets, for example, which he famously called his ‘children’). So, I wouldn’t wish to have favourites, but I know which were difficult to create and took longer than I had planned. My double piano concerto ‘Together Remember to Dance’ is one such work. Just when I thought I had finished the first draft, I had a total change of direction for this work and had to start all over again, with just months before the musicians were due to get the parts. Instead of sticking with my first idea, I jumped straight into a new direction and I was extremely happy I did that. I feel it’s a powerful and uplifting work, and that’s what I needed to write and the soloists – Arthur and Lucas Jussen completely inhabited this idea and communicated and performed the work perfectly.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would like for my compositions to communicate, to be accessible, but also make you think. Music with a mind and heart, I hope!

How do you work?

Slowly.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

This is, unsurprisingly, a long list which keeps growing and is often affected by who I’m working with or listening to at that moment. Certainly the composers I grew up listening to-  Bach, Schubert, later Ligeti, Britten and Messiaen… I get real pleasure from playing Rameau’s harpsichord works for myself (on the piano, though I’d love to one day have the space and chance to buy a harpsichord). Phrasing and timbre, nuance are performance aspects that my ear is always drawn to and there are just so many exceptional musicians. Some I have been lucky to work with, as I already mentioned, I’d add Janine Jansen and some very fine choirs too! Currently I’m enjoying (re-)listening to my recordings of Bill Evans, Andras Schiff, Nina Simone, Ibrahim Maalouf, Laura Marling…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me is to have the freedom to create what you wish, and be able to make a living.

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

Even if it means having a small circle of devoted friends who you talk to about your music, try to communicate and share your passion. It’s a difficult profession, so we need support from people around us, and finding those ambassadors will absolutely make life easier. Also, be kind- in choosing this life we often develop high levels of self criticism. Try to be kind to yourself and to those around you, as perfection is not art.

What do you enjoy doing most?

There are two moments which I adore: the moment when I know how the piece I’m working on will be shaped and it’s just a matter of writing it down; and sitting on the train/plane before travelling to a premiere/concert. And there’s everything in between…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every situation can be perceived as complete happiness, I think in order to really savour that happiness you have to feel inner contentment and feel you are where you need to be. Then, even eating an apple on the sofa can be perfect happiness.

 


Born in the historic town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria to a music-loving family of doctors and scientists, Dobrinka Tabakova moved to London in 1991, where she has lived since. Here she studied at Alleyn’s School and the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department, specialising in composition, piano and conducting. Early on, the composer John Adams praised her music as being “extremely original and rare”. She attended summer courses at the renowned Centre Acanthes in France, as well as the Prague and Milan Conservatoire summer compositions courses, alongside her composition degree studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (GSMD) in London. On graduating with distinction BMus and MMus at the GSMD, Dobrinka was appointed Composition Fellow there, where she continued her activities as President of the Contemporary Music Society. In 2007 she was awarded a doctorate in composition from King’s College London (KCL). Her composition teachers have included Simon Bainbridge, Diana Burrell, Robert Keeley and Andrew Schultz as well as masterclasses with John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Alexander Goehr, Marek Kopelent, Philippe Manoury, Alessandro Solbiati, Olav Anton Thommessen and Iannis Xenakis.

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