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

It was a combination of different influences.  At around the age of 13 I was introduced to Glenn Gould’s recording of the Goldberg variations (the 1955 recording). I was fixated with it, and for many months I listened to nothing but Bach! I suppose my passion and energy for music arose from then.

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

There are too many to count! Tom Waits, The ‘Heiliger Dankegesang’ movement from Beethoven String quartet op 132, Mahler’s 6th Symphony, Oscar Peterson, Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Schubert songs. The list is always growing….

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

Performing Stockhausen’s ‘Mantra’ with my piano duo (the Francoise-Green duo) was especially memorable. It was 70mins of extremely difficult piano music, as well as playing crotales, a wood block, ring modulators and a radio! But generally, I don’t look back, I am always looking forward to the next challenge.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am proud of my latest CD ‘Dialog mit Mozart’, with the Austrian violinist Daniel Auner. We recorded 3 Mozart violin sonatas on the Gramola label. We approached the project by studying the original manuscripts, and discussing in detail how Mozart should be played naturally and instinctively.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I have always insisted on performing lots of different repertoire. There is so much great music, that it is a crime not to try it all in a life time. This month I have performed works by Strauss, Schubert, Mozart, Stravinsky, Saints-Saens and Steve Reich, so my musical life is always extremely varied. I have a huge passion for chamber music from the Classical era and try to perform this as often as possible. I am very happy that I will be performing the Beethoven Cello Sonatas this season with my good friend Christian Elliott, the cellist of the Zehetmair quartet.

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

This very much depends on which concerts/festivals I am invited to, and who I will collaborate with. This coming season, I will perform a number of concertos for the first time, including the Mendelssohn Double concerto in Japan.

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

Performing at Wigmore Hall is very special. It has an astonishing Steinway piano, and a magical acoustic. I was also very excited to play in Berlin recently at the Piano Salon Christophori. There is a concert series in a working piano factory, where the owner has over 120 pianos! It is a magical atmosphere and a very attentive audience. There were over 250 people, and half the audience was under 40. A good sign for 2015.

Favourite pieces to perform?

Whichever piece I am about to play.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Whoever I am about to play with.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I once played at the BBC Proms with the European Union Youth Orchestra on the organ! We played ‘Tarus Bulba’ by Janacek, which includes very exposed solos. That was my first time playing an organ, so it was quite an overwhelming experience! Perhaps I can officially retire as an organist now I have played at the Royal Albert Hall.

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

Never stop learning, never stop working and never stop dreaming. When the cellist Casals (then age 93) was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours a day, he replied, “I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”

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

Doing exactly what I am doing now.

‘A light touch and an engaging tone’ (The Strad magazine), Robin Green enjoys a busy career as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor and ensemble pianist.

Robin’s first CD, ‘Dialog mit Mozart’ with the Austrian violinist Daniel Auner, released on the Gramola label, was ‘Editors choice’ in the December 2014 issue of the Strad Magazine.

Robin has performed recitals in many of the world’s most important concert venues including the Wigmore Hall and the Vienna Musikverein. His festival appearances have included the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the ‘Interlaken Classics Festival’, Davos Young Artists Festival, the International Musicians Seminar ‘Open Chamber’ Festival at Prussia Cove, the Pharos Trust, Festival de Radio France et Montpellier and Le Jardin Musicaux Festival.

As a concerto soloist, Robin directed a performance of Poulenc´s ‘Aubade’ from the piano with the European Union Youth Orchestra. Other concerto highlights include the Martinu Double Concerto with Sinfonia Cymru and Camerata Nordica at the Small Nations Big Sounds festival.

Together with the pianist Antoine Françoise, Robin is part of the Françoise-Green piano duo. The duo are the first prize winners of the Royal Overseas League Chamber music competition, and the Concours Nicati in Switzerland. In 2015, the duo were finalists of the YCAT competition at Wigmore Hall.

A passionate chamber musician, Robin has collaborated with Gordan Nikolitch, Michael Collins, Thomas Carroll, Rolf Hind, the Cavalieri String Quartet, members of the Zehetmair quartet, Llyr Williams, the Rambert Dance Company and the Mercury Quartet, where he is a guest conductor.

Former recipient of the Leverhulme Chamber music fellowship at the Royal College of Music, Robin is now a piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music Junior department. Supporting his studies at the Royal College of Music and the Mozarteum, Salzburg, Robin has participated in masterclasses with Vladimir Ashkenazy, Menahem Pressler, Ivry Gitlis, Ferenc Rados, Stephen Kovacevich, Dénes Várjon, Imre Rohmann, Peter Lang and Rainer Schmidt.

Robin is the former pianist of the European Union Youth Orchestra, having won the Chairman’s award. As an ensemble pianist, Robin has performed with Orchestre National de Radio France, Aurora Orchestra and Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain.

Lola Perrin
Lola Perrin

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

It picked me, I couldn’t keep away from the piano and when I hit my early twenties I realised I had to compose, and knew it would take a good few years to write anything I could say was original.  It actually took 9 years to eventually compose eleven minutes of music that I rate; my first piano suite which is a set of seven miniatures.  After that, the door was open.

 

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

Edward Hopper, Ansel Adams, observing children set free at the piano, Rachel Whiteread, Carsten Hoeller, Dr Martin Coath’s emails to me about the speed of thought in the brain, Hussein Chalayan’s ideology that drives his designs, the passing of a close friend and musician and remembering him in a piano suite – these were all triggers, one by one, for my eight piano suites.

 

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

It’s unimaginably difficult to get other people to play your work which is fairly usual (so many of my predecessors only started getting played after their deaths), although my work is played now more than it was – it ebbs and flows.  It’s hard to get it to take off. I’m more interested in composing than promoting so I run out of time to promote my books. I spend less time than I would like on promoting my books because my composing and teaching take priority.  So I would say the greatest challenge is ongoing; getting my work further into the repertoire and into the hands of many more concert pianists.

 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Always the next one.

 

Favourite pieces to listen to?

Bill Evans playing ‘Symbiosis’

 

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich is high up in my list and I loved seeing her daughter’s amazing and intimate film about Martha: ‘Bloody Daughter’.

 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Maybe the one where around 5 and a half people came. I was in a tiny chapel in Hamburg, My show included films and as there was no screen, they were projected onto the amazing and antiquated wallpaper, creating the sense of a one-time-only atmosphere never to be repeated but perhaps everyone would remember on a particularly deep level.

 

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

Once you find your path, never step away from it; no matter how hard it is, do not compromise. Be brave and keep reaching out!

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve spent the last year creating “Now You See It” – a composer’s response to living in the age of climate change. It’s scored for piano and an orchestra of words featuring the voices of activists and innovators at the frontline of climate justice.  I worked with co-producer Christian Dymond, researching and interviewing a number of activists around the world; then I created a word based composition using extracts from the interviews and set that within piano composition. It has its premiere in London in March and is going to Hebden Bridge Piano Festival in April, will be on at Markson Pianos Concert Series in October, with more dates coming in. 

 

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

On a planet that has switched to renewable energy or NO energy.

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking to my next gig; that’s when I most feel in my element.

 

 

Lola Perrin performs at Hebden Bridge Piano Festival on 18th April in a programme which culminates in her “Now You See It” – a multimedia project featuring solo piano with a sumptuous cloud film by visual artist Roberto Battista, and pre-recorded words captured from international activists, climatologists, inventors, writers, and oil rig workers; voices from the frontline of our global climate conversation.  “Such a brilliant idea!” George Monbiot

 Further information and tickets here 

Lola Perrin is a London-based, USA-born composer, pianist, publisher, and Composer-in-Residence at Markson Pianos.

She has been composing since 1992 and performs her compositions on mainland Europe, in the UK (including works for 2, 4 & 6 pianos at Lang Lang Inspires, Southbank Centre) & USA, and has published over 70 piano compositions in 8 books, distributed via Spartan Press. Commissions include silent film scores performed at Barbican, BFI Southbank and Peninsula Arts in Plymouth. She collaborates in performance with writers (including Mihir Bose  & Sue Hubbard), scientists, artists and film makers. 

Lola Perrin has been taken into the repertoire by concert pianists including; Elena Riu, Kevin Robert Orr, Paul Cassidy, Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble, LP Duo, Duo Gastesi Bezerra, Carles and Sofia.  Her technical exercises, commissioned by Trinity College of Music, can be found in their 2015 – 2016 Piano Syllabus Grades 3 & 4.

As an increasing number of pianists and piano duos take up her piano works she is turning her attention to instrumental works.  Elysian Quartet and Carlos Lopez-Real have performed her string quartet and saxophone work. Sarah Watts  commissioned ‘Her Sisters’ Notebook’ (ten bass clarinets) for Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival 2011 and played it at Irish Royal Academy 2014. Simon Desbrulais and Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble have taken up her forthcoming Suite for Two Pianos, Trumpet and Narrator. During 2014 two instrumental works (String Quartet & Saxophone, Wind Quintet & Choir) are due to be rehearsed / performed in London.

She has been interviewed and reviewed by various media including Berliner Morgenpost, BBC Radio 3 and local stations, The Guardian, Lyric FM.  Her recordings appear on radio playlists and occasionally on broadcast TV, are on general release and can be found through digital sites including iTunes (CDs: Fragile Light’, ‘By Peculiar Grace and other loves’).  She also works as a private piano teacher.  Pianist magazine ran an interview, June 2014, with her piano student Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, in which Lola made a sneak appearance.

As well as various composition projects, she is also currently transcribing ‘Concerto in C Minor’ by Helen Hagan, a forgotten 1912 virtuosic masterpiece still in the composer’s hand, and creating a concert programme around it.

www.lolaperrin.com

Photo credit: Philip Gatward
Photo credit: Philip Gatward

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

My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!

I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.

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

Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction. 

I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.

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

There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in.  Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago.  I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.

I’m also proud of jazz  recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable  with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural  interpreting, probably more so than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.

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

I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.

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

My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively  on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.

I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.

I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many. 

The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer. 

I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts. 

Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events.  Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!

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

Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.

There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.

Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!

The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look! 

Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.

In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.

Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.

As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.

In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.

Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’. 

Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.

gabriellaswallow.com

DSC_00032Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

In some ways, I feel I’ve always been a composer. When I started piano lessons age six and had my first keyboard, I was far more interested in making up my own tunes than I was practising the ones the teacher gave me. My piano teacher was very willing though, and more than happy to try and notate my early efforts as a composer! One of the things I’ve always been very comfortable doing is improvising and inevitably, that’s where a composition begins. I think there are really two reasons for this: one is that I started accompanying pretty early on; as far back as the top of the junior school I was able to accompany singers and instrumentalists, and as any accompanist knows, the ability to cover a gap, invent an introduction or rescue the soloist is hugely valuable. Secondly, and really following on from this, at the age of 14, I took on the role of church organist, a role which I filled for 12 years. It was at this point where composing became a bit more important as I felt increasingly confident in writing pieces for the groups and ensembles I was working with.

I continued to develop my composing while I was at school, and I was lucky to have music teachers who encouraged and valued this skill (a skill which it seems to me is so-often seen as second rate to performing). I think the pinnacle of this came when in the Upper 6th I was asked to compose the anthem for the school’s Founders’ Day service. I set a text by Ronnie Wilson titled ‘The Time We Have is Precious’ and it was sung by the school choir in Gloucester Cathedral in July 2002. As for composing becoming a career, I guess this was when I first thought about submitting my compositions to publishers. I knew these pieces worked with the individuals and groups I’d composed them for, and I guess I was curious to see whether publishers would feel the same. I think I had my first pieces, Five Fanfares (Fagus Music) accepted in 2004, and as they say, the rest is history!

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

It’s hard to get away from being influenced by the music we enjoy listening to and playing. Several people have commented over the years that my writing is very ‘English’; not particularly surprising to me as I listen and enjoy an awful lot of English music: it’s part of who I am and it seems natural that it should influence my writing as a composer. Secondly, I think we’re heavily influenced by the musical activities we’ve been and are involved in. My experience has generally been working with amateur ensembles and choirs, often with very limited resources; my teaching also influences what I compose as it gives me an insight into the educational value and appeal of the music I write.

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

I guess the greatest challenge is persuading people that your music is worth trying. Many of the schemes for composers and indeed the emphases in university courses has been to write ‘new music’. This ‘new music’ is, I guess, the music which the BBC commissions for the Proms and leaves out of it is television broadcasts in favour of the ‘classics’. I have, on more than one occasion joked that if I wrote a concerto for empty wheelie bin and silent cymbals, it would be performed and lauded everywhere! I’m not really sure what this ‘new music’ is we’re supposed to write, but I know that the music I write is ‘me’. That’s not to say my compositional style doesn’t change and develop, but it’s still essentially ‘me’: possibly one of the greatest challenges is therefore staying true to oneself? The music I write is, shall we say, pretty conventional? Over the last 10 years, I found in particular that the UK is very conservative in trying things by lesser-known composers; we seem to be very concerned by the composer’s ‘name’ in the UK. Publishers have their ‘house’ composers, something which is not so much the case in the USA where they’re very much more concerned with what you write rather than who you are. This is possibly why the majority of my music is published overseas.

I think that there is huge potential in the internet and social media to get music out there and known, but I also think it has its disadvantages. It’s easy for people to ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ your music, but it’s another thing to actually put your money where your mouth is and buy it.

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

There is always a balance to be struck between accessibility and challenge. As I say, I have worked almost exclusively with ‘amateurs’ and I think the music I write reflects that. That, of course, doesn’t mean the music has been dull or boring, but it does have to take into account the skills and abilities of particular groups and individuals. I want performers to enjoy the challenge of learning something new, but I would never want them to lose sight of the act of enjoying making music. Too many challenges in a piece then you’re in danger of being on the wrong side of that line.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Gosh, that’s very difficult to answer! In some ways, I’m proud of them all because they all start from nothing. There are plenty of ideas and melodies which never go anywhere, so finishing a piece is hugely satisfying. I guess we can be proud of pieces for different reason: I’m proud of A Celtic Blessing (GIA Publications, Inc.) not only because it has sold well over 3,000 copies, but because several recordings have also appeared on YouTube (all from the US). It’s lovely to see that something you’ve written is being enjoyed and, more importantly, used. I’m proud of my solo for flute and piano Imagination (David Barton Music) because it was the first piece which generated a PRS royalty! Maybe I’m even more proud of the performers who are willing to give my music a fair hearing?

Who are your favourite composers?

I’ve always enjoyed a hugely diverse range of composers; Walton, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Moeran, Holst, Howells and Stanford all spring immediately to mind. I’ve always enjoyed early music: Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, Josquin and Penalosa. There’s the tunefully enjoyable Gilbert & Sullivan, and I’ve also a huge respect for light music composers and arrangers: Farnon, Tomlinson, Binge and Morley.

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

I know it sounds so simple, but people should listen to more music. I recently catalogued my CD collection: there are over 6,500 individual tracks…that’s a lot of listening. I am always discovering new music. So often, I’ll hear something on BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM and I’ll be off to buy it straight away. I think, alongside that, always being open to unfamiliar music. I think I’ve always been far more interested in individual pieces than a composer’s entire output, so there aren’t really any composers I ‘don’t like’; amongst their output, there are nearly always a few pieces which I do enjoy.

Secondly, and I’ve mentioned it already, staying true to yourself is important. When you compose, like any creative act, you have to give a bit of your inner-self; your compositions take on some of your identity. By all means push the boundaries and challenge conventions, but don’t try to be something you’re not.

Advice for aspiring composers? I think, above all, compose. Sounds ridiculous, but get composing. I think you need to be composing on a regular basis, and where possible, getting feedback on your writing. Don’t just write because you need to produce an A-Level composition; write because you enjoy writing. I have come across students in the past who want to study composition at university, but have only written four compositions: two for GCSE, one for AS Level and one for A-Level. Also, don’t spend so long planning for and dreaming about the next piece that you never get round to writing it. Getting started is the hardest part (the second hardest part is thinking up a title for your piece, but that’s another story…) Start by writing things for people you know or groups you have a link with.

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

Interesting question! I don’t know many composers who are in it for the money, so in 10 years’ time, making more money from composing would probably be a bonus! I think that above all, I hope I’m still doing and enjoying doing what I do now. I get an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from composing, and I hope those to do buy and perform my music enjoy it too.

 

David was born in Winchester in 1983, and has been at the helm of award-winning David Barton Music since 2001. He combines a busy portfolio of teaching, accompanying and composing both from his base in Lichfield, and across the UK.

He was educated at The Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, where he won prizes for both music and drama. He took a leading role in all the school’s musical activities including choirs, orchestras and chamber ensembles. He also played a significant part in the school’s productions including as musical director for Cinderella and Bugsy Malone. Whilst at the school, he continued his instrumental studies as a pianist, flautist and singer; he also gained the skills and confidence to be an effective accompanist. Whilst at the school he also learnt the organ, and in the latter years, led the music at the school’s assemblies. In November 1998 he played 2nd flute in Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No. 2 under Sir Simon Rattle as part of the World’s Largest Orchestra at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

David Barton Music was established during David’s last couple of years at school, and since leaving, he has developed a successful career as a teacher, composer and accompanist. He graduated with a BA(Hons) Open Degree in 2008, and a MEd in 2010, both with The Open University. He also holds the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching and the CertGSMD(T) in Flute Teaching. He was one of the first students to graduate on the Royal School of Church Music’s DipRSCM in Sacred Music Studies course. As a composer, he holds the LLCM and ALCM diplomas from the London College of Music. He is currently reading for a PhD in Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

David has over 100 compositions and arrangements published in the UK, USA and Canada, and thousands of copies of his music have been sold worldwide. These include works for solo voice, choir, organ, woodwind, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Regular performances, particularly of choral works, take place especially in the USA. Publishers include several major companies including GIA Publications, Inc., Spartan Press (Phylloscopus Publications) and Augsburg Fortress. David also typesets and publishes a number of pieces under the David Barton Music umbrella, and these are sold direct via his website.

David writes in a variety of styles, but mainly classical. His music is designed to be tuneful, generally easy-on-the-ear and accessible to a wide range of ensembles, particularly those with limited resources. A number of works have received favourable reviews in Church Music Quarterly, Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine, and Pan Magazine. In 2011, his setting of A Celtic Blessing was selected as one of the prestigious JW Pepper ‘Editor’s Choice’ for that year.

More about David and his music and teaching on his website

(photo: D Franssens)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your compositional/music language?

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

How do you work (as a composer)?

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

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

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

Tell us more about the new CD ’Nostalgia’

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

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

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

Which works are you most proud of? 

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

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

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

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

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

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

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

What is your most treasured possession?

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

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

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Very simple: composing

Who or what inspired you to take up cello, and make it your career?

I never wanted to play the cello! But luckily for me, my career wasn’t dictated by a choice I made aged four and a half. I was very fortunate to be in a primary school in inner London that participated in a scheme run by the Centre for Young Musicians, whereby cello and violin lessons were offered to primary aged children, and when the initial letter came home in my bag outlining these lessons I said a resounding no. One term later a gap appeared in the cello group, and I went along with my friend in order to escape some other activity in the school day, and here I am now! I will never ever forget crossing the school playground to go to the library hut where the lessons took place for that first time, holding my friend’s hand, I know how the sun felt, what I was wearing, the smell of the library, and the sight of what became my first cello, a quarter size beauty with ILEA scratched on the back. Without doubt it was the brilliant, enlightened and what I now recognise as freeing approach of the teachers, especially my teacher Vicky Miller, that inspired me continuously and enabled me to sculpt my own career as a solo cellist and composer.

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

Spirituality in the widest sense, and of course music. Tchaikovsky Symphony 6. Rapidly followed by Whitesnake circa 1987 (a great year of rock) and the first time I heard the music of Arvo Pärt, and then listened to this great man say the words “Jesu Cristo” (in answer to an interviewer’s question), and recognising (I think) and respecting the profound and complex meaning this faith has for him. I have my own quite firm spiritual beliefs, (not related to any traditional religion I hasten to add) and at times I find these meditations or invocations to be profoundly influential in the way that I write, or more accurately what I can be a conduit for. On a more down to earth level, pretty much everything has been an important influence! The strength of the brilliant tuition with the CYM carried me back to my cello after a 7 year hiatus following the completion of my performance degree. I was knocked way off course, and left with absolutely no confidence musically and no desire to play my cello after graduation, just one of those things, but when I did return to the cello it was with the spirit of the freedom and joy of music that the CYM staff gave me. I now study with Gwyn Pritchard who is someone I cannot imagine life without. When I’m with Gwyn I feel I want to record every single thing he says, it’s all relevant, related, and delivered with this ability to inspire such belief and confidence. He gets to the centre of the soul of sound, music, whether we discuss cello playing or composition. He is my guru! And the unconditional love and support of my parents and my family gives me both direction and freedom. Having my daughter Eila in 2012 has had a profound influence on my music, largely because I learned how to practice and indeed write in 10 minute bursts! Much of my album ‘Caldera’ was written in these early, earthy months, and I love being a mum.

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

I have an unusual career, insofar as I play concerts all over the world, but mainly I play the music I have written, with occasional ‘guest spots’ of traditional or contemporary solo repertoire. I would feel easier if I could say to you “oh, the greatest challenge was the time I played the Dvorak with such and such famous orchestra in a huge concert hall…”, but that’s not the truth – and me playing the Dvorak is pretty unlikely though one never knows I suppose! My greatest challenge has been myself. I’ve had to do quite a bit of work to overcome my own imposed limitations, to shed myself of the feeling that I’m somehow ‘not good enough’ or without some kind of special power that other widely known soloists seem to embody with ease. Having said that, there is a large chunk of truth attached to that feeling. I’m not good enough to be a great soloist, I’m not a concerto girl, and I think part of the problem for me has been my own (mis)conception that there is only ‘one way’ to be a cellist. Luckily I know that’s not the case now, but it took a bit of time, and was quite a rollercoaster emotionally too. I’ve only recently acknowledged the fact that I am fiercely ambitious and really quite driven in my work, and that’s been a big eye opener for me.

On a lighter and more practical note, it’s sometimes a challenge to work with the technology that I use and keep both hands and feet doing what they are supposed to do (I play my electric cello standing up and use a loop station and an effects board) whilst rattling through some ghastly col legno loop that somehow has to stay in time. That kind of thing, that’s a challenge for me! And allowing the juxtaposition I suppose between highly focussed practical application, the physical aspect of playing my cello, coupled with a non-tangible, emotional yet somehow elemental aspect, allowing the two to co-exist and each being valid and essential. I’m not sure, the more I think about it the more confused I get which isn’t ideal in an interview! And if I was being frivolous I’d say in this line of performance there are times when finding the venue can be a bit of a challenge too – I’m thinking both of the M1 here, and navigating around Japan a few years ago with Tallulah Rendall…

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I always feel a great pride in my recordings, because I know very well the feeling of the blank page, the wav with nothing in it, and the looming deadline, and for me the recording (and more-so the creation) process is a journey that is always unexpected, at times harsh; equally exhilarating and humbling. Each album or EP has somehow developed me as a composer and cellist. ‘Caldera’ has some tracks on that I never knew I could write. Or play for that matter, I’m thinking especially of ‘Adder Stone’ and ‘Amberay’. I’ve also just finished a big piece for Australian filmmaker Michael Fletcher, called ‘This Path With Grace’, and that piece has set a new benchmark for me. It’s built (as is often the way) from a very small fragment, it’s what I call the DNA of the piece, but it just seemed to unfold and arise and became something I didn’t recognise, that I felt in awe of. I don’t mean the compositional merits, I mean the energy that the piece evokes. I’ve even got a choir in there, which obviously makes the solo version a bit tricky, so I’ve got a couple of ways I can play this, solo, or with ensemble.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Probably whatever I am studying or writing at the time, because that’s where my musical focus is. From a traditional point of view, when I’m ‘on it’ I think I do some of the Bach Suites fairly acceptably. I have a very close and complex relationship with these suites, as do all cellists I imagine, but I distinctly feel strong personalities, and I feel infused with different energies when I consider each of them. Quite often when I am invited to perform on ‘acoustic cello’ it’s with the proviso of ‘play anything you like’ so I would usually play some of mine, ‘The Hidden Forest’ and ‘A Leaf’ and then ‘A Key’, for example, book-ending a Bach suite. Post-CYM I had a very unsettling teaching experience with the D minor suite, and it’s only lately I’ve been able to return to that one without feeling sick, and I’m so glad I got over that! I never quite know how I’m going to play them, sometimes I tip the hat to authenticity and sometimes I prefer to languish a bit with them, it depends how I’m feeling really. And I do like a more agricultural approach to the gigues most of the time if you know what I mean, just ballsy. As long as I believe what I’m doing, or feel certain of my intention it feels OK somehow!

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

I’ll have to adapt this question a bit if you don’t mind. I chose my concert programme for each performance with several factors in mind. The first is length of programme, some concerts are 40 mins, some are 80, some have an interval, some don’t etc, and the set needs to be paced well for my sake and the audience. Many of my pieces are quite ‘long’ in terms of gig audiences, especially as I write and perform instrumental music. For an audience used to classical concerts my ‘long’ pieces at 10 minutes are rather short, and so I have to bear in mind to some extent to whom I am playing, and the venue. If I’m on stage following a goth rock band I’ll want to keep it upbeat with perhaps a considered reflective moment two thirds of the way through. If I am playing in a concert hall to a seated audience I can take my time and build from my simple elegiac looped quartet Vigil in to something much more drastic by the end of the set.

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

I love St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch because I’ve played several concerts there, including a big one when I was 6 months pregnant, where I was joined by 11 brilliant musicians from across the globe, plus Amy Richardson-Impey, pole-dancer extraordinaire (in a church, it was awesome!) to interpret my first album ‘From The Sea’. So I’ll always have fond memories of St Len’s, and Rev Paul Turp. I’ve played some stunning venues in Australia, on my last tour a beautiful open air stage just outside Perth especially springs to mind, the sounds of the bush and the vast Australian night sky right there, all around us. It was breathtaking and I’m hoping to discover even more beautiful spaces to play when I head back in late February. And the Schauspiel Theatre in Leipzig too, because it was the scene of my first solo concert in Germany, I was dead nervous and the crew were fantastic and made me giggle just before I went on, so it was a good one!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love listening to the Brandenburgs, well, any Bach actually. Perfection in so many ways. And I am very fond of Debussy, especially the piano Preludes (book 1) that I sort of hack through now and then feeling rather pleased if I get to the end minus a few notes. Actually that’s one of my favourites to perform come to think of it, the Debussy cello and piano sonata. It’s unbridled, so dark in places, so resigned at the end. Again, powerful stuff. And Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is an album I’ll return to over and over again. I fall in love with music, and it forever belongs to that moment or time in my life, so I have strong associations built with both classical and contemporary works, which means I chose what I listen to very carefully.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I listen to all sorts of cellists regularly, the well known greats and the lesser known equally great ones that YouTube flags up, it’s such a superb way to hear performance interpretations and watch too. I learn lots by watching cellists. Then there’s Matt Howden, a looping violinist. He’s a great friend of mine, a colleague I’ve worked with often, and a real inspiration. He’s on fire live, you have to see him. Actually, everyone I work with is a favourite! I am lucky to do a lot of session gigs too, and I work with artists from opera singers to rock and metal musicians, and they are all fantastic. I learn so much from each of them. Quite recently I played a concert with a rap artist who was phenomenal. I’ve never ever seen anyone on stage like that before, in any field of music, classical or otherwise. It was probably only 5 seconds of performance in the middle of one track but it felt like an hour to me, where he was clearly channelling something unseen, it was a pivotal moment for me to witness that kind of power on stage, and also the way he surrendered to and controlled it too.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

To date it has to be in March last year, where I was invited by orchestra Cappella Gedanensis (from Gdansk, Poland) to come and play a concert of my music with them. Jos Pijnappel arranged several of my pieces for me on solo electric cello and the orchestra and choir, and we also played Tavener’s ‘Svyati’ (on electric cello, it worked really well weirdly!). I was playing my music to a packed church full of Baroque music enthusiasts and I am honoured to say they gave me such a rapturous, warm reception and went beserk at the end, and I was in tears. I’ve never done anything like that before, and we have plans for a re-run next year in Poland, I’m very excited. It was always my secret ambition to one day play my music with an orchestra and I just feel so lucky to have met Cappella Gedanensis, they are unparalleled musicians and really really nice people too.

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

From a performance point of view? Believe in what you do, and do it with verve and aplomb. Even if you have no monitors! In all seriousness, I think it’s critical to be focused, to work hard, to study, learn, practice etc but there’s also a big factor in stage craft, and that side of being a musician is not teachable, you just have to get on stage, on platform or on floor and play your music, from start to finish, come what may, without stopping, and with conviction, irrespective of what happened in your dress rehearsal or sound check, good or bad, and then you start to learn the shape of things. I think this is true whether you’re a composing performer or repertoire performer. Well, it is true for me anyway.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on the arrangements of several short pieces for my amazing cello quartet that we will be performing as part of my next concert on 7th February. I’m doing a real mixed bag, held together only by the common thread that it’s music I like, that means something to me, so stuff by Schein and Bartok as well as something from the Fame soundtrack and some Nine Inch Nails etc. I’ve almost finished the arrangements, and at the same time I’m doing arrangements of some of my pieces for an ensemble in Tasmania that I’ll be playing with in March, so in short lots of dots is what I’m working on! I’ve begun sketching ideas for my next album too, and once ‘This Path With Grace’ is out I’ll feel more able to focus I think. I tend to feel more able to write once the previous project has been released, in whatever capacity. ‘Caldera’ is presented as a beautiful 10 page card book (inspired by the literature I was reading to Eila at the time!) with CD insert, so that took a lot of work, and in contrast ‘This Path’ will be a download only, though there is a stunning 20 minute film attached to it. I usually have a few projects on the go at once, and true to this I’ve two session collaborations sitting in Logic at the moment waiting to get out of the starting block. Things are busy, and I feel very thankful!

What is your most treasured possession? 

Outside of the normal things like Eila’s first babygrow it would be my cellos, and my copy of ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. My mum gave it to me on my 21st birthday, and it’s been both a gift and a blessing.

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