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

Music was a very gradual and natural progression for me. As a child I began to play more and more music until I was eventually spending every spare minute at school rushing off to a practice room, to a rehearsal, to a music tech studio, to a lesson, to a chamber group. I was filling my holidays and weekends with orchestra courses, jazz rehearsals in London, and on and on and on. Finally it dawned on me that music was clearly the focus in my life, and it would be a rather natural next step to try to make a living out of it.

Likewise the conducting was a transition. There came a point in my early twenties when I realised that I’d caught the conducting bug. I was playing in orchestras of such varying standards, from the flimsiest of amateur setups to the highest professional level, that I was constantly watching the whole spectrum of conductors in front of me. The lesser mortals gave me the confidence that I could do better than them, but more importantly the better conductors inspired me hugely, fascinated me, and got me hooked on the idea that a conducting profession could be a compelling journey.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

In my earlier days the strongest influences were my teachers – and I was certainly lucky to have superb teachers, more than I can mention. I owe a lot to Neil Thomson, who first set me off on a path towards understanding the process of conducting, and understanding how to learn. From that point I had so many different conducting influences. Two names that stand out are Sir Mark Elder and Claudio Abbado. Mark gave me two years of astonishing support, guidance and inspiration whilst I was his assistant at the Hallé orchestra; Claudio gave me his mindblowingly high-class conducting to feed off whilst I was playing in the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.

Nowadays my primary influences are the scores in front of me, but my instincts are surely still heavily influenced by all the people who led me where I am today.

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

Perhaps the greatest challenge is wrestling with the question of what a composer intended at a certain point in a score when his or her vision is absolutely unclear on the page. If it’s a work that’s close to your heart, this struggle is intense and consuming, but always interesting. On a more mundane note, there is a huge organisational and logistical focus to my work as a conductor that wasn’t present when I was a player. This is especially true in my role as a Music Director. Fortunately I’m rather neurotic in terms of organisation, so I get by.

Putting aside all the challenges, though, at the very heart is the fact that I feel totally at home on a podium in front of an orchestra. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than the concert experience of performing music that you have rehearsed intensely and spent months preparing for. When things are going well, it’s the most satisfying possible way to conclude a project.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Any player will tell you that the holy grail is for conductors to communicate everything in gestures. That’s certainly the dream. Of course it’s not possible 100% of the time. Some things need to be said, but perhaps the secret is knowing when to stop… Players don’t need to know all your ideas. There’s often a great deal of extra contingency preparation or historical context that doesn’t need to be shared. In the case of, say, Also Sprach Zarathustra, there’s even a gigantic layer of philosophy. The players don’t need to know everything you’re thinking, but having all these extra layers as a base can add so much to the conviction with which you’re conducting.

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

Absolutely the latter. Surely that has to be the primary role of a conductor, to take on full responsibility to enable the audience to experience what the composer intended. If you happen to inspire the musicians along the way, that’s a bonus – an orchestra is more likely to play well and work hard if they’re inspired.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Although I’m lucky to be able to programme and perform orchestral music of my choosing a lot of the time, there are a few sacred cows… The piece that most comes to mind is Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande. I have unusually powerful memories of rehearsing and performing it under Claudio Abbado, so the music means a lot to me and I feel as though I know it inside out. But I’m wary of experiencing it from the podium, in case those memories are affected.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

There are so many tremendous buildings devoted to classical music! I’m so fortunate to be Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León – we both rehearse and perform in the spectacular concert hall of the Auditorio Miguel Delibes. It’s hard to beat the Royal Albert Hall – what a space – plus I used to walk past it every day so it feels like coming home. As a player I adored the glamour of the Musikverein, and was totally blown away by the concert hall in São Paolo with its mix of wood§ and stone. I’m particularly fond of Snape Maltings – apart from the beautiful concert hall there’s that wonderful view across the marshes. And now I’m in danger of opening up the entire genre of concert halls with views-to-die-for from the conductor’s dressing room….. Gran Canaria with its sweeping view of the beach, Granada looking out over the Sierra Nevada from its hilltop position next to the Alhambra… Perhaps there’s a coffee table book in this.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

In general terms, my favourite musicians are those who respect the music on the page and the intentions of the composer. Obviously it helps if they can transmit it to the audience with jaw-dropping skill and style… but I’m never a fan of style over substance.

As for composers, in order to connect with me they need to have something to say in their music, rather than just searching for the next note for composing’s sake. This probably isn’t tangible and might translate into different things depending on the era in which the composer was writing, but there’s always a depth supporting it, which keeps me interested when looking deeper and deeper into a score. You might have guessed I’m trying to remain generic instead of naming names(!)

It’s worth adding, though, that I listen to very little classical music for pleasure. I feel the need to escape it to make sure that it stays fresh. Many of my favourite musicians are in other genres; pop (in every sense), jazz, and so on.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To earn the respect of both musicians and non-musicians over the longterm course of a career.

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

If only I had something of value to offer! It’s tricky to pin these things down when you’re continuously searching for the answers yourself. I’ll try to suggest a few…

Garner and absorb as many influences as possible. Otherwise you’ll never acquire the broad view with which to find out if you’ve been heading down the wrong track.



It’s important to have occasional bouts of fanaticism and all-consuming obsession in your music- making. It can take you to the next level.

Those in music who achieve the most are, more often than not, those who put in the most work. Yes there are exceptions, but you’re taking a gamble if you test the norm.

Remember there’s more to life than your chosen profession. Despite all the hard work, keep it in context and maintain a balance in your life – you’ll be a healthier person.

There will be ups and downs. Enjoy the ride.


Andrew Gourlay is Music Director of the The Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, which has just announced the launch of its own record label. The first recording will be released on 9 January 2019, and feature Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.

Watch the album trailer:

Born in Jamaica, with Russian ancestry, Andrew Gourlay grew up in the Bahamas, Philippines, Japan and England. A trombonist and pianist by training, he studied conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he prepared Bruckner symphonies for Bernard Haitink and Mozart symphonies for Sir Roger Norrington. He was selected by Gramophone magazine as their ‘One to Watch’, and by BBC Music Magazine as their ‘Rising Star: great artists of tomorrow’.

Andrew Gourlay won First Prize at the 2010 Cadaques International Conducting Competition, securing concerts with 29 orchestras around the world. For the next two years he was Assistant Conductor to Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra. In January 2016 Gourlay took up the position of Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León (OSCYL), having been their Principal Guest Conductor since the 2014/15 season, and celebrated the orchestra’s 25th anniversary in 2016/17.

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

When I was really young my brother, who is older than me, played violin. I thought that looked like a lot of fun so I also started playing too. That is what got me interested in music to start with. In our home we had a very old upright piano, I think it cost £100. It was really terrible, almost untune-able. My brother and I would play around on it, making a terrible noise until my mum got so fed up with it that she found a local piano teacher to help tame us! I found that I enjoyed playing piano and would spend hours practising and trying out new things. My parents are not at all musical so they didn’t really know what to do with me when I began to become more and more interested in playing.

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

 I think that my first piano teacher, Claire Swainsbury, had a huge effect on me. She showed me how much fun I could have playing piano and introduced me to some beautiful pieces of music. Then later on Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a big influence along with the conductor Alexander Sladkovsky.

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

I think that in the UK Classical Music is sometimes difficult for people to understand, whereas in many other countries, Russia especially, it is more a part of everyday life. The education system in the UK doesn’t really help either. So I guess that is a pretty big challenge… for everyone involved in classical music in the UK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

That would have to be Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 with Alexander Sladkovsky in Kazan.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I enjoy performing a wide range of work but I do have my favourites, like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Liszt. I think that if you enjoy performing a piece of music you will usually play it well. I’ve always been fond of performing the great Russian romantic composers, although I’m never sure if I play these pieces the best. But I do know that I really enjoy this kind of repertoire.

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

I always have a list of pieces that I want to perform, I choose the ones that fit with the way I am feeling at the time when I am ready to begin a new piece.

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

I love performing in Russia and of course the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory has to be my favourite. Mainly because of the acoustics but also because of the long history behind this amazing concert hall and the many legendary artists who have performed there.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I think my all time favourite would have to be Horowitz, who, when he first started performing, was paid in butter and chocolate… sounds good to me!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing with Valery Gergiev and having a ten minute rehearsal for an entire concerto which ended five minutes before going on stage. That was interesting.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

For me success in music isn’t something that you can ever really achieve or reach. Certainly I try to improve my understanding of a piece of music, but I am not sure if I will ever succeed in doing so completely.

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

Always remember that music is an art form, not a science. It comes from the heart. So be yourself when you perform no matter what the people around you are telling you.


Born in Hackney in the UK, British pianist George Harliono was invited to make his first one hour long, solo recital at the age of nine. Since then he has performed in numerous locations both in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, appearing at venues such as Wigmore Hall, The Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Albert Hall and Chicago Symphony Centre.

In 2013 he was invited to record Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.2 No.1 at the Southbank Centre in London. In 2016 his performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 at the Great Hall of The Moscow Conservatory was broadcast live on Russian national TV and streamed live on Medici TV.

Since his concerto debut at the age of 12 he has been a regular performer with orchestras including the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago and Tyumen Philharmonic Orchestra. George also regularly performs alongside eminent artists such as Lang Lang and Denis Matsuev and has worked with many renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Evgeny Shestakov and Francesco Milioto

George has been awarded prizes in numerous competitions throughout the world including The Grand Piano Competition in Moscow, Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London, Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in Utah and Dinu Lipatti Piano Competition in Bucharest

Most recently he performed with The Mariinsky Orchestra in Vladivostok, Russia under the baton of Valery Gergiev and was also invited to perform a recital as part of the Scherzo Young Series in Madrid. Scherzo is the most important piano series in Madrid and has previously featured artists such as Yuja Wang and Mitsuko Uchida.

He studies with Professor Vanessa Latarche (Chair of International Keyboard Studies and Head of Keyboard, Royal College of Music in London) and travels to Switzerland to work with his mentor, renowned pianist professor Vovka Ashkenazy and also his father Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has taken masterclasses with Dmitri Bashkirov, Lang Lang and Vladimir Ovchinikov among others. George also works closely with Alexander Sladkovsky who has taken a personal interest in his development as an artist.

George began studying at The Royal College of Music for a BMUS Degree on a full four year scholarship in September of last year. He is one of the youngest students ever to be accepted onto this course.

Upcoming engagements for this year include performances with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev and Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Santa Fe conducted by Walter Hilgers. George will also be giving a concerto performance at the Berliner Philharmonie as well as a recital at the Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama, Japan.

georgeharliono.net

(Photo: Alexander Von Busch and Kir Simakov)

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’. Mahler’s Ninth Symphony totally captivated me and has filled my head since I first heard it. I am very excited that this dream is shortly to be fulfilled in a concert at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 3rd March 2019.

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 conducts the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra in music by Alma and Gustav Mahler and Franz Schubert at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge on Saturday 10th November. Further information and tickets


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 pursue a career in music?

My singing career started when I was three years old, when I sang at a church event. My parents realised that I enjoyed it and encouraged me to perform as much as possible; my performing career developed from there. I started playing the piano when I was five and writing songs in my early teens, although I would never sing them to anyone! That confidence to perform my own work took a while to develop and I didn’t publicly air that material until I was in my early twenties. I was playing in church bands and leading worship on my own which helped me to develop my own style and rapport with people. With songwriting, the story is as important as the song and that connection with audience is something that you learn over time.

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

Too many to mention! But probably Karen Carpenter, I do think her best work was her solo album which she recorded with Phil Ramone. We can hear the real Karen, an artist who has matured and found her own style. Unfortunately, it wasn’t released until 1997, fourteen years after her death so she never saw the public’s fantastic reaction to it.

A love of music by female singer-songwriters and finding that I had a voice of my own has greatly influenced my work. When I was 18, I fell in love with Alanis Morrisette’s lyric writing and that gave me the impetus and confidence to write my own songs. Her brutal honesty inspired me and her ability to make just about any word rhyme, makes laugh a lot!

Judith Owen is an amazing songwriter and musical interpreter. Some of her arrangements of well-known popular songs are incredible and she loves to take traditionally male genres and add a female spin to them. Julia Fordham is also an incredible performer and songwriter and knows how to take the listener on an emotional and musical journey. The two albums that she collaborated with Larry Klein are amazing and are well worth a listen.

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

Embracing my training and then letting go of my training… There’s great value in good musical training and as a singing and piano teacher, you’d expect me to say that! However, there comes a time when you have to park your training and musical education in order to find your own, personal technique that makes you unique. I had to find my voice and embrace it. From a creative stance, this is liberating but can also be painful. You have to be prepared make mistakes and find the find the value in them in order to progress. It’s not only a musical journey, but a personal one too.

I didn’t realise how much people’s attitudes towards me would change after I reached a certain age and had children. For women in the music industry, doors close and opportunities are sparse once you hit 40 and have a family. We’re often seen as unavailable or unreliable which isn’t the case. It seems so old fashioned and unnecessary, especially when other employment sectors came in line with the law years ago. A few colleagues and I have made it our mission to make our own opportunities and create new paths for others to follow.

Which works are you most proud of?

I released my first album Conversations With The Heart in 2004 on the smallest of budgets (ie. barely none). It was recorded in my friend’s dining room which he had converted into a studio and served with a lot of tea and biscuits. It’s the album I thought I would never make and was achieved under difficult circumstances.

Some works surprise you. I wrote Do You Seek An Answer and then put it in a draw and forgot about it. Eventually it landed up on the At Second Glance EP and went on to be number one in the New Christian Music Chart in the UK and Europe. I didn’t see that coming or the reaction to the song from the general public.

Close That Door was a real departure for me in terms of style and music maturity. After years of writing, I felt that I had composed something near the mark of what I had always hoped to achieve. For a lot of songwriters, composing is the Holy Grail, we have great ambitions of what we would like to produce but it can take decades to start writing material that is near that goal. Have I managed to write anything like that again? No! I guess creative people are never satisfied and that’s what keeps us searching for the ultimate composition.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I saw George Michael in November 2007 at Earls Court as part of the Twenty Five Live tour. His voice was out of this world and far better than any of recordings! A real loss to the musical world. He knew how to connect with the audience and despite his shyness, was a well-seasoned showman. The whole show was well crafted and he obviously picked his musicians carefully as there was a palpable intuition between all of them.

From my own performing career, the most memorable concerts are the ones where I’ve collaborated with other artists. A few years ago, I was a backing vocalist for Darren Hayman (formerly of the band Hefner) for his Chants For Socialists project. I hadn’t performed much folk material, so it was great to work with a band and quite a diverse group of vocalists, recapturing William Morris’ mission to improve life for the poor through these political chants.

Working with the saxophonist and composer, Rachael Forsyth is always amazing. We met at university and over the years, we have performed and written together. Our work has involved over time and these days is more about composition rather than performance, but who knows? This may change in the future.

As a composer, how do you work?

The way I work has changed over the years. I used to sit at the piano for hours fleshing out ideas but I began to feel restless with that way of working. Now I tend to work more “on the go” and add ideas to my phone or notebook which I can then work through later. You have to keep changing the way you do things to keep the creativity flowing and growing.

I’ve also find it helpful to have a set topic for a project. Recently I have been working with the Buckinghamshire County Archive, creating songs based on stories for the county’s World War One collection. It’s been fascinating and inspiring to bring history to life through song. It also led to some opportunities at performance events with a wide range of artists who told the stories of local people through different artistic media.

A few months ago, I decided to break away from songwriting and compose some instrumental pieces. I needed a new challenge and wanted to create music that didn’t rely on my voice. Over the years, I’ve been asked for the backing tracks for my songs as people have wanted to use them instrumentally, this gave me the confidence to start thinking about making non-vocal music and what it could be used for. I’ve also been creating short films to go with the pieces. I haven’t unleashed them on the public, but I think an instrumental project maybe something I produce in the future.

How would you describe your compositional/musical style?

That depends on the day! I never quite know how to answer this question as my style changes for each song but I definitely lean more towards a jazz, soul style of music. I’m always striving to improve and build on the previous work to see how far I can push my technique. In the past, one producer I worked with always wanted my work to have a commercial edge, but for me, I felt that it killed the music and some of my message was lost in the stylistic translation. But that’s the dilemma for all music artists, please the masses or please yourself? There’s no answer to that question…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think success is very hard to define in music, it’s different for everyone. I try to set small levels of success as in music they can be a moveable goal! If the goals and levels are small, they are far more achievable. That’s not to say that attaining success isn’t important, but you need a high amount of realism and flexibility to work in music. Having a varied career helps, when the teaching is going well, the performing might not be as lucrative and vice versa.

I mostly ignore what the industry claims is success as everyone’s path is so different, how could we even compare each other? I found that this has made me much happier as I’m working on a route that suits me. Having supportive colleagues is a great help: we all cheer each other on and listen to each other when it’s needed.

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

A flexible approach to a music career. My career has involved teaching, composing and performing which keeps things fresh but also widens the landscape for opportunities. Be prepared to take on non-music work in order to live, then you can pick and choose the projects you want to work on without the pressure of the mortgage looming over you. Do whatever you have to, to make it work. A few years ago, I went through a family crisis which pretty much brought everything to halt; I didn’t know if I would be able to continue in music, but I decided that I had to find a way that worked for me. I can’t say that I’ve recovered everything, but I made a conscious decision to not give up.

Tenacity and perseverance. You need to be steely-eyed and have a thick skin to be a musician. It’s a rollercoaster ride with many twists and turns. Some seasons you’ll be to support yourself financially through music and other seasons you’ll need to get other work. It’s part of being a troubadour and an artisan.

It also good to be inspired by other musicians, but at the same time you need to develop a musical character of your own as this is what moves an audience. I’ve seen too many acts trying to emulate someone else’s musical style – it never works. Be yourself: there’s a reason you are created as YOU. It’s also better to move the audience than to impress them; if you can take them on an emotional, musical journey they will remember that forever.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Mostly hanging out with friends and catching up. Being with people you love and make you laugh is better than therapy! I also like painting and over the last few years, I’ve been getting back into that after a break of more than 20 years. I enjoy being creative whether it’s music, art or writing a blog: it’s all cathartic.

Being active is also very important to me. I find that I can clear my mind when I’m running, swimming or walking. It’s good way to let my mind wander and begin to solve my problems, probably because I let my thoughts switch off and my mind can be calm. I’ve had some of best ideas while running on the treadmill!

What is your present state of mind?

Rather unusual for me, but I would say looking to the future. Over the last few years, my outlook has been “take one day at a time” but now, I’m starting to think more about what I want out of life and also music!

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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 pursue a career in music? 

My father was a huge inspiration for me. He was a fine pianist and played piano the Charles Kinz stride piano style. Along with my mother, they had a concert party after the way and with the other members of the “Wakeans”, as they were called, used to re-live the shows in our tiny front room in Northolt on a Sunday evening. Around 1953, when I was four, I can recall climbing out of bed and sneaking down the stairs to listen before getting caught and being sent back to bed.

I just wanted to play the piano so badly, and aged five I was sent off to piano lessons with Dorothy Symes, and indeed stayed with her throughout my grades before going to the Royal College of Music.

My father encouraged me to listen to as many different kind of music as possible and to play as many different styles as possible. I owe him so much.

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

There are so many – Dorothy Symes was such an inspirational teacher; being taken to see Swan Lake aged about nine and the same year seeing Lonnie Donegan (who in later years became a great friend and fellow Water Rat).

I loved Trad Jazz and especially Kenny Ball, who I also got to meet in later life. My father introduced me to Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’, which mesmerised me. Here was a story being told in music – that was really the moment when I knew that’s what I wanted to do: tell stories in music.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your career? 

The biggest challenge has always been people saying “You can’t do that“, which makes me all the more determined to do it, regardless of the consequences. I was told doing King Arthur on Ice was doomed to failure, and it is still the most talked about show I’ve ever put on!

Likewise, I was told it was ridiculous to take a symphony orchestra and choir on tour in America – red rag to a bull! I did it and it was fantastic! Every day brings new challenges and if you manage to overcome and solve them, that’s where the pleasure comes in.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I would probably give different answers on different days, but these are the ones that come to mind today:

‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ as that was the first solo album and was hated by the record company who kept asking when I was going to put the vocals on!

Also ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘King Arthur’ from the early seventies as well.

With my band, ‘Out There’ (originally released 2003) springs to mind as a very complex album where those around me really understood what I was trying to achieve.

The remakes of both ‘Journey…. ‘ and ‘King Arthur’ are very important to me as it now means there are records of the music to be remembered. Both of there were limited to the amount you could get onto a vinyl recording, so to do the full length versions was very important to me. I did the same with ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and added the three missing pieces to a live recording made at Hampton Court.

In recent years Piano Portraits has meant a lot tome for many reasons, not lease that it was my way of celebrating the genius and friendship of David Bowie. This has led to my brand new album for Sony Classical, Piano Odyssey, which ventures a stage further with piano variations of the music I love, with a string section and choir. A lot of time was spent getting this album absolutely as I wanted it and so has a special place in my “recording heart”.

Tell us more about your ‘Piano Odyssey’ album….. 

When I recorded ‘Piano Portraits’, it was purely solo piano versions of pieces I loved or had a connection to that had great melodies, and I rewrote variations on themes for all. I was really pleased with the outcome and the album did extremely well, making the top 10 for more than eleven weeks. I had decided against a second volume; however, because whilst there were a lot of other wonderful pieces of music that I wanted to do, none of them would work with just piano in the way I envisaged them.

However, it was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that started it all off again. Now working with the team at Sony Classical, I had wanted to do this originally but just couldn’t get it to work on piano alone in the way I could hear it. I kept hearing a string section and choir, and had a Eureka! moment one day when I realised this was indeed the answer – an album of piano variations of great music but with the addition of a small string section and choir.

I prepared a short-list of 40 pieces and eventually whittled it down to the 12 I really knew would work – and that included Bohemian Rhapsody, which I sent to my dear friend Brian May. He not only gave it his seal of approval but added a cameo performance of beautiful acoustic guitar.

‘Piano Odyssey’ is everything I set out to achieve and indeed has even gone a stage further than I thought possible.

What motivated your selection of the music featured on this album? 

Simple answer – melody. There has to be a great melody that allows variations without taking away from the original. There are pieces from The Beatles, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Liszt, Handel, Dvorak, yes and even me! There are also two original tracks that I wrote in memory of two wonderful moon bears which were saved from horrific bear bile farms, and as an Ambassador for Animals Asia, I am proud that we have save so many of these wonderful bears and celebrate them here. Both the bears – Rocky and Cyril Wolverine – sadly passe away. Cyril was my own bear and the loss was devastating for all of us who knew him. I wrote both these pieces surrounded by their photos.

Were there any special challenges in arranging the songs? 

To be honest, no. I have been doing this for many years, although never recording them like this. I also have a good team around me with the Orion Strings and English Chamber Choir, who know where I’m coming from musically.

Do you feel that progressive rock is a way to bring some classical sophistication to the pop world and, if so, are your achievements in some way striving towards leading an innovative, “parallel-classical” career? 

When I started in the late 1960s after leaving the Royal College of Music, there were real divisions within all music types, whether jazz, classical, pop, rock, folk, country, you name it. They all had their own identities and seldom met! I deliberately set out to fuse as much as possible and at first hit a lot of brick walls, but slowly started getting the message across, and today there are no taboos which is great.

With there being a Prog-revival of sorts, does you think there is potential crossover for youth audiences between the two genres? 

There already is and vinyl has a lot to do with it. Younger people are discovering vinyl and album covers and the information contained on them. Music is tactile and vinyl is bringing that back. Music now no longer has a date stamped on it. You either like it or you don’t. There is no specific age thing any more either – that side of things is very healthy.

Would you ever consider making a fully classical album? 

I have been asked to and the answer would have to be no. Although I occasionally turn to Mozart and Beethoven sonatas or plough through the Bach “48” for fun, it’s not what I would want to do, if I’m honest.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

Success is sadly always thought of in commercial terms, but for me it probably only comes after you have departed this mortal coil. In other words, if in 100 years’ time somebody on radio plays a piece of my music, then I guess I can say I was successful to a degree…

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

Believe in yourself. Don’t be frightened of opinions and criticism from others, as long as they are qualified to give it (which 99% of them aren’t!). Most people who try and tell you what you should be doing do so because they can’t do it themselves (many don’t know a crotchet from a hatchet!), but occasionally the odd word of wisdom does get through: you just have to be able to spot it.

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

Alive please – and still able to play, composing and having music adventures.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To be worry-free – so there’s no perfect happiness for any human being, I’m afraid!

What is your most treasured possession? 

My father’s upright Bechstein piano on which I learned to play and inherited when he died in 1980.

What is your present state of mind?

Jumbled! It always is – too much going on!

Rick Wakeman’s new album ‘Piano Odyssey’ is released on 12 October 2018 on the Sony Classical label. The album feature reworkings of material from his solo career along with Yes songs and covers of tracks by artists including the Beatles, David Bowie and Queen.