Tag Archives: interviews with musicians

Meet the Artist……Kirill Gerstein, pianist

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

I think for me, music and the piano emerged from the fog of my earliest memories because the piano was always in the house for as long as I can remember. My mother was teaching in a music college but also at home, so in that sense the piano, and especially music, were always there. It started as a sort of game with my mother: that was the trigger.

As for this whole music “career” business, I didn’t know until I was about 10 or 11 that I adored the piano. I loved music more than the instrument to begin with and then the love of the instrument came at a later stage. So I knew I wanted to do something with music but not whether I would or could be a concert pianist. But from about the age of 10, I switched to a better teacher and all of a sudden I had this tremendous interest in the instrument. Then I won a children’s competition in Poland and one thing led to another…

I can’t point to an earth-shattering moment when I knew “this is what I want to do” – it was more of a gradual, organic process.

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

The most significant teachers (and this is not to do any disservice to other people from whom I received advice) and musical influences would be Dmitri Bashkirov with whom I studied in Madrid, and Ferenc Rados, who I studied with in Budapest, and wherever else we would meet. Those two are really the most significant musically speaking. But then I have received a lot of inspiration and ideas from Andras Schiff, for example, and Alexis Weissenberg, who, when he was still alive, gave me some very important impulses. Then there are conductors, like Semyon Bychkov, who have given me a lot of inspiration and advice, so I must say I feel very fortunate. It’s always been purposeful, because I seek out these people to learn something from them and that has been incredibly fruitful and stimulating. But when thinking about music and playing music, Bashkirov and Rados have been the most significant.

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

Well let’s start with the fact that music is difficult and the piano is a bloody difficult instrument to play! On the one hand it’s challenging, but on the other hand, it’s what keeps it so incredibly interesting and vital to continue, otherwise life would be terribly boring. Playing music on an instrument with one’s body is an extremely challenging occupation. Then there’s the fact that as an instrumentalist, you are forced to reflect on everything inside yourself – psychological limitations, fears, advantages, disadvantages. So staring at your reflection day in day out with such great intimacy and with the purpose of self-improving is also a challenge but is one that I nevertheless love and think is a great way of reaching a better understanding of oneself.

Other challenges include not allowing oneself to be distracted by the so-called “business” of a musical career and everything that that entails, to maintain a good level of mental and spiritual energy, trying to improve every day, learning new repertoire, getting better, and so on.

I think this balancing act is quite hard. And as everybody knows, the so-called “music business” is challenging because it comes with a lot of hurdles, but at the end of the day, it’s not the most significant thing in the world. To keep the soul in balance is a challenge, but generally balance is difficult to find in life! And what is important to know is that this balance is ever-changing.

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

Eclectically (!) which I think is important and also in some ways purposeful. It has to start with something that deeply interests me: for example, the Transcendental Études are an interesting challenge for myself but one that I hope I can make interesting for audiences too because it’s not just for me.

It also comes from particular personal interests. I hate programming that looks like “Oh here’s another piece I learnt so let me play that for you”, so eventually there needs to be some kind of coherence or connection or inner logic which isn’t necessarily musicological or historical. This then influences what I choose, what goes well with what, a bit like making a menu… Alexis Weissenberg once said to me, “nothing betrays the personality of the pianist better than the way he puts together his recital programmes and the height of his stool at the instrument” and I think there is some witty wisdom in that comment. Especially in the case of concertos, less so with recital repertoire, I’ve been quite open to external impulses or suggestions from a conductor. There are a number of concertos I would not necessarily have thought of learning but then you fall in love or become intimately associated with the piece. So I enjoy external influences in that sense. But essentially I don’t agree to do anything that I don’t like or can’t believe in.

What is the special fascination of Liszt’s Transcendental Études for you?

It’s multi-faceted: I think Liszt is a great fascination because as modern pianists we owe the majority of our musical and pianistic lives to him in the sense that he has shaped our hands through the pianistic advice he has created, and he influenced the majority of what is played since his time. Everything that came later – Busoni, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Prokofiev – is the result of everything that Liszt came up with during the 20-25 years he was occupied with the Transcendental Études in their various incarnations. So the Transcendental Études are the Everest of piano literature, but also a distillation of Liszt as a pianistic experience. But obviously we owe him far more than the pianistic experience: there are the musical inventions, without which we would not have Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, Busoni etc. There’s also the whole business of performing recitals as a soloist which we owe largely to Liszt – as Busoni said, “Liszt is the tree and we are all branches of that tree.”

It’s also a personal project. I wanted to take the “Transcendental Études journey” in order to self-improve through working on it and pursuing it as a cycle as I don’t think it is a random collection of 12 studies. It’s also of course so much more than a technical journey. Arthur Friedheim, an important student of Liszt, said something like “I had the privilege and honour of walking in the footsteps of the great” and I think the sentiment relates to Liszt, and essentially all the other great composers that we play. We get to follow in the “finger steps” of these great minds and spirits that have walked the keyboard, and in that sense it’s really a tremendous experience to be in touch with history in this way. But it’s not just a question of digging archaeologically; it’s about making the music, and therefore history, alive again so it can be felt in the air until it dissipates. This is one of the great privileges of being a performer. When playing Liszt, it’s the most amazing experience when you let him take over your hands, body and mind.

Having said that though, this wasn’t the intended outcome. When I started studying the Transcendental Études a year before I recorded them, I wasn’t certain whether I would be able to play them let alone very well. Everything began to emerge as I went further along the journey.

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

There are very divergent styles of concert venues – old concert halls, such as the Musikverein, are incredible. Boston Symphony Hall is also of this kind. Those two could easily be named as favourites. Then there are the great American halls of the turn of 20th-century and the 1920s – Carnegie, Severance Hall (Cleveland), Orchestra Hall (Chicago). There are also some really excellent new venues, but they are hard to compare to the old ones because of the different mentality towards sound.

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is also wonderful, and I quite like the hall in Copenhagen and the KKL in Luzern … but it would be hard to say if I prefer a particular hall. They are all different animals and it’s wonderful to have the variety.

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

Generally, at the risk of sounding condescending, I do feel it’s important to share one’s experiences because they may resonate with a person who is on an earlier but similar path to yourself – and this is one of the reasons why I started teaching relatively early at the age of 26. I am not sure whether it’s possible to “impart” curiosity but it’s important to stimulate it along with a love of what we do. Love and curiosity are almost one and the same thing or at least are closely related.

The curiosity about the big and small aspects of we do – how your index finger may depress that one key, curiosity about the repertoire, the culture, what role music and art can play in our lives – these are all a big part of that. If someone is not curious, you cannot impart curiosity. But when someone is curious, I think it is our responsibility to nourish and stimulate it.

Kirill Gerstein performs Liszt’s Trancendental Etudes, together with music by Brahms and Bach on Sunday 12th February at St George’s Hall Concert Room in Liverpool. Further details here

The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks.  With a masterful technique, discerning intelligence, and a musical curiosity that has led him to explore repertoire spanning centuries and styles, he has proven to be one of today’s most intriguing and versatile musicians. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style, inspiring an energetic and expressive musical personality that distinguishes his playing.

Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, presented every four years to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, possesses broad and profound musicianship and charisma and who desires and can sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau, with additional commissions scheduled for future seasons. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant.

Kirill Gerstein’s full biography

 

(photo: Marco Borggreve)

Meet the Artist…… Olga Jegunova, pianist

© Gerard Uferas Olga Jegunova 12_02_15

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

My grandfather who had a natural musical talent and could not imagine his life without his violin. He was played it passionately at every family gathering. He also bought our piano. Later, my mother taught me how to play a C major scale. Since then, I am still learning how to play it….

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

Musically, it is J.S.Bach. He has always moved me, paralyzed any fear or disbelief. Later, recordings of great Rubinstein, Horowitz, Gilels, Gould, Richter, Michelangeli, Karajan, Callas, Oistrakh, Rostropovich. Then live concerts of Zacharias, Zimerman, Schiff, Argerich, Perahia, Maazel, Bartoli, Rattle and many others. They all form my musical taste and repertoire.

As per career, I should be influenced by the PR company of Lang Lang but sadly I am not!

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

To actually have a career.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ibert – Le petit ane (avalable on YouTube) when I was 10 years old because it made my mum proud.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

4’33” by John Cage.

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

Concert promoters always want a Moonlight sonata but I try to spice it up with some Bach & Ligeti (this season).

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

There are so many of them. I am not so obsessed with venue what worries me is no audience, empty hall or just a few people with ringing mobile phones.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It is great to share great music with good audience. Yet the most non-judgemental experience was when I was playing “Peter and the wolf” to the 5-year old kids.

I like to listen to all sorts of music, I have my Ramstein moments, yet I listen to a lot of classical music, often jazz and some good pop/rock.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Elvis

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My very first concert at the age of 5 or 6 – very scary but I loved the applause.

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

Being a musician is a life-long service. It is hard, non-profitable and lonely. But it is a very important input into people’s minds and hearts. It gives another dimension to our being. And without this dimension it would be too miserable and too technical.

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

At the piano, safe, warm and loved.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

See above.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being happily quiet.

Olga Jegunova’s disc ‘Poetic Piano Sonatas’ is available now

www.olgajegunova.com

(photo © Gerard Uferas)

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……Harriet Stubbs


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

I honestly don’t remember the moment that I decided to start playing because I was about two and a half years old, but I do remember my mother teaching the piano for long hours and music always playing in the car. Even now, I hear pieces of music that I didn’t realise that I knew and know them back to front from childhood without knowing what it was!

The decision to pursue music as a career was really made when I was about four; my life already at that point was entirely scheduled around the piano. During my teenage years I made that decision again as a young adult. I rediscovered music on my own terms and realised that there was no way that I could live without music.

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

Well this one is easy! In terms of my technique, personal standards, and foundation to becoming a musician my first serious teacher, Jimmy Gibb was invaluable. Douglas Finch has had and continues to have an enormous impact on my musical wellbeing and continues to inspire me. My humanities teacher in New York; John Pagano who teaches at Columbia and Manhattan School of Music in his “Genius and Madness” elective as well as “The Fantastic Imagination” shaped and reinvigorated my belief in the arts. Finally Russ Titelman, the producer of my album about to be released by Sony. His vision, deep understanding, knowledge and love of art is extremely special and I am honoured to have and be continuing to work with him.

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

The greatest challenges have by their very nature been my times of growth and from which I have learnt the most. Rediscovering why I wanted to do music in my teenage years of my own accord and the bridge from child to adult artist was challenging certainly. Believing and rebelieving in one’s own ability and voice is something that I think we all go through. The classical music world is full of exciting and vibrant people at the moment and I think that there is huge potential and hope for a revolution of the whole industry! Being a female has also presented its own challenges throughout my career; I am proud to identify as a feminist.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I personally am very fond of the live recording in the finals of the Trinity Soloists’s Competition because it is Prokofiev 3rd piano concerto, probably my favourite piece of music, played with nothing other than pure conviction. Sure, there are flaws, it’s not the world’s best piano, and it’s unedited, but it’s real. Other than that, the album that I have just completed for Sony which is my first commercial album and representative of where I want to go as an artist and where I want to take my audience: Through the doors of perception.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m very comfortable and happy in the 20th Century. That’s a huge spectrum but I love playing Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Lutoslawski etc.

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

I’d say a combination of instinct, demand, and what opportunities present themselves to me. It’s generally a balance of things booked long in advance because someone has heard you play a particular piece and would like to hear it again in two year’s time, or sometimes there’s a composer’s anniversary which ties into a theme. Other times I’ve been waiting for a really long to time to have the right programme to fit a piece that I really want to play and then that programme happens naturally and that’s wonderful!

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

I have had many wonderful venue experiences but really it’s down to the audience as to what a place feels like at any given time. A generous audience anywhere makes that the best venue!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love so many I could go on forever but Martha Argerich for her organic relationship with the piano, Jack White for his innovation and talent, David Bowie for being the master of many faces and never frightened to push a boundary. Jim Morrison for his poetry and reawakening of William Blake, my favourite poet.

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

To listen to and read as much as humanly possible across the genres, and to be truthful to the reasons that you pursued it in the first place. I am a founding member of the HoneyB Corps, an international civil society comprising skilled practitioners who volunteer their time to rehabilitate communities’ developmental needs like food, water, shelter, and health, and skilled artists who volunteer their time to rehabilitate communities’ formative needs: socially/relationally/artistically/therapeutically/spiritually. The HoneyB Corps is an exceptionally multifaceted and multi-dimensional community that supports and nurtures civil artists, but also deploys them across the world to touch lives, “cross-pollinate” ideas and creativity, and influence genuine conviviality through the cosmic force of art.

What is your present state of mind?

At the moment I am the happiest that i have ever been in my life. People spoke about 27 being a wonderful age and it really has been. Musically I am developing and growing and, most importantly, I am challenged and inspired by those around me.

Harriet’s debut album is due to be released in Spring 2017

Harriet Stubbs began piano studies at the age of three, performing in public a year later. At the age of five she was awarded a full scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama given by the Elsie and Leonard Cross Memorial Foundation.  She studied with James Gibb, Guildhall’s Emeritus Professor and Ronan O’Hora, Head of Keyboard and Advanced Performance Studies. At the age of seven she had passed all eight piano exams with distinction. 

Read more about Harriet here

 

Meet the Artist……Miriam Kitchener, percussionist

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

I was introduced to music at a very early age and so it was instilled in me right from the start. I began with piano lessons, however at the age of 9 I decided that the drum kit was my true calling, and the rest is history!

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

I have had many inspirational teachers throughout my education who have nurtured my musical learning in many different ways and have all influenced me in my musical life and career.

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

The greatest challenge for me is becoming accomplished on as many different percussion instruments as I can – there are so many to choose from!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

As part of a percussion quartet, we spent a day recording three pieces in November 2016 in preparation for a competition in May. We encountered many unusual setbacks in the lead up to the recording and on the recording day itself including a power cut, despite this I feel that we did a really great job and I’m really looking forward to hearing the results.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really enjoy the performance aspect of being a soloist and find that the more unusual the piece of the music, the more I enjoy it and therefore the better I play it! At the moment, I’m working on a piece for body percussion and mime called Ceci n’est pas une Balle. It’s a really energetic piece that requires a lot of audience interaction and is really exciting to perform.

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

I choose repertoire based on what I appreciate listening to and what I feel will work best with my musical personality. Above all, I choose pieces that I know I will enjoy playing and performing to an audience.

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

For orchestral playing, I really enjoy the atmosphere of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, the vast space is thrilling to perform in. Small solo venues can also have the same thrilling effect, with much more intimacy between performer and audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I’ve recently been introduced to an array of traditional Irish folk music and am enjoying both listening to and playing along to (with the aid of my bodhran) some awesome tunes. There are lots of great bands/artists on the Irish scene who mix traditional tunes with contemporary beats, some great ones to listen to are: Donal Lunny, Flook, Kila, and Planxty.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are the percussionists and educators who I have had the chance to meet and work with during my education. These are the people who I can consolidate about my career and who will give honest and accountable opinions. They are the musicians who work tirelessly day in day out to make a success of their own careers, they are exceptional players and can give some of the best advice a fellow musician could ask for.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This would probably have to be my very first visit to the proms when I was a younger. The vastness of The Royal Albert Hall was mesmerising and I can remember being particularly in awe when the orchestra played The Storm from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes.

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

Make yourself as versatile a musician as you possibly can. There are so many opportunities out there for musicians to take, not just as a performer. Immerse yourself in all aspects of music, from community work to concert organising, from being a session musician to creating your own folk band. Do as much as you can and experience as much as you can, while you can. Above all, make sure that you continue to enjoy all that you do!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Aside from all things musical, I enjoy going rock climbing and bouldering as often as I can. It’s great fun and important to occasionally take myself away from the musical world.
Miriam graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in June 2016 with a First Class Honours degree in Music Performance; she is now studying for her Master’s degree at the same establishment. Miriam has worked with many percussion teachers and educators from around the world including Adrian Spillett, Alexej Gerassimez, Ney Rosauro and Colin Currie to name but a few. Miriam is a versatile percussionist with interests stretching from the Irish Bodhrán to the music of Latin America; from orchestral playing to solo repertoire. Miriam also has keen interests in learning and participation projects within the wider community and the arts management that surrounds them.

 

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……Alexandra Dariescu, pianist

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

My mother was the one to introduce me to the wonderful world of music. I grew up in communist Romania, where kids didn’t have piano lessons as an after school thing but my Mum saved up lots of money and bought a beautiful mahogany upright. I got into the specialist music school in Iasi age 7 and had my debut with an orchestra 2 years later with Mozart D major concerto. I remember walking on stage, surrounded by adults, tripping over, conductor panicking, music stands falling, scores flying all over the place. My mum freezing in the first row. But I stood up, smiling and loved every single second of that performance. I came out and said “I want to become a concert pianist!”. I feel blessed to have had very encouraging people in my life, who believed in me and gave me a chance. I learnt from a very early age that hard work will always take you a long way. I don’t come from a musical family, therefore I didn’t have any expectation on how things should go. I didn’t set myself a target, I simply followed my intuition, learning from every situation and felt grateful for every opportunity that came my way. And the same as my falling, I learnt I can always stand back up and keep going.

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

My teachers have had the greatest influence on me, starting with my high-school teachers in Romania, to the late Mark Ray, Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Dina Parakhina, Ronan O’Hora, Andras Schiff and Imogen Cooper. I have been incredibly privileged to study with fantastic musicians, who taught me not just about music, but enriched my life through advice on staying true to myself and always discovering new things. The thirst of knowledge and curiosity is one of the most beautiful things in life.

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

I believe we all find ourselves at crossroads at some point in our lives. The greatest challenge is to take the right path for you. I usually analyse and over-analyse and once I have taken a decision, that’s it! I try to never look back and believe in the power of instinct- after a lot of research has been done!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Every recording I have ever made is the result of hard work, a long time planning, creating a vision and sticking to a plan.This year saw the release of my concerto debut disc- Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Signum Records coupled with the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ arranged by Pletnev. The joy of having my first concerto disc out is not easily put into words- honestly, a dream come true!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I try to identify myself with whatever piece I am playing. I like reading about the story behind the music, I like to find out about the political situation of that time, where the composer was at the point in his life, what were his fears, his joys. The notes on the page are just the start of the journey.

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

I think long term. I like creating projects and putting programmes together that make sense. I am working on my Trilogy of Preludes at the moment, a project supported by the wonderful team at Champs Hill Records, who have very enthusiastically welcomed 3 CDs of complete preludes: vol I Chopin and Dutilleux, vol II Szymanowski and Shostakovich (both released) and vol III Fauré and Messiaen coming out next year. I enjoy introducing my audiences to new pieces, I like to challenge them with something they might not know they would love.

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

Every venue has its own personality, the same as pianos do. As a pianist, one has to adapt very quickly – I simply cannot describe how thrilling it is to step into a hall where so many of the great legends have played. There’s a huge pressure but in the same time there’s something humbling and magical about it.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing the Nutcracker Suite. I feel the versatility of the piano makes it possible to recreate the orchestral sound and it allows me to imagine all the magical world the story tells in a very intimate setting. I love listening to everything, from jazz to folk, pop to classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Goodness me, where should I start?! Every concert is memorable, from a little hall in the middle of nowhere to the big giants. My first time at Carnegie Hall will always be the icing on the cake (and lots of the readers will know I love cake!). Getting a standing ovation at the Concertgebouw was quite something. My Buenos Aires concert in front of a packed 5000 seat hall (at lunchtime!) had me on my toes (I was told Beyoncé performed there the night before- make of that what you will!). Performing with youth orchestras is always truly rewarding- we all learn from each other and I always feel happy amongst them.

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

Always be true to yourself. Never give up. Always follow your dream- patience and perseverance will get you a long way. Never stop learning, from anyone and from every situation!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to enjoy each moment as it comes, living in the present. Making a difference, standing up for what I believe in. Change lives through music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Play my piano, communicate, bake, cycling with hubby, being with people.

What is your present state of mind?

I am truly grateful for everyone and everything I have around me. I feel blessed to be able to follow my dream.

 

From London’s Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall in New York, the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, recently named as one of 30 pianists under 30 destined for a spectacular career (International Piano Magazine), dazzles audiences worldwide with her effortless musicality and captivating stage presence.

Read more about Alexandra Dariescu here

Meet the Artist……Natalie Burch

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

It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!

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

I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!

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

The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!

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

Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.

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

I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!

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

In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!

Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West.  Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.

Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.

Read more about Natalie here

 

 

Meet the Artist……Robert Levin

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

My parents were great music lovers and the gramophone and radio were central to my early exposure to music.  My musical guardian angel was my maternal uncle, Benjamin Spieler, who studied clarinet at Juilliard with Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Simeon Bellison (principal clarinettist in the NY Phil) and pursued studies in flute, oboe, and clarinet and saxophone at the Paris Conservatory and bassoon at Columbia in New York.  He discovered that I had absolute pitch and arranged my musical education forthwith, chaperoning me to Fontainebleau to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  It is impossible for me to express adequately my debt to him.

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

Nadia Boulanger and Sir Clifford Curzon when I was young; Felix Galimir and Rudolf Kolisch later on..

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Let the listeners decide!  I have particular commitment to Viennese classical repertory, French music, and contemporary music, though the works I perform span the Elizabethan masters to the present.

What, for you, makes Mozart’s piano concerti special/significant in the canon of classical music?

They are operatic scenes, incorporating a breathtaking span of emotions that unfold under the guide of a masterful dramatist who perhaps is equalled only by Shakespeare.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of Concertos 3 & 4 which you performed with Aurora orchestra as part of their Mozart’s Piano series at Kings Place?

The solo keyboard parts are written not by Mozart, but by expatriate composers living in Paris in the middle of the 18th century, together with C. P. E. Bach; Mozart supplied orchestral accompaniments, thereby transforming these movements into concertos.  It is fascinating to see how in doing this Mozart prepared himself for the task of composing instrumental concertos from scratch.  These are therefore works of apprenticeship.  From here Mozart develops the techniques of solo and tutti within aria form, transforming its structure to the domain of the instrumental concerto at the moment that he chafes against the static nature of opera seria and wants to have dramatic development WITHIN arias, not just BETWEEN them (in the recitatives, where the action typically happens in opera seria).

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many.  Hearing Gilels’ and Richter’s first recitals in New York.  Hearing Horowitz’s after his return to the concert platform.  Hearing Rudolf Serkin’s Hammerklavier sonata and Emperor concerto.  Hearing Curzon in solo and concerto repertoire.  Hearing Haitink conduct Bruckner 8 and Mahler 9.  And there then are my own experiences on stage—constant excitement, an endless learning curve, reveling in the exalted danger of risk-laden performances.

What advice would you give to anyone learning Mozart’s piano music?

Learn the grammar and the aesthetic, learn to discern the myriad character changes inherent in the fluid discourse, learn what is to learn, and then walk onstage and do what you must do to communicate this dizzying sensual world to an audience that will be forever changed by the message you bring to them.

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

Engagement with the musical narrative, character, drama, colour.  Be an actor—do for music what Meryl Streep does for the screen and the stage.

Mozart’s Piano, Aurora Orchestra’s monumental new five-year project offers audiences the rarest of opportunities: a complete cycle of the concertos, staged live in concert in the beautifully intimate surroundings of Hall One at Kings Place. Further information here

Pianist and Conductor Robert Levin has been heard throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. His solo engagements include the orchestras of Atlanta, Berlin, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Utah and Vienna on the Steinway with such conductors as Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Bernard Haitink, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen. On period pianos he has appeared with the Academy of Ancient Music, English Baroque Soloists, Handel & Haydn Society, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nicholas McGegan, and Sir Roger Norrington.

Renowned for his improvised embellishments and cadenzas in Classical period repertoire, Robert Levin has made recordings for DG Archiv, CRI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, ECM, New York Philomusica, Nonesuch, Philips and SONY Classical. These include a Mozart concerto cycle for Decca; a Beethoven concerto cycle for DG Archiv (including the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s arrangement of the Fourth Concerto for piano and string quintet); and the complete Bach harpsichord concertos with Helmuth Rilling, as well as the six English Suites (on piano) and both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier (on five keyboard instruments) as part of Hänssler’s 172-CD Edition Bachakademie. The first recording in a Mozart piano sonata cycle has also been released by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.

A passionate advocate of new music, Robert Levin has commissioned and premiered a large number of works.  He is a renowned chamber musician and a noted theorist and musicologist. His completions of Mozart fragments are published by Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel, Carus, Peters, and Wiener Urtext Edition, and recorded and performed throughout the world. (source Rayfield Allied)

 
 

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