573033393031_01Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My answer to this seems to change every time I answer it. My granddad was a massive influence on me musically. I come from a working class family. My granddad played jazz, and was mostly self-taught, but phenomenally gifted. He had an unbelievable ear. He regretted not being able to make more of his own talent, due to poverty and being drafted for WWII. So he was very encouraging of me in the early years, and remained so through my life. We sort of did our best to work things out together, by reading and listening together. But at the age of eight, I was dragged to Texas by a deranged father who had a fantasy of being a cowboy in the Wild West. He was an unemployed alcoholic almost the whole five years we were there, living his fantasy at the expense of his wife and kids. Apart from what we got at school, I was mostly self-taught until the age of 16. I taught myself the piano until that age.

Whilst in Texas I discovered classical music and Beethoven in particular. We had this percussion teacher at School who did these arrangements of classical music for the percussion group. It was very inspiring what he was doing, getting kids into listening to classical music that way. We played the arrangements, which would inspire us to go and listen to the originals – which many of us did. He sort of fostered this group of dedicated students around him, such that we would spend all our free periods hanging out in the music block. I heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and then I heard Beethoven and it was like – BAM!!! I’d previously been listening to the Beastie Boys and Iron Maiden. But when I heard Beethoven, all of that seemed so boring in comparison. So from then on, I just hoovered up classical music by looking for LPs in junk shops (there was nothing like BBC Radio 3 in Texas!). This music seemed all the more powerful at the time as my life was otherwise was so absolutely awful: I was being abused at home, bullied at School, we were living on food stamps and I thought nothing would save me. Then I heard Beethoven, and that was it! It seemed to contain the whole universe in it, and to speak to humanity at both its finest and most desperate. I get annoyed when I hear idiots these days saying classical music is elitist, and is only for the rich. That’s rubbish. I was a poor kid, in the most desperate of situations. And not only was that music speaking to me, it as the only thing speaking to me. Not only did it speak to me, it saved me. It saved my life…no two ways about it. From that moment on I discovered and that music had enormous potential to transform people in a way nothing else could, and decided that I would become a composer. Looking back that seems ludicrous: I had no access to proper musical education, and I was in the middle of a cultural void. But that didn’t matter. I decided that’s what I was going to do, so I did it. Moreover, I realized that if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it basically all on my own. And I think that was a good lesson because, to be a real composer, that’s basically what you do have to do anyway. Education can help you, but in the end you have to have something to say and be determined to see it through. I remember consciously thinking, ‘Right, I don’t have the access to the tuition those other kids have. So to be anywhere near as good as them, I’ll have to work twice as hard. But I want this to be my life…so I’ll work four times as hard as they do.’ And I did: I practised the piano at least seven hours a day, even on school days, by getting up very early. On weekends I practised the whole day. That in itself was hard, because the piano was from a charity shop that we got for free. Most of the strings were broken, so I would learn the fingering at home, and then take the music to school to play it on pianos with strings at lunchtime and break time. It sounds weird, but I think that did me good as it helped me to develop both an ear and an imagination. It helped me to hold pieces in my head, and to imagine what they might sound like rather than to hear what they did sound like. I may not have developed the composer’s imagination without that. I don’t know.

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

As I say above, my granddad, and my high school percussion teacher in Texas. The next piece of good fortune was ending up at the University of Exeter, and meeting the composer Philip Grange, who became my main teacher. I got in to university on a fluke, largely thanks to him seeing something in me in interview. I totally screwed up my A-levels. We were back in the UK then, and I did my A-levels whilst living in B&B emergency accommodation as registered homeless. I took my compositions to Phil in an interview, and he just saw what I was trying to do, so I got a silly low offer…so I just scraped in! Phil went on to become a life-long mentor and friend. He saw something in me, and was very inspiring, giving hours of his time. He also introduced me to Peter Maxwell Davies, who in turn became an advocate. At the same time at Exeter, there was the pianist James Clapperton and the musicologist Ken Gloag (both postgrads there). They similarly took me under their wings, and provided this combination of raw talent (James) and fierce intellect (Ken) such that they were the sort of musical Yin and Yang that shaped my approach. I think it also helped that they were both working class communists, and felt a need to protect me from all the Exeter posh kids. But that’s not fair on my fellow students: there was an inspiring crowd of undergrads around me there too: People like John Fosbrook, and James Mustard and Ellie Lane. Ken sadly passed away earlier this year. I miss Ken.

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

I have mostly found music inspiring and wonderful, rather than challenging or frustrating. The challenges and frustrations come with the stuff, and people, around music. I find the politics around classical music especially frustrating and, well ignorant, at present. But music is bigger and better than all that nonsense. I don’t really think of composition as a career: it’s a life choice: a decision to be part of something transcendent. If you want a career, become a banker or sell insurance. If you set out as a composer and expect it to be a career, you will be frustrated at every turn. If you think of it instead as being a process of having music in your head, a vision of what music can be, and writing it down and sharing that with people, it will work out better. There is nothing I abide more than ‘the professional composer’ – the sort of composer that swans around posing, more in love with the idea of *being* a composer than with actually composing. There is also the composer that is more interested in being talked about than listened to…but don’t get me on to that! Just watch Tony Hancock’s The Rebel if you want to get an idea of what I am talking about.

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

I don’t really care whether a piece is commissioned or not. I write what is in my head, irrespective of that. When I was younger, I used to think the worst thing you could do was miss a deadline. So I found that challenging. For me pieces need to grow for a long time inside me to be what I want them to be. I can see the reasoning in that way of thinking (not missing a deadline): no one wants to let people down. But as I have gotten older I realize there is something far worse than letting people down: letting music down (which ultimately amounts to a far worse form of letting people down). Music deserves the very best we can give it, no matter what. And if you compromise a piece by rushing to meet a deadline, no one remembers that you met the deadline or not, or at least they don’t remember that for very long. They do remember if you wrote a good piece or a crap one. And they remember that for a very long time. I only agree deadlines very far in the future. I write slowly; and I don’t take on many commissions.

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

I like to work with people that I like – as people and as musicians. Finding a performer that you really really click with is a real joy, and once I find those people, I tend to want to work with them again and again, because in working with them I feel that I learn more about music itself and about life and humanity. I don’t understand this obsession with ‘the professional composers’ of being commissioned by every ensemble under the sun. What’s that about? Being a composer is not so different than being in a band. It can take years to find the right drummer, the right guitarist or whatever. Once you’ve found the right drummer, why would you keep changing for the sake of it? Robert Plant was interviewed in 1975 and was asked if he would ever consider leaving Led Zeppelin and go solo. His response was total incomprehension, ‘But if I did that, who else would I have for a drummer, or a guitarist or a bassist than these guys? No, that just wouldn’t feel right.’ Unfortunately Bonham died in 1980, and then Plant went solo because as far as he was concerned that was the end of Led Zeppelin. Okay, I am not in a rock band, so I don’t need to stick to just three collaborators! But if I work with someone, it is always with a view to forming a long-term relationship that allows us both to learn and grow. I’ve had some wonderful collaborators: the Quatuor Danel (for whom I’ve written three quartets), The Lawson Trio, Richard Casey, Ignacio Lara Romero, the BBC Philharmonic… Mostly, I see working with someone as just forming an intimate human relationship. And I have never been into one-night stands!

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Starlight Squid’ was written in 1998. It’s had dozens of performances. I could lament that I only have one hit. But I’m completely glass half full on that one. I just think, ‘at least I have one hit!’ I like that piece very much as it is so fun. I suppose my Third Quartet is the greatest artistic achievement: a single movement 50-minute work that is one single shape. That took a lot of technique to accomplish. I also like my little ‘Scordatura Squid’ violin pieces, and my piano work ‘Notturno dalle fiamme del’inferno’.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Meticulous in detail whilst dramatic in structure. Music can have it all. I aim to write music that is optimistic, positive, direct and life affirming. When I was a student in the 1990s, I went to Huddersfield year after year and just seemed to be hearing this endless stream of dark, lugubrious, grey and pessimistic pieces; whilst on the other hand there was this facile post-minimalist thing going on that seemed like a timely shot of Prozac amidst all the depressiveness. I set out to reject all that: I wanted to create music that was direct, sincere, full of energy, made clear statements, and was not afraid to say what it wants to say – what I want to say.

How do you work?

In my head…almost entirely in my head. I used to make loads of sketches. With experience, and as my ear has improved, I have learnt to do most of that sketching in my head now. It had to happen as I was getting confused by all the paper, and losing stuff and getting all mixed up. It takes more time this way (in my head), but I think only because I am more thorough as a result. The advantage is the music is with me all the time, and I can work on it all the time – which is handy in boring meetings. I write everything down at the end in pencil sketch, and then go from there to Finale. I never ever do creative work at a computer, and discourage any student from doing that.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Beethoven, Bach, Led Zeppelin, Ligeti and Bill Evans. There are hundreds of others, of course. But those are the ones I keep coming back to. My favourite songs are Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Dancing Queen – again, the optimism!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That’s easy! James Clapperton playing the complete piano works of Xenakis in Exeter in 1992. It was such a powerful experience because it was so completely out-of-place and, well, just plain weird that it was happening there of all places. There we were, in the middle of nowhere, in a music department that was basically a cupboard, and James just played this concert of the most hard-edged music you’d ever heard in your life. I have *never* heard anything like it. Remember, at that time Xenakis was not the cannoized figure he is now. In those days, it was still completely shocking music. I didn’t know or understand what the hell I was hearing. I couldn’t decide whether it was rubbish or genius or what, but I loved the way it challenged me and made me think. And of course, James’s playing was at its absolute peak and the most exciting thing you could hear anywhere in the world.

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

Integrity is crucial. You must have core values and hold on to those no matter what. You also must be prepared to work extremely hard – good enough is not good enough – and realize that it is mostly down to you. You can have composition lessons. You can have excellent composition lessons. But in the end, all the work must be done by you. The world owes you nothing. No matter how talented you are, the world owes your talent nothing. That was the lesson I learnt from having nothing to start with. Having nothing to start with isn’t much of a hindrance really; as, if you want to be an artist, everything is down to you anyway. If you are a composer, you are not competing against the other composers in your class, your age or whatever. The competition is Bach. It’s Beethoven. It’s Stravinsky. That’s the standard, and music demands that you offer the best you can. I say ‘competition’, but ‘competition’ is the wrong word. It’s not competition. It’s more like these guys are your colleagues, and you owe it to them, and all the hard work they have put in to getting music to where it was when you came to it, to try to give it the best you can in return.However good a teacher you have, chances are you won’t find the equivalent of a Bach to teach you. And even if you did, he’s not going to download his genius into your brain. Someone can give you a kick start, but then you have to do everything else…which is most of it.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess my piano. I dreamt of having a grand piano as a kid, but couldn’t afford one. Being able to buy my Bluthner was a life-long dream come true.

 

Camden Reeves is a composer of contemporary classical music based in Manchester, England. Meticulous in detail whilst dramatic in structure, Reeves’ output encompasses many genres, ranging from large orchestral scores to chamber, vocal and solo instrumental works. In recent years he has been particularly associated with the piano through a series of solo works (pub. Edition Peters) and the colossal Piano Concerto of 2009.

Reeves is Lecturer in Composition at the University of Manchester, where he has taught since 2002.

www.camdenreeves.com

 

 

 

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

Myself. But then Bernard Rands my tutor and Bill Colleran at Universal Edition (London/Vienna).

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

Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio, Messiaen. Historically: J.S. Bach, Webern, and late Mahler.

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

They were the 4 major works written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I have at least 4 new works still waiting on first performances. But I remain patient.

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

Time. I work slowly and with painstaking care. My music is sometimes complex and it is crucial that performers receive as near perfect copy of performance materials as is possible. I do my best and I have a fine copyist. UE taught me this, way back in 1972.

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

The pleasures are being there for rehearsals. Some conductors are exceptional (Sir Andrew Davis), some work seriously hard (Martyn Brabbins), others you may never wish to see again. New Music Ensembles, string quartets and solo performers have been the most satisfying to work with. Lifelong friendships are made.

Of which works are you most proud?

“WULF” for 24 voices (amplified) and 24 instrumentalists – yet to receive a first performance; “The Attraction of Opposites” for 2 pianos; the orchestral trilogy, “Vixen”, “Qibti” and Phoenix”; “Hey Presto!” written for BCMG conducted by Diego Masson, happiest of all.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Proudly European but, like Bartok, drawing on cultures further afield and from the distant past.

How do you work?

In my music barn, composing, still, on manuscript paper. However, most work has been carried out in Sicily. The climate, the food and wines kept me going, and going well, so producing the goods. I also found plenty of time to read, to feed my imagination.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Musicians such as Melinda Maxwell – oboe, Simon Limbrick – percussion, Rolf Hind – piano, BCMG, The Arditti Quartet. Composers I already listed as influential on my work. Still living? The works of Birtwistle, Ferneyhough, Tom Ades, David Sawer, Julian Anderson and Sam Hayden interest me.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Experiences: Simon Rattle conducting all Mahler and some Messiaen with the CBSO, Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

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

Feed your imagination and let it run. I always ask myself the question “What if?” Be your own best critic and bin a lot.

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

Where I am now.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with the right person and being amongst friends.

What is your most treasured possession?

It is my 40-year-old Pavoni, brass and copper, coffee machine.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Walking the hills.

What is your present state of mind?

Pensive.

 

Born in Yorkshire in 1945, Vic Hoyland’s earliest interests were in painting, calligraphy and architecture, but after completing an Arts degree at Hull University and a prize winning work was submitted to the BBC, he decided to concentrate on music. Wilfrid Mellers invited Vic to undertake a doctorate at the then new music department at York University where his tutors were Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Bernard Rands. From 1980-1984 he was Haywood Fellow at the Barber Institute, then after two years at York University he returned to Birmingham as a full-time lecturer responsible for MDD, an interdisciplinary programme between music, drama and dance. He was subsequently Professor in Composition at Birmingham until his retirement in 2011. In 2015 he was made Emeritus Professor, in recognition of his longstanding and valued contribution to the University of Birmingham.

Commissions have come from many festivals – Aldeburgh, Almeida, Bath, Cheltenham, Warwick and Stratford, Huddersfield, South Bank and York – from organisations such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and ensembles such as Lontano, the Arditti Quartet, Lindsay Quartet, BCMG, Endymion and Vocem. Works prior to 1994 are held by Universal Edition (Vienna). Works after 1994 are held by Composers Edition. Works include In transit for large orchestra which, together with Vixen, was recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra for NMC records. Most of Vic’s music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The Other Side of the Air and Token are also available on NMC records. The second work in his orchestral triptych, Qibti was premiered at the Barbican on 18 December 2003 and conducted superbly by Sir Andrew Davis.

Read more at Vic Hoyland’s website

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

Probably many things. I remember sitting at home at the piano, playing (I use the term loosely) Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, trying to work out how the hell he did it. Also my parents, teachers at sixth form and university: Martin Read, Michael Zev Gordon, Vic Hoyland and then Diana Burrell at GSMD.

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

Unfavourably comparing myself to other composers and artists. It’s so easy to descend into a Facebook-style Scroll of Shame where every successful and sparkly new thing makes you panic and think ‘I should be doing that!’ It is challenging to learn how to be influenced by other people’s ideas and techniques without feeling you have to follow their path.

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

First of all, commissions are fantastic. Everyone should commission composers AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! Pieces often take ages to write and there won’t be much decent new music that defines and enriches our time and culture if people don’t commission it.

It is also incredibly motivating to have that deadline and the vision of a future audience at the first performance anticipating your new work.

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

I write for a variety of people and situations, from professional singers and ensembles to school or community groups who have to learn things quickly and have fun doing so. Learning what works in what context is a tough skill. It takes a long time to master. I love writing for voice and I’ve been working a lot with solo singers recently. It’s great to have their voice in your head as you write and to think about the shape of the text, the breathing, the pacing and the drama of it.

Of which works are you most proud? My two recently commissioned song cycles, ‘Woolf Letters’ and ‘Early Stroll Songs’, which set Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister and Ian McMillan’s Early Stroll tweets. I’m also very proud to have produced three performances of my opera ‘The Hidden Valley’ at St George’s Bristol this year, working with an incredible team of artists – I did, however, need a very long lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I like to think it’s an English sound, rooted in nature, often starting from melody and the voice.

How do you work?

I work best early. I have a lot of ideas doing other activities (gardening, showering etc.) as it gives space and time for the brain to process ideas. When I was writing ‘Early Stroll Songs’ I got into a routine of starting composing first thing (6.30-ish) for a few hours: At the keyboard, with pencil, Manuscript paper, black tea. I could usually complete 1 short song each day or two. My wife often acts as an editor, offering a second pair of ears to help me hear the music from an audience’s perspective. Later in the day, if not teaching, I would do computer / admin-type work: Typesetting, emails, checking twitter too much, grappling with a labyrinthine funding application etc.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Starting out, my heroes were Bach, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Britten and Steve Reich, but I’ve recently been more drawn to the vocal music of Purcell and Handel, Mozart’s Symphonies, Schubert’s song cycles and the music of David Lang and Laurence Crane. I’m always interested in opera composers and I enjoyed Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds at ENO and Fairy Queen at Iford recently.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 or 17, I went to a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Southampton. We sat right at the back. After the concert, walking out into the car park, I couldn’t speak. It was such a visceral experience.

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

Listen to and interrogate lots of good music. Like what you write. Befriend performers. Don’t follow advice too much.

Richard Barnard is a composer based in Bristol. He studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and University of Birmingham. He has written operas, song cycles and choral works for Welsh National Opera, Opera North, BBC Singers, Bristol Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble, Siân Cameron and others. He has composed music for dance and theatre, and his chamber pieces have been performed internationally by groups including Delta Saxophone Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble and Kungsbacka Trio.

Richard curated the acclaimed new music series Elektrostatic at Bristol’s Colston Hall and Arnolfini for five years. He has taught orchestration and composition at University of Bristol and is one of the UK’s foremost composition workshop leaders, working with WNO, CBSO, London Sinfonietta, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Philharmonia Orchestra and Eighth Blackbird.

Richard Barnard on YouTube

Twitter@richardmbarnard

richardbarnard.com

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

I’m not sure I can really attribute it to any one thing in particular. I always wrote music, even as a child, but I didn’t think it was an unusual thing to do. (Perhaps coming from a family of artists and musicians gave me a slightly odd perspective!) Strangely enough, a really key moment for me in my youth was giving up the violin: I absolutely hated learning the instrument, and once I’d stopped, I suddenly rediscovered my love of classical music, and began to play the piano and compose again.

I was very lucky at school too; we had an incredibly skilled and inspiring Head of Music who encouraged and supported me in my last-minute decision to apply for music degrees rather than languages.

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

Perhaps it’s a trite response, but the musicians who have influenced me the most tend to be those I can identify with on a personal level as well as musically. There’s always been something about Toru Takemitsu’s life and career, his struggle to come to terms with his cultural heritage and the difficulties of writing in Japan after the war, the fact that he was self taught and, by all accounts, an incredibly warm, humorous and unpretentious man that somehow strikes me as a good model of how to be a composer in these complex and ever-changing times.

Billie Holiday has also always been a heroine of mine; her ability to bear her soul in every recording she ever made (and no doubt every performance she gave), in spite of the many adversities she faced in life, inspires me continually.

Of course my teacher, Julian Anderson, also had a profound influence on me as a composer. I couldn’t really compose before I studied with him; I was full of ideas, but only had my instincts and a few very basic tools for realising them. He was incredibly encouraging, but also equipped me with the means to be constructively self-critical, which I’m immensely grateful for.

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

There were some very difficult periods for me as a student. Composing has always been something of an emotional outlet for me, and I think it’s sometimes very exhausting to confront your emotions when life can seem so complex and uncertain. But then composing is always so much harder than you expect it to be anyway!

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

It’s always a privilege to be commissioned to write a new piece, but it’s not really that different from writing in your own time, apart from having the pressure of a deadline. That can be a useful catalyst for getting the piece finished though!

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

It’s always a great honour to be commissioned by a specific performer. Knowing that they have selected you to write for them based on their appreciation of your previous work is hugely reassuring as a starting point, and of course, it’s always wonderful when you can work closely with them on the work in progress, and even better when they’re pleased by the final composition and play it with enjoyment and commitment.

Working with Richard Uttley recently on my new Dance Suite has been fantastic. We live close to one another and the process really has been very collaborative. I’ve written bits of the piece, played or shown them to him, and he’s then responded and helped me with very practical suggestions; I’ve learnt so much from the process, and it’s only really possible to do that when you’re writing for a particular soloist.

On the other hand, it can be quite scary when you’re writing for a really prestigious group. I remember composing for the LSO and occasionally thinking – oh god, the LSO’s first violin section are going to play those notes: they’d better be good. I try not to let myself worry about that too much, however; otherwise I’d never be able write anything at all!

Which works are you most proud of? 

Someone recently told me that when a composer admits that they’re proud of a piece, it usually means they know it’s not very good! Personally I find it difficult to be completely happy with anything; the critical faculties you need to write your best music are also those that can make it difficult to enjoy them afterwards, because you’re always aware of what you could have done better.

Having said that, I am quite fond of a few short pieces that I had to write very quickly (one of them in just one day!) – perhaps it’s because I had somewhat reduced expectations of myself in those circumstances. Many others I’m relatively pleased with, but still have niggling doubts about passages I think could have improved with slightly more time and a better sense of focus.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

That’s hard to answer; there are so many, and I’m always on the look out for new pieces and performances to give me ideas and enrich my listening.

I suppose I would certainly want to name Guillaume de Machaut, Tomás Luis De Victoria, Henry Purcell, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Szymanowksi, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Oliver Knussen, Henri Dutilleux, Hans Abrahamsen, Jonathan Harvey, Claude Vivier, Gerard Grisey and Franco Donatoni, but that’s far from an exhaustive list.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve many fond memories of concerts and it’s hard to rank them, but one that really sticks in my mind is a Chick Corea gig I went to with some friends back in 2004; he and his band just gave an utterly sensational live performance.

More recently I attended an incredibly good concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra that included Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloë and the premiere of Julian Anderson’s Violin Concerto; it was an exquisite performance of the perfect programme. I also loved the Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment’s performance of the St Matthew Passion directed by Mark Padmore just before Easter this year.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Retiring, once I’m old and tired of working, to somewhere beautiful in Italy where I can eat amazing food everyday and enjoy the good weather.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Walking and cycling in the countryside and making things for the flat. (My dad is a furniture restorer and instilled a love of woodwork and DIY in me as a child.)

(interview date: June 2015)

Born in London, Matthew Kaner studied Music at King’s College London and was jointly awarded the Purcell Prize for graduating top of his year in 2008. He then gained a distinction for his Masters at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, supervised by Julian Anderson, where he subsequently continued his studies as a Composition Fellow for a year. He has been teaching on various undergraduate courses at both King’s and the Guildhall School since 2009, becoming a Professor of Composition at the latter in 2013, in which year he was also made a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Matthew has composed works for the London Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Philharmonia, members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Workers Union, Siglo de Oro, King’s College London Choir and Orfea amongst others, and soloists including Richard Uttley, Julia Samojlo and Sam Corkin. His music has been performed at various venues in the UK and abroad, including Seiji Ozawa Hall, the Barbican, the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, the Purcell Room, LSO St. Luke’s and Snape Maltings. It has also been broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and featured in the Aldeburgh, Norfolk & Norwich, City of London and Victoria International Music Festivals.

In the summer of 2012 Matthew was the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellow in Composition at the Tanglewood Music Center, Massachusetts, where he worked and studied with composers George Benjamin, John Harbison, Oliver Knussen and Michael Gandolfi. He attended the Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition course in 2011. In 2013, he was one of the winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize and was consequently commissioned to write a new work for the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series,  premiered in the Royal Festival Hall on 31 May 2014. He was also the recipient of a London Sinfonietta Writing the Future chamber commission. His quartet for flute, clarinet, viola and cello, Chants, was premiered in the Purcell Room as part of the New Music Day on December 8, 2013.

Matthew was the 2013 Composer-in-Association with the Workers Union, composing a work with electronics entitled Organum which they premiered with the support of the PRS for Music Foundation, culminating in a final performance at LSO St. Luke’s on 9th November 2013. His commission for the London Symphony Orchestra, The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, was premiered under the baton of Robin Ticciati in the Barbican Hall in September 2013 and received with critical acclaim.

matthewkaner.com

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

A career in music is something I’ve always aspired to, since poking out simple original tunes on the piano as a child, which led to a long formal musical education, with piano at the centre. But other influences led to a career in finance and technology instead.

In my adult life, the impetus to take my hobby music a step further wasn’t any single individual but rather a whole musical community which thrived in the early days of music streaming platform SoundCloud.

It was the collective positive and encouraging response from like-minded music-makers which spurred me on to do something more. To pursue a serious and bill-paying career in music

This pursuit is strong and ongoing, and I find myself at a point where I have just resigned from 11 fruitful years at one employer, in a concerted effort to rebalance my efforts in the long-run.

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

When watching a film, I am always more captivated by the sound and music than by the picture or story. I am pathologically distracted by it to the degree that I almost don’t notice the plot. 

And so my list of personal influences matches the list of the most celebrated film composers of our time: John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, I couldn’t possibly complete the list of beloved and inspiring composers in this wordcount.

Bringing it a little closer to home though, there are several people in my circles who have successfully taken bold steps out of one career and into a career of composing for the screen. Outside of lucky breaks, it is an exceptionally difficult and long-playing effort to generate commercial success in music, but I see clearly now that it is in reach, whether or not you have a ‘backup’ career.

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

In a marketplace flooded with exceptional talent, getting your own work heard above the crowd, by people who hold the purse strings, is pretty much everyone’s ongoing challenge. It’s a challenge I haven’t addressed by any formal means of promotion, but I seem to have accidentally addressed it by simply being active, engaged and present in musical communities like SoundCloud, SCOREcast and some thriving Facebook groups.

One other challenge is time management. I feel lucky to have more work than I can handle right now, which means having to say no to things I would love to do, but not all of that work has immediate revenue. I’ve got a ton of work being live-recorded by strings players and singers but I won’t see a penny out of that for a year or more. The only way I can address that challenge is to judge incoming work on a balance of enjoyment and return on investment. Work which is both fun and high ROI comes first.

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

Mind-reading is both a challenge and a pleasure when working on a commissioned piece. Your vision will rarely match the vision of the commissioning director, so you make sure you have a high quality brief and have a first stab. Sometimes it’s a direct hit, and that really hits the reward centre of your brain, that you’ve successfully empathised with your director’s vision. Sometimes it’s version 9, and you’re just relieved it’s over.

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

My first experience combining live parts into a coherent whole was in online collaborations with musical friends on SoundCloud a few years ago. What a difference a single live part makes in an otherwise virtually arranged piece.

That experience led to my busy pipeline of remote session work on the piano. The baby grand in my professionally sound-treated studio is permanently mic’ed up for recording work for myself and other composers and I get a good stream of work via SessionExchange.org.

This year is a milestone year for me in live orchestral work. One family of production music labels requires and commissions live parts in strings and choirs and I’ve written around 30 pieces for it so far this year, some of which you can hear on my SoundCloud page. Many have been performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra players, up at Parr St studios in Liverpool, and many have been performed by a small ensemble in Vienna.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Oh dear, that’s like choosing your favourite child

If I judge it by number of plays, my trilogy The Muse has generated nearly half a million plays and still tugs my heartstrings when I play it to myself, given that the inspiration for them was a series of crises in my life

If I judge it by commercial success, that would by my improvisational solo piano album Won Love which peaked at number 2 in the iTunes UK Instrumental chart this year, behind Richard Clayderman

My current personal favourite is probably a single piece called Dystopia, a dark and epic piano/orchestral piece that was a lot of fun to write

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Having already listed my favourite contemporary composers, I’ll bring up my favourite historic ones here: Chopin was at the centre of my love of the piano and I’ve played over half his entire opus, including most of the Etudes, Ballades, Waltzes and Preludes. Rachmaninoff is a close second and of all the pieces I’ve enjoyed playing, one day I’d love to finish learning the 2nd piano concerto, which I abandoned after the fiery first and ‘easy’ second movement.

Other favourites include Liszt, Bruckner, Holst and Wagner, the latter 2 of which remain major influences of modern film scoring

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I’ll take the audience seat of this question as opposed to the performance seat, where I’ve enjoyed playing in some concerts but it has not been a major feature of my musical career.  

From the audience seat, I will never forget the live performance and screening of Interstellar, with music by Hans Zimmer, at the Royal Albert Hall this year. Not only did the music blur my eyes almost throughout, but I also had a chance to see some of our generation’s most iconic people all in one place in one night as hosts of the evening: Stephen Hawking, Michael Caine, Kip Thorne, Brian Cox, and Hans Zimmer himself

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

Some choose only to model others closely, some choose to express only their own voice. I don’t think the key to success lies in either extreme but in a balanced blend of the two.

To write music based on a template established by successful composers can only get you so far, soon you will blend in with the crowd and it will never be truly fulfilling. To write music expressing only your own voice may fulfill you artistically but the reality is that commercially successful music does demand a modicum of convention and a niche sound doesn’t always succeed.

Where the magic lies is in opening yourself to continuous learning from successful artists who have paved the way, accumulating the skills and musical vocabulary required to express your own voice in a well established medium.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Entertainment is a bilaterally rewarding pursuit, where the entertainer can get as much pleasure as the entertained. In music, I thrive both ways, getting as much of a thrill creating a body of musical work as I do enjoying the creations of other musicmakers.

What I enjoy doing most is living music.

Oliver Sadie is a freelance composer and session pianist for film and tv, with an alter ego as a finance technology specialist. Operating from his purpose-built studio outside London, Oliver provides full-service soundtrack and song production, as well as live-recorded piano on demand.

With live orchestral parts performed by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra players, blended with a full toolkit of virtual instruments, Oliver writes for production music libraries Gothic Storm Music, Lovely Music, The Library of the Human Soul, Getty Images Music as well as several non-exclusive online libraries. Some of Oliver’s portfolio of 500+ tracks can be heard at http://soundcloud.com/oliversadie.

On-screen credits include indie New Mexico film THE GARDEN (2015), upcoming UK action comedy film DEAD MEET (2016), independent Hollywood film GLASS PRISON (2013), sports documentary series SVEN DECKER, US slavery documentary MADMEN OR MARTYR, and a number of promotional and advertising spots for end-clients including Sony, Gärtnerbank, Black Bear International.

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

I don’t recall a specific moment when I thought of becoming a composer. It’s something I have always done, as far as I can remember. Singing my own little tunes on long family walks was probably the way it emerged.

There was, however, a significant event when I was around nine years old. I had been playing the piano all day and searching for new harmonies (or new to me at any rate) on a rather gloomy day. At a particular point in the progression of chords the sun suddenly filled the room with golden light. I can’t remember what the notes were now and I wouldn’t have attributed this event to a supernatural cause but I do remember the jolt of pleasure at the coincidence and I have imagined music as a force of nature ever since.

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

Moods and emotional states affect me more than events, although they are naturally interlinked. Internally I have an almost constant flow of music which seems to shape itself to my environment. I don’t suppose this musical flow is of any great quality – that is the aim of the process of refining and reinforcing. Of course, I’m influenced by powerful creative encounters and it must be apparent in my music but I rarely experience this as direct emulation; it’s more like osmosis.

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

I don’t want to be too negative but sometimes the challenges of being a composer seem overwhelming. Leaving aside the difficulties of the creative process, which are usually absorbing, intriguing and rewarding, there are the difficulties of offering the results in a world which has less regard for the values I hold dear. The current cultural climate, at least in the West, seems to favour the extrovert and I often wonder whether someone like Schubert would have attained even the modest success he did if he were alive today.

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

Ideally, perhaps, composers would write what they want or need to write when ready to do so. This is the old notion of ‘having something to say’ – and there is something to be said for that. There are innumerable practical reasons why this is rarely the case but, if one has a supple enough imagination, it is often possible to work under the illusion that the premise for the commission is entirely one’s own. For me it is essential to feel this way in order to generate confident ideas. I don’t think it’s just ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome. As for the pleasure, it’s always a fascinating sensation bringing something into existence – perhaps a feeling that it was waiting to appear like the sculpture in the marble block.

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

To my mind, nothing represents the internal state as revealingly as music. When people play my music with insight and sensitivity there is a strong feeling of transformation, even if it differs from my own way of thinking. It’s important to say that this is not fundamentally a matter of ego or self-importance; flaws are equally revealed. It’s a sense of joining with others.

Which works are you most proud of? 

As with many artists, I tend to think of my works as offspring; I have an affection for them all – even the less successful ones. The most recent piece is, probably naturally, the one I’m most interested in. I’m preparing my piano quartet for publication and I must admit to being quite pleased with it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Beethoven is evergreen for me. His music is nearly always open at the piano. Others who give me ‘nutrition’ as well as pleasure are Sibelius, Bartok, Britten and Tippett. Actually the list could go on and on and spans the centuries. As for living composers it’s more complex because you have to disentangle friendships, admiration of technique, bravery and determination from the mix, as they are different things. I’m more inclined to think of favourite works by contemporary composers than a list of favourite composers. Any composer with a feeling for the best qualities of tradition as well as a restless search for freshness is likely to appeal to me. A snapshot of what’s in my mind at the moment would feature the symphonies of David Matthews and Kalevi Aho

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Bernard Haitink conduct The Midsummer Marriage at ROH in the late nineties was unforgettable. The performance was wonderful and Tippett was there to receive some of the warmest applause I have ever witnessed. Many things came together for me, in that moment, which reaffirmed my own sense of purpose.

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

It’s more important than ever to value the non-verbal intelligence of music and not to let material exigencies and social politics dominate this precious form of communication. It can be used as a prop for ideas but we shouldn’t forget that it’s a wonderful idea in itself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

So many of the supposed satisfactions in life are illusory. Just as in music, there is the anticipation of an event and then the receding resonance of it but the event itself can be practically non-existent. I find I’m at my happiest when I’m in a state of effortless concentration and ideas and abilities seem to come almost without the sensation of thinking – alas all too rare. Oh – and then there’s throwing my seven-year-old daughter in the air and making monster noises. Now that’s fun!

James Francis Brown studied composition firstly with Hans Heimler (himself a pupil of Alban Berg) under the scholarship from the Surrey Scheme for Exceptionally Gifted Children and subsequently at the Royal Academy of Music. From 1994, James Francis Brown’s major works have been heard regularly at the South Bank and Wigmore Hall and have included a Piano Sonata (1994), a Viola Sonata (1995), and the String Trio (1996) for the Leopold String Trio which, following its première at the Deal Festival, has enjoyed numerous performances in London, Glasgow and as part of a British Council tour.

The English Chamber Orchestra with soloist Jack Liebeck gave the première of his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra at the Barbican in February 2001. His Sinfonietta, commissioned by Faber Music, was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in February 2002 by the London Chamber Orchestra. He has been a regular visitor to the Presteigne Festival and his song ‘Words’ is included on a CD of the collaborative song-cycle ‘A Garland for Presteigne’, on the Metronome label.

In March 2003, he was awarded a five-year NESTA fellowship. Recent works included a Piano Quartet for the Fidelio Piano Quartet and a piece for the Philharmonia Orchestra premièred at the 2004 Three Choirs Festival and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In 2005 he scored a short film “The Clap” which has won several awards at major international film festivals and he was invited to be the first ever composer-in-residence at the International Musician’s Seminar, Prussia Cove.

2006 saw the première of the cello and piano version of Prospero’s Isle at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival as well as the Trio Concertante for the string trio and orchestra at the Presteigne Festival. Prospero’s Isle has subsequently been recast as a symphonic tone poem, which was performed by the State Academic Orchestra of St Petersburg in November 2007 as part of a major British music festival.

An accomplished arranger he recently reconstructed and orchestrated sketches for Wagner’s projected opera Männerlist großer als Frauenlist for the Royal Opera House, which was performed in October 2007. He has also arranged Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll for the 2008 City of London Festival. His Clarinet Concerto for Catriona Scott was performed at the 2008 Presteigne Festival.

In 2009, James was the composer-in-residence for the Ulverston International Music Festival, the composer-in-residence for the International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove (at the request of cellist Steven Isserlis). He also gave a talk with David Matthews on the inspiration of dreams in music in August that year.

In 2010, the Badke quartet premièred James’ String Quartet (which was commissioned by the London Chamber Music Society), and 2011 saw the release of his CD Prospero’s Isle.

2012 was a good year for the composer, there were world premières of the piano solo version of Dunwich Bells (performed by Clare Hammond), the Piano Trio (by the Barbican trio who later toured it), Fanfare and Chorale (at the Jersey International Music Festival, by Jersey Premier Brass), the song Ozymandias (by Simon Lepper on piano and soprano Gillian Keith). James became an associate of the Royal Academy of Music in July 2012, and – in 2013 – the world première of A Dream and A Dance (by the Nash ensemble) took place in honour of the composer David Matthew’s 70th birthday.

Successes in 2014 included a stunning performance of the string quartet at the London Chamber Music Society, and a new theatrical version of Prospero’s Isle performed by Matthew Sharp and Clare Hammond at Sharp’s RE:naissance festival. His new work Rigaudon, part of a collaborative anthology ‘Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov’, was premiered by pianist Noriko Ogawa at Bridgewater Hall in April 2015.