Meet the Artist

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

I was born in the small town of Kavajë on the Adriatic coast. As a child I felt there was always music around me; there was certainly plenty of singing and dancing around, especially at weddings, which were taken very seriously in Albania! They would last for something like a whole week! Starting with small gatherings of family members on a Monday, the music would get louder, as if with a crescendo, reaching a climax with professional folk musicians on Friday and Saturday – and everyone was invited! I must have been about five years old when my uncle (the youngest child in my father’s family) got married, and I remember dancing during the whole week! I also remember that as a child, I would use my spoon and fork as ‘drum-sticks’ at the dinner table, and my mother thought that my ‘drumming’ was a ‘signal’ to her that I was hungry!

These qualities, apparently, didn’t go unnoticed: it was my uncle (he played clarinet in the town’s big-band and, of course, played quite a bit of folk music and sang himself), who ‘alerted’ my parents that I must be sent to a music school – and that is what happened. I enrolled in a professional music school in the neighbouring city of Durrës when I was 14 years of age, studying oboe, accordion, harmony & counterpoint, and composing bits and pieces. Since then, music has been a way of life for me!

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

As a teenager I liked going to the cinema, and the films I liked I watched them more than once! I would learn by heart stretches of dialogues, especially those that made me laugh, and would recite them out-loud at home! But something that has stuck in my memory, and I remember this because I’ve never forgotten it, is that in the main hall of the cinema there was a striking portrait of a very famous actor, Aleksandër Moisiu, whose origin is from my home town. Looking at Moisiu’s portrait and seeing his captivating pictures in various roles (he played, among others, Hamlet, Oedipus, and Faust) was very inspiring, as if he was saying to me ‘you cannot imagine how beautiful the world of art is!’

Moisiu settled in Vienna in his 20s, and began an international career which took him all over Europe and in the Americas in the first half of the 20th Century. He had a particularly musical and resonant voice. I later discovered that Arnold Schoenberg knew Moisiu and mentions him in his correspondence; whereas Alban Berg saw Moisiu playing Fedya in Tolstoy’s The Living Corpse, and in a letter to his wife in September 1917 described him simply as ‘magnificent’!

After the music school in Durrës, I enrolled in the State Conservatory of Music in the capital Tirana, studying composition. It was very tough to get a place in the conservatoire in those days: the year I got in, there were only four places in composition; for the whole country, that is, which is the same size as Wales!

Tonin Harapi, my composition teacher who had studied at Moscow Conservatoire, was a wonderful human being with a sharp sense of humour. He didn’t want his students to write the music that he wrote, so he ‘let me free’ to pursue my own interests – as free as one could be in a Stalinist regime where Stravinsky, among others, was in the government’s bad books and was banned completely. But Debussy, Prokofiev and some Bartok (not the ‘harsh’ works of the middle period) were allowed, so I could listen to them, and managed to hear the ‘Firebird’ secretly! It was a strange feeling of awe and apprehension, created by the raw quality of the music of Firebird, and the fact that it was banned! I also liked the music of Feim Ibrahimi, who I felt was at the sharp end of the Albanian music of the time. I seem to have had an appetite for ‘spicy’ sounds in those days!

I came to England when I was 33, and started all over again – da capo! During my postgraduate studies for a PhD in composition at York University, I studied with David Blake who introduced me to the Second Viennese School, and I immersed myself into the music that was banned in my native country. Bartok and Stravinsky aside, Berio, Boulez, Birtwistle, Xenakis, Lutoslawski et al. have all had their input during my study years at York. But it was with the music of Ligeti and Kurtag that I felt I discovered something very special, which was more than an inspiration to me.

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

I came to England in May 1991, and my English was just two months old! To begin with I spoke French, but my good friends in North Yorkshire gave me only two weeks to speak French; after that, they said, ‘it’s English only; OK?’

And I said… ‘ça va!’

I couldn’t afford to get lessons in English, so I just immersed myself in reading, and ‘invented’ a rule for myself: if I encountered an unknown word (and there were quite a few of them!) three times, I would look it up in the dictionary and write it down. I used an English – Italian dictionary that I had brought with me from Albania; it was easier for me to remember the words from Italian, because quite a few of them had the same root. After six months I was able to give a seminar presentation at York, but the most important ‘new language’ for me was ‘the other one’ – the musical language – which took a little bit longer!

There were many ‘challenges’ for me during this time, which I will not bore you with here, but I will mention one: I applied to settle in this country as a creative artist, but in order to get this status I had to wait for nearly three years; and during this time my father died! Anyone who doesn’t go to one’s father’s funeral must have a very strong reason, and my reason was that I … didn’t know my father had died. My mother had decided not to tell me (and advised all relatives to respect this), because she knew that if I had to leave the country whilst my application was under consideration by the Home Office, I wouldn’t be able to return; and she knew how much it meant to me studying at a western university.

But this is all water under the bridge now; my frustration at the moment is that it’s so difficult to get my orchestral works done in this country. My Concerto for Orchestra, which was awarded the Lutoslawski Prize in 2013, chosen among 160 anonymous submissions from 37 countries, is yet to receive its UK premiere! This is frustrating, especially as I would like to write more works for orchestra, for I feel that I have a lot more to say with orchestral sounds. I recently read Primo Levi’s novel entitled: ‘If Not Now When’.

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

The joy of a commission for a composer is not only knowing beforehand that a new piece is about to start its life, but you also know the musicians who are going to bring this to fruition. My latest piece was written for six musicians of Klangforum Wien. When I first heard Klangforum ensemble live in a concert conducted by Bas Wiegers at HCMF a few years ago, my jaw dropped! So, I was over the moon when was asked to write a new work for them, employing the same instrumentation as Boulez’s Derive I, which was also in the programme. Most importantly, the musical idea for this new piece is closely linked to the ‘composition’ of the ensemble itself –hence the title Klang Inventions! The structure of the new work was then based on what I’ve called ‘family resemblances’, and various ‘instrumental alliances’ within this ensemble. I felt uninhibited when composing this piece, and wrote challengingly for the ensemble as whole, giving each player a meaningful role to play. There are quite a few notes in it, and they played them all!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians?

Knowing who you are writing for is very important to me. My latest String Quartet (No 5), commissioned by the HCMF and first performed in 2015, was written specifically for Quatuor Diotima. Having worked with them for some 10 years, one cannot fail to notice their individual and sensitive approach to sound and colour, and their huge range of expression. I have tried to embody these idiosyncratic Diotima qualities in both string quartets I have dedicated to them. And I am so pleased that, thanks to an award by the PRSF Composers Fund in 2018, both quartets (Nos 4 & 5) and other works (a piano quintet and solo works performed by Joseph Houston, including a new piece written for him), will be recorded later this year for a new CD with the Swedish label BIS Records to be released in 2020 – so watch this space!

Of which works are you most proud?

This is a tough one! There is a saying in the Albanian language: ‘All fingers of one’s hand hurt the same!’ In a composer’s career there are, of course, some works whose significance is greater than others, in that they ‘announce’ stylistic or idiomatic approaches that have an impact on future works and in that sense are considered as milestones in the composer’s oeuvre. But I always feel proudest with my latest works – and there have been a handful of them in the last three years: The Scream for String orchestra based on the iconic painting by Edvard Munch received its world premiere in 2017 performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra. The BBC producer said to me after the dress rehearsal: ‘I can see the picture here.’ – this was certainly music to my ears!

Other works include, ENgREnage for Violin & Piano written for Peter Sheppard-Skaerved and Roderick Chadwick, Klang Inventions written for and dedicated to Klangforum Wien, L’image oubliée d’après Debussy, written for James Willshire in response to a commission by the Late Music Series in York to commemorate the centenary of Debussy’s death, and La Leggiadra Luna for mixed choir a cappella, which received its world premiere by the 24 vocal ensemble at the University of York. I can’t wait to hear La Leggiadra Luna at the 2019 ISCM Festival in May, where it will be performed by the Grammy Award-winning ensemble the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir! This is a setting of a poem by Sappho, translated from ancient Greek into modern Italian by the Nobel Prize-winning Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo.

As is the case with all my works selected for the ISCM Festival over the years (and there have been ten of them), this piece too was submitted directly to the international jury, and it is one of the three works representing the UK at this prestigious festival in May. I am certainly proud of this one, for it concisely sums up what I have been trying to do for some years now, to focus on an idiom where ancient and modern aspects of utterance, musical or otherwise, interact and complement each other.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is one of those ‘one million-dollar questions’!

It’s difficult to describe with words what can be best expressed with sounds! And this is particularly challenging in the musical climate of our time which is characterised by a pluralistic approach towards style, where one cannot speak of anything like ‘lingua franca’! Having said that, I could mention here that there is often something in my works, be that a gesture or a motivic idea, which the listener can latch onto. I could also say that an important characteristic of my musical language is putting together elements from disparate musical cultures. Often, complex chordal structures or multi-layered textural formats are reduced to just one single note which becomes a kind of ‘atomistic compression’ with a magnetic quality, as it were, around which various colouristic elements orbit freely! This drone-based type of linearity is a salient characteristic of the ancient musical aura of the Balkans, and I’ve been interested in it and the resulting heterophonic textures for some time now. This began in the early 80s when I worked as music director in a remote town in Southern Albania, right at the border with Greece, and the first-hand experience I had there, working with some amazingly virtuoso folk musicians for three years, has had a lasting effect in my own music. It was very interesting to read Ligeti’s comments in an interview with Stefan Niculescu published in the Romanian magazine Revista Muzica in 1993, where he sad that “These types of drones, the origin of long and sustained sound that supports melismatic melodies can be found on a large scale especially in Southern Albania….”

If I could mention just one example, it would be my new work for violin & piano, called ENgREnage, and this idea is not only visible ‘on the tin’, but most importantly, it is, I believe, audible in the music. In this work the middle D is prominent throughout, and it is precisely this D which has the ‘authority of the home-key’ to brings this journey to a close!

How do you work?

I work very hard on every single work (small and large) and every note!

Who are your favourite musicians?

This could be a long answer, but I will be as short as possible! I have written a number of works for the so-called ‘ideal’ player, but I’ve always felt good when I knew who I was writing for. This is very important to me, because the performer is my first listener; and over the years I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity of working with some amazing musicians in this country and on the continent. In the UK, it all began with Peter Sheppard Skaerved and the Kreutzer Quartet. I first made contact with Peter in 2000, and asked him if he would be interested in a new work, which had just been premiered at the ISCM Festival of that year, and he replied in seconds, saying ‘I’m always interested in new works for violin’; and when I asked him whether he wanted to hear the recording, he said: ‘oh no, I’m a violinist’! Since then, our collaboration grew steadily, and I have written a number of works for Peter, and the Kreutzer Quartet has recorded two of my string quartets. Most recently, Peter and Roderick Chadwick have recorded four works for another CD, alongside works written for Christopher Orton, and Joseph Houston. Both are longstanding collaborators: Chris commissioned the recorder piece which received a British Composer Award from BASCA in 2009, whereas Joe has performed a number of my works, including the world premiere of Deux Esquisses, which I composed for his Wigmore Hall debut. This CD is due to be released on Naxos Records any day now!

As well as Quatuor Diotima mentioned above, I have worked with some of the finest ensembles in contemporary music such as Klangforum Wien, Musikfabrik of Koeln, and Copenhagen Sinfonietta; and some wonderful soloists, such as Rohan De Saram and Neil Heyde in London, Lorina Wallaster in Vienna, Florian Vlashi in Spain, Petrit Çeku in Zagreb, Klaidi Sahatçi – leader of the Tonhall Orchestra in Zurich and many others!!

Whilst some of my works are more challenging than others, I have written a number of pieces which can be played equally by professionals and amateurs – I even have pieces included in the ABRSM Syllabus. I’ve recently made several instrumental versions (duos and trios) of a folk song, My Beautiful Morea, which uses an ancient tune, whose origin stems from the Albanian community in Calabria, and enormously enjoyed doing it! This remarkable tune of some 500 years old lends itself to any instrument (almost!), in a variety of combinations! There is also a vocal version performed by the 24 vocal ensemble of York University. The newest version (Violin, Cello & Guitar) will be premiered very soon!

An important part of my output is Soliloquy Cycle – a series of solo works for various instruments, where a protagonist speaks in different languages, as it were; or to use a metaphor from the theatre, an actor playing different roles, where each character makes a considerable use of its own dialect. I have so far written six works in this series, and there are more to come! Composing for Sarah Watts and Chris Orton was a memorable experience – they booth encouraged me to push the boundaries of the bass clarinet and recorder as much as I could – and I did! I am currently working on a new project with the Paris–based clarinettist, Jérôme Comte – member of the Ensemble Intercontemporain. Most recently I met Tamara Stefanovich and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and heard them live playing solo and together – I hope I will one day be able to work with them.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been a number of such experiences over the years! For me all the world premieres are memorable, in that they announce the birth of a ‘new baby’! Here I will mention the premiere of Soliloquy I for Solo Violin, which is certainly memorable; it was given at the 2000 ISCM Festival in Luxembourg. Before submitting the piece to the international jury, I showed it to Ferneyhough during a summer school at California State University, and he looked at it in some detail, and encouraged me to send it to the ISCM Festival. And so I did, and it was selected – Irvine Arditti, among others, was in the jury. In the rehearsal I had with the violinist Vania Lecuit, I asked her how many music stands she was going to use in the concert, and she replied: ‘I don’t know, but I’ve learnt it by heart’!

I was flabbergasted! I know it too well the challenge this piece represents for the performer and it was never my intention that it should be performed by heart, but there you are!

Vania played it from memory at the ISCM Festival – this was a breakthrough for me, my first real success on international level. And there have been a number of works selected at this festival, but here I would like to mention one performance at a local level: in a concert in York last November, where my String Quartet No 5 was performed by the Diotimas, a member of the audience, unknown to me, seemed to have enjoyed the piece very much, and said to me during the interval, ‘can I buy you a drink’? A friend of mine had already offered and was getting one for me, so I said: ‘there is a queue, I’m afraid, but this is the best compliment I’ve had’!

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

Being a composer in our modern time, where everything seems to be driven by a culture of doing things fast, in order to get rich and famous as soon as possible, is not an easy thing to do! Our work is measured with minutes, and we spend hours and hours to compose a minute of music, but I do it because I can’t do without it! I am still optimistic, for me the glass has always been half-full. My belief is that, when it comes to creativity, one should at least try to speak with one’s voice, however small that might be! I’ve been teaching composition for some 20 years now, and often say to my students: ‘Write the music that you want to hear, not the music that I want to hear, because that one, I can write it myself!’


Multi award–winning composer Thomas Simaku graduated from the Tirana Conservatoire and gained a PhD in Composition from the University of York, where he studied with David Blake. Simaku was the Leonard Bernstein Fellow in Composition at Tanglewood Music Centre, USA studying with Bernard Rands, and a fellow at the Composers’ Workshop, California State University with Brian Ferneyhough. Thomas Simaku’s music has been reaching audiences across Europe, the USA and further afield for more than two decades, and it has been awarded a host of accolades for its expressive qualities and its unique blend of intensity and modernism.

For more information about Thomas Simaku and his music, please follow the links https://www-users.york.ac.uk/~ts8/

https://soundcloud.com/thomassimaku

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

I honestly don’t recall having a specific moment where I decided to make music my career! Both of my parents are professional instrumentalists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so I quite literally grew up in the Civic Opera House, learning music as my true mother tongue. I was even a little gingerbread munchkin in Lyric’s production of Hansel und Gretel when I was six! Genuinely terrified of the witch, I learned that we are able to experience the stories we tell on stage just as viscerally as our ‘real’ lives. I simply haven’t known any other way of living, so while I entertained the idea of other professions, I got hooked on always having an outlet to express myself and I can’t seem imagine doing anything else. Music is as much a lifestyle as it is a profession.

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

Most definitely my parents; there’s nothing like hearing Strauss played on the horn everyday growing up to influence a soprano! My folks started me on piano at the age of four and violin at seven before I got anywhere near singing lessons, but it became clear that voice was my calling when I began to sight-sing all my concertos, my violin conveniently resting on the lid of our piano. I must have been born with a singer’s brain because I could always learn music faster with my voice than with an instrument in hand! I was also really shaped by my time in the Chicago Children’s Choir, a boundary-busting organization dedicated to bringing kids of diverse socio-economic backgrounds together by exploring music of all genres and styles from across the globe. My time in CCC taught me that my work as an artist always has the potential to make a cultural or societal impact.

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

Something I have to consciously work at is staying grounded. I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, often getting swept away by my extremely active imagination which is often on the train to la-la-land. When I discovered yoga, I realized that I could help myself stay in the present if I choose to do so. Dedicating myself to a consistent mindfulness practice has completely changed my life, and I love it so much that I actually completed a yoga teacher training program last spring! It can be difficult to set time aside for self-care, but the impact of even ten minutes of stillness has such a large ripple effect throughout my mind-set, relationships, singing, and general well-being that I try my best to include some quality yoga-and-meditation-time each day.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oof, I think I have two! Last summer, I was a Vocal Fellow at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, where I spent an idyllic four-weeks completely saturated in some of my favorite art song repertoire. In one of the final performances, I got to sink my teeth into some lesser-known, extremely romantic Joseph Marx lieder in a livestreamed recital (which is now on YouTube!), the perfect end to a perfect month. The other event which stands out for me is when I was 20 and performed the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning on tour with Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Ensemble to my hometown, Chicago. Seeing all my loved ones’ faces in the audience for my first big premiere made the occasion only that much more special. We recorded the piece and it’s going to be released on the Oberlin Music label sometime soon!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Joseph Schwantner’s Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro is a favorite of mine. I have a video of the work posted online and somehow Schwantner himself found it, tracked my website down, and sent me a lovely note about my performance! I most definitely screamed when I saw that a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer had popped up in my inbox.

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

Who my audience is plays a key role in what I choose to perform. I always try to find a balance between both obscure and familiar repertoire, but the calibration of the two depends on the occasion. Sometimes I aim to create an environment where listeners can turn inward and explore themselves more intimately and other times I hope to encourage empathy and an expansion of the definition of ‘self.’ My goal, always, is to use the energy of music to connect and heal. I strive to work from these intentions outwards, using music as the medium for sharing radical honesty and generosity.

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

I’m really looking forward to my Wigmore Hall debut with The Prince Consort this March, to say the least! So many of the most influential artists in music have performed in that intimate space; it’s where history itself is made. I also love singing in Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago’s Cultural Center, one of the lesser known gems in my hometown, because of its enormous Tiffany glass dome and view of Millennium Park. It feels like home!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Hannigan, Kurt Elling, Renée Fleming, Jonas Kaufman, Robert Glasper, Karina Gauvin, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, Beyoncé

What is your most memorable concert experience?

While I was a student at Oberlin, I played the role of Thérèse in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, this crazy surrealist one-act where the main character denounces her femininity and goes off to regain authority of her life. In the first scene, as she rejects the restrictions of being a woman, she grows a beard and moustache….and her breasts fly away because they’re secretly balloons! I had a blast shocking the audience each night, so much so that I even choreographed a one-handed cartwheel into my staging just for the heck of it. I felt so free in our little surrealist world, buoyant enough let go of myself and explore the absurd.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me comes down to honesty. Even though I am a recovering perfection addict, I still believe my best performances have been the ones where my feet were firmly planted on the ground, my head was held high, and my heart beat proudly on my sleeve, regardless of miscellaneous mistakes and mishaps. Vulnerability is often both a performer’s kryptonite and Achilles’ heal, so I call it a success when I’ve allowed myself to be entirely generous with my spirit and had a little fun while I was at it.

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

We are first and foremost human beings; our art can only be born out of our humanity.

On a more tangible level, I want to emphasize that our minds and bodies are as much our instruments as the cello, trombone, or vocal cords which vibrate to create sonic waves. The more lined up the mind-body-spirit connection is, the easier making music gets.

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

Doing it all and probably trying to find enough hours in the day to make it happen! I would love to have a balance between opera, concert, and recital work with a healthy mixture of classical and contemporary repertoire. Maybe not in 10 years’ time but in 20, I would like to have a hand in creative strategic planning to help steer how we move classical music forward. I have always envisioned myself with a family, so that’s a must for me, too.

What’s your current state of mind?

Sleepy but satisfied 🙂

 


Chicago-born soprano Olivia Boen completed her undergraduate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in May of 2017 and will be starting her MM at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London this autumn. Olivia has been seen on the Oberlin Opera Theater stage as the title roles in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Händel’s Alcina, as well as the leading ladies in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Händel’s Serse with the Oberlin in Italy program in Tuscany. In January 2016, she had the distinct honor of performing the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning with the Contemporary Music Ensemble on Oberlin’s 150th Anniversary Tour to her home city. The piece will be released on the Oberlin Music record label in late 2018. Olivia has participated in masterclasses with such renowned artists as Renée Fleming, Eric Owens, and Marilyn Horne. Recent accolades include 2018 First Place Winner at the Musicians Club of Women of Chicago, 2017 First Place Winner at the Tuesday Musical Competition, and finalist in Oberlin’s Senior Concerto Competition.

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

I’m not from a musical family. My parents and I never thought that I would become a cellist. It all started randomly as my first cello was a gift from my mom’s friend. However, we never took it too seriously and I was not especially curious to learn how to play the cello until a friend of mine came to my home to play games with me. She showed a great interest in the cello and my mom was about to give it to her but that definitely triggered something in me and it was the moment I decided to pick up the cello and learn to play it.  I perhaps would never have become a cellist if this didn’t occur and I have never stopped playing the cello ever since then.

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

Curiosity coupled with a willingness to push myself out of my comfort zone. I always strive to broaden my perspective on life as a global citizen and to be resilient.

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

As a cellist, the challenge is to reach people with my instrument who don’t necessarily know much about cello and classical music.  I hope to continue to make classical music more accessible to a wider audience and that my instrument will be appreciated as much as the piano or voice.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra.  It was a dream come true as a musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I play everything from my heart.  Works that speak to me the most are the pieces I play so that can change with time.

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

When I choose repertoire for concerts, I do this by consensus and after discussion with the artistic director, fellow musicians and the conductor. I do always try to include some new pieces so that I can expand my repertoire and bring something new to audiences.

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

I do love playing in Seoul in particular because it’s my hometown.  It is always special to perform in my home country.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love the work of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, former chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, with whom I used to work.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It was one of my most recent concerts in the UK – a recital at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.  I was so honoured to be there to and felt privileged to play in this wonderful hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, I feel most rewarded when I overcome difficulties or discover new ways to interpret a piece I have been practicing. Finding my own way to play a piece means a lot to me.  It gives me a confidence and I am full of joy to play the music.

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

For myself, I always look for an inspiration so I visit art exhibitions, I travel a lot, I look for new partnerships, I seek out new repertoire…I like discovering new things.  Life is full of surprises that open up my mind and I would encourage aspiring musicians to always be curious about the world.

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

I would hopefully be in a place where I can continue to follow my passion of music-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m not sure if such perfection exists, but for me I definitely feel most happy when I can immerse myself in music.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello

What is your present state of mind?

I live in the present

Hee-Lim Young’s recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra is available now on the Sony Classical label.


Hee-Young Lim was appointed as the Principal Solo Cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She was one of the first female Asian cellists ever to lead a section in a major European orchestra. In 2018, she was invited to join the teaching faculty of the Beijing Central Conservatory, the first Korean professor ever appointed to this prestigious conservatory. Praised by the Washington Post as “a deeply gifted musician, with a full, singing tone, near- flawless technique and a natural lyricism that infused nearly every note she played,” cellist Hee- Young Lim has quickly established herself as one of the most charismatic and fast-rising cellists of her generation.

Born in Seoul, she was accepted to the Pre-College division of Korean National University of Arts and Yewon Arts School, winning prizes for Excellence in Music and the Most Distinguished Alumni Award. She entered the Korean National University at age 15, as the youngest student ever to be accepted. She moved to the United States to further her education at the New England Conservatory. Upon graduation, she went on to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying with Philippe Muller, where she graduated with ‘Highest Distinction’. She is also a graduate of Hochschule für Musik ‘Franz Liszt’ Weimar, where she earned her degree summa cum laude.

In-demand as a soloist, she has in recent years performed with distinguished ensembles including the German Berlin Chamber Orchestra, the Budapest Radio Philharmonic, the Warsaw National Philharmonic, the Jena Philharmonie, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the KBS Symphony Orchestra, the Seoul Symphony Orchestra, the Baden-Baden Philharmonie, the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, the Bandung Philharmonic, the Korean Chamber Orchestra, the Incheon Symphony Orchestra, the Ningbo Symphony, Zagreb Soloists and many others.

As an enthusiast advocate of contemporary music, Hee-Young Lim is privileged to champion the work of today’s composers. Most recently, Columbia University in New York commissioned her to give the European premiere of Peter Susser’s Cello Suite in Paris and in 2019 she will give the Asia premiere of Jakub Jankowski’s Aspects of Return at the Tong Yeong International Music Festival.

Teaching has been a very significant aspect of Hee-Young Lim’s career. She has held master classes at Seoul’s Ewha University, Rotterdam Conservatory, Paris Reuil-Malmaison Conservatoire and Jakarta University, among others.

She plays on a 1714 Joseph Filius Andrea Guarneri Cello graciously given by a private donor and a Dominique Peccatte bow.

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

I have a musical family and so my brother and I would hear music every day. I guess the music got into my soul and I started writing when I was at school from the age of about 12.

That said, I only started composing professionally in my mid-thirties. At that time I found that I really started to get satisfaction from creating music and particularly music that other people enjoy playing.

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

My parents warned me that the musician’s life is not easy! However, I’ve always enjoyed performing whether on piano, singing or on trumpet. It was a natural step for me to form, run and conduct a swing band at my school, and then two more bands when I went to Cambridge University.

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

I think, probably like many people, I find the marketing aspect of writing (i.e. blowing one’s own trumpet!) to be a challenge. I guess it is constantly having to judge the best use of time and money in how to reach the right people with my music.

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

It’s always a pleasure to write a new piece of music – and especially so as a special request. Coming up with an original, catchy and visual title can take time though.

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

I perform regularly with very talented UK jazz musicians in a variety of ensembles. It’s highly satisfying to try and play up to their standard and I always get ideas for new pieces after my gigs.

Of which works are you most proud?

Gosh – that’s a tricky question! I’m particularly proud of my JukeBox book series which has taken a great deal of work and seems to be popular so far. If it comes down to a particular piece, then at the moment the duet ‘Little Green Men’ makes me smile.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that it is a blend of jazz and other popular styles. As long as there is a melody and nice chord progressions, then I’m happy.

How do you work?

Ideally, I start with a title, perhaps from my growing list of potential candidates. Then I consult my spreadsheet of current compositions so that I try and avoid repeating the same combination of style, grade, key etc. I guess that’s my engineering background coming into play!

In reality, what tends to happen is that I get a melodic idea or rhythmic groove (often in the shower) and then try to find a title that works with it.

Either way, I’ll then sit down at the piano and experiment. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Al Jarreau, Oscar Peterson, Prince, Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, James Taylor…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If I can write and record a piece of music, then listen to it weeks or months later and think, “that sounds good!”, then that to me is a success. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does.

Also, if I write a piece and someone, somewhere in the world plays that piece and enjoys it – then that is a success.

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

I think it is essential to love the music you’re writing or performing right now at this moment. We all have hopes and dreams of what might be in the future, but it’s probably best not to cling to those too tightly.

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

Still gigging and writing most likely in the UK.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being aware of the present moment – for example, during a gig and being in ‘the flow’.

What is your most treasured possession?

Materially, my piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Reading, watching and learning.

What is your present state of mind?

It varies, but mostly happy!


Olly Wedgwood has been playing the piano, singing, composing and performing in public since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. It all kicked off at school, many years ago in 1986 when he won a music scholarship to Hampton School and started to write for his favourite instrument – the piano

After four years of formal music training, Olly discovered Jazz and formed, conducted and managed the Hampton School 15-piece ‘Big Jazz and Blues Band’, also recruiting from the girls’ school next door ;). Hooked on jazz, he began to study jazz piano under top UK jazz pianist Roger Munns.

At Cambridge University, Olly performed in and directed ensembles ranging from pop and rock ‘n’ roll outfits, to jazz trios and big bands. He formed ‘Selwyn Jazz’ big band with his partner-in-crime, Jon Hooper, in 1993 and the band is still gigging to this day.

(Editors note: actually Olly studied an Engineering Degree, but he and his partner in crime, Jon Hooper, probably spent more time on the gig circuit than they did in the engineering lab…).

After University, Olly worked as an engineer and physics teacher by day, also conducting the Magdalen College School big band. By night, he gigged with various jazz and soul ensembles, both as a wedding pianist-vocalist and as a ‘front man’ wedding entertainer.

In 2004, he handed in his notice for his day job and went pro, playing frequently with the Oxford Jazz Quintet (one of Jamie Cullum’s previous ensembles). Olly now runs his Jazz Soul Boogie Band – an awesome wedding entertainment band on the professional gig circuit in the UK, performing a variety of music styles from jazz swing, Latin to funky 70s soul. Wherever Olly is playing, you’re guaranteed a great night’s music and dancing!

Also in 2004, Olly co-wrote ‘Wedgwood Blue’, a landmark piano collection which brings together the extraordinary talents of the Wedgwood family. Olly’s younger brother Sam Wedgwood is a talented singer/songwriter and their mother Pam Wedgwood is recognised around the world as one the UK’s most prolific and successful composers of popular repertoire for young instrumentalists.

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

I always knew I would have a career in music. I can’t remember otherwise. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I would pursue music. Music in life and life in music has always been in me regardless of outside hurdles.

I started on electric guitar. In high school my curiosity was piqued watching the Eagles on MTV Unplugged play ‘Hotel California’ on nylon strung guitars and learning that Randy Rhodes of Ozzy Ozbourne played classical guitar. Around the same time I saw a video of Andrés Segovia performing Albéniz during my high school Spanish class, so with all of that I pretty much dropped my pick and started studying classical music. It took a bit of time for me to save up enough money to buy a nylon string guitar, but I found a teacher and started practicing. Nobody outside of my teacher played the classical/Spanish guitar and most didn’t know what it was.

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

During and after conservatory I read a lot about the musicians I looked up to: Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia, Sabicas (flamenco), Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein and numerous composers: Erik Satie, Heitor Villa-Lobos, George Gershwin, Manuel De Falla, John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Serge Prokofiev, Astor Piazzolla and so many more.

I also found books on music learning and being an artist like Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, With Your Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke to be extremely helpful during the many challenging times.

I was very inspired by musicians who created their own repertoire that reflected their personal artistic vision and the times in which they lived. It helped that they had such strong personalities and technical facilities that the repertoire became theirs. I am not a composer, but like them I too felt the urge to assist in creation, so I set out to collaborate with composers and hopefully inspire new works. The collection of New Dances by David Starobin (Bridge Records) opened my eyes and inspired me to do my own commissioning project: the New Lullaby Project.

If a composer had already passed, then I looked at how I could explore their music through arrangements. I have done this most recently with the music of John Cage.

Lastly, I think the fact that I have lived without much of a safety net since college has made me commit to my endeavours fully. They can’t be just novelties or something to impress others, but successful endeavours on both the artistic and business front.

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

I had a lot of health issues during my time at conservatory. Some due to sports injuries growing up, and others due to growing up. I deal with them each day and they have less of a hold on me.

Regarding my professional career as a performer and teacher, I think my naïveté about the classical music world/business was hard to swallow. I don’t come from a musical or artistic family, so I had no idea that connections mattered or that established artists could try to sabotage another’s career. It was really eye-opening and also disappointing in many ways to see behind the curtain. Thankfully, I have an amazing team of support with my wife, so I continue to make my way regardless.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is so hard; I’m proud of them all. The four solo discs are quite diverse with each representing an artistic place in my life of goals, beliefs and abilities. I take great pride in that each contains a premiere.

‘Tracing a wheel on water’ (2006, Music Life Program) – my first solo endeavour and most conservative, made when I thought competitions and pleasing critics was the goal. Four premieres by Daniel Pinkham, Lior Navok and Kevin Siegfried.

‘New Lullaby’ (2010 Six String Sound) – the first recording where I really pushed the envelope with an album of all contemporary commissions by “non-famous composers” as one critic wrote. The classical guitar is known for putting people to sleep, and contemporary music is completely disconnected from normal life, so I see this album as a double-dog dare to listeners. I’m right.

‘The Legend of Hagoromo’ (2015 Stone Records) – the most technically virtuosic album. It was the first guitar album on the UK label Stone Records and I was the first American artist on the label. Atypically, it has a unifying theme of Japan – yes the guitar can do more than play Spanish repertoire(!) – and includes three commissions by Ken Ueno, Martin Schreiner and Kota Nakamura, along with only the second commercial recording of the insane title track by Keigo Fujii.

‘John. Cage. Guitar.’ (2018 Stone Records) – my latest recording released on November 2nd, 2018 by Stone Records, but more importantly it is truly home-grown and a departure for me on many levels. 1) It does not include a commission, but I made all of the arrangements myself, which are published by Edition Peters (a first for the John Cage estate & classical guitar!); 2) The music surveys a single composer, and 3) includes two collaborations with other artists: violinist Sharan Leventhal (Keplar Qt) and guitarist Adam Levin.

Regarding performances, my multiple solo and chamber concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow were life-changing. My main teacher, Dmitry Goryachev is from St Petersburg, and I heard so much about Russian audiences that I was quite intimidated by them, but I performed in the country five times in five years (2011-2016) and each time it was huge for my confidence as a player and creator. My first concert in Moscow was a 2.5-hour concert with multiple encores, following a night of trying to sleep a floor above a nightclub!

An all New Lullaby concert for 10-14 year olds at a Moscow area arts school was very special with the director telling me how in shock he was that students loved the works including 12-tone, microtonal and minimalist works. Only in Russia and Germany have I had the audience to clap together as one. These experiences stay close to my heart.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

“Best” is a big word! I think my performance of Keigo Fujii’s ‘Legend of Hagoromo’ and John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ are unique and unmatched, at least for now, but what does that mean? I’d love to hear others perform them, and hopefully they inspire me to revisit my own interpretations.

I perform a lot of contemporary music and people are surprised that I am able to keep audiences engaged and awake with such difficult music. I’ve brought tears to eyes performing Romantic and Spanish works, as well as Bach, so if eliciting such emotion is the measure then there we go.

I have a very hard time playing the same music or style of music for a long period of time, so I think I’m quite good at varying my repertoire and presenting it to audiences in a way that makes them part of the creation.

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

Much of it depends what gets booked. Of course a Bach series will feature Bach with music related to him, a performance of my Spanish music and dance ensemble ¡Con Fuego! will feature Spanish music, and a contemporary series will feature contemporary music. On tour I will often have a chamber concert or song recital mixed into a series of solo shows. I try to work with each venue to find the right theme for them.

When I have free choice of the program I try to balance a few standards into my programs, as guitar audiences are fairly conservative, alongside more challenging works for a new listening experience. Now that I have the new Cage release and publications I will include one or two pieces from it whenever possible.

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

Jordan Hall in Boston is very special to me because I sat in it repeatedly as a student and heard my idols dance their music through the space. The sound is luscious!

Salon dei Giganti in Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy – Such inspiration all around me through the mosaics made for easy music making, and the audience gathered at my feet made for an overwhelming experience.

El Palacio de Linares in Madrid, Spain holds a special place in my heart as my first professional performance in Spain.

Yelegin Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia is amazing!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many! Most of the people I find inspiration from now are composers: I love experiencing their creations and hearing how they manipulate these black dots on paper to be so amazing and full of life.

I love players and ensembles that are not afraid of exploring new sounds, but are also able to make standards sound fresh and exciting. I love virtuosity, but only if it is multi-dimensional in personality, technique, artistry, and presentation.

There are musicians who have wonderful presentation and repertoire ideas, but not amazing technique, whom I adore, and there are players I only listen to for their technique, usually in very short bursts.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Easy: Ali Akabar Kahn in Jordan Hall in the late 90s. Blew my mind that such a musician could exist. Fist half was just under 90min, and it felt like 25! A true magician.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a daily scale: Having music in my life each day with good health, family, friends, and great food.

On a yearly scale:

A project completed. A new arrangement published. New works commissioned and premiered. Higher pay scale.

On a life scale:

Recordings devoted to Bach, Mussorgsky, contemporary composers, regular national and international tours.

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

Copy to learn about others and yourself, but in the end you must be yourself. A career as a musician is possible if you are consistent, patient and creative.

Take care of your health all of the time. We cannot be messengers of sound if our bodies are injured and worn out.

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

Performing full-time. In a castle with the time and money to maintain and enjoy it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Breaking bread, sharing music, solitude with my studies, and recognition for my creations.

What is your most treasured possession?

My guitar

My relationship with my wife, though I do not posses her anymore than she possesses me.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious and positive in my goals and ambitions, which is a first.

Aaron Larget-Caplan’s latest album John. Cage. Guitar. is the first classical guitar recording dedicated to the music of John Cage, and features seven early and mid-career compositions, dating from 1933 through 1950 for solo guitar, violin and guitar, and prepared guitar duo. Now available on the Stone Records Ltd label


alcguitar.com

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

A series of unfortunate accidents! As a fairly straightforwardly academic child I stumbled into an open evening given by the brass teachers of the local peripatetic service. I really can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea, but there was a tuba lying on a classroom table and it chose me there and then.

As a tuba player in youth orchestra I had a lot of bars rest – often whole movements or pieces. To relieve the boredom (and if I’m honest to try to stop myself being a nuisance to people with actual notes to play), I started bringing the scores to rehearsals and following those. It didn’t take long for me to start wanting to hear more of different sections of the orchestra, or wonder how it would work at a different tempo, it was then a short step to formal study, though I don’t think even then that I had any thought of doing it for a living.

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

The two most significant early experiences were that of my youth orchestra, but possibly more importantly playing in a very high-level brass band. The culture of dedication, discipline and excellence there was something I shall never forget. Punctuality, alertness and concentration were taken absolutely for granted, and the precision of ensemble and intonation was astonishing. It set standards for me.

After that, three teachers had an enormous influence. My first conducting teacher was Michael Trowski, who was also the conductor of my youth orchestra. He is a wonderful all-round musician, and a very supportive friend who I learnt from as much playing under him as in our lessons. After university I studied with Alan Hazeldine, who pushed me hard to keep focused and to treat conducting as an all-round set of skills that encompassed not only physical technique and score-reading but also mastery of the psychology of orchestras and managements. He also arranged for me to watch and meet Sir Colin Davies who offered several gems of insight that I will always treasure.

But by far the most profound influence on my career in the past decade has been working with David Parry. As his assistant and colleague at Garsington, I was given the most incredible insights into the wonderful world of opera where I have spent much of the last decade. In particular, his peerless facility in the bel canto repertoire has led that to become something of a specialism for me, although I undoubtedly conduct it very differently from him and this ability to nurture conductors without turning out carbon copies of himself is what makes him such a great colleague and mentor.

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

As the question implies, this is often the same thing. Every room is different and every person in that room is different. They all want and need something different from you and that will vary ensemble to ensemble, piece to piece and week to week. One of Colin Davis’ brilliant insights was that our job is not to conduct the piece, but to conduct the people who are playing the piece. The fact that the same gestures, explanations, ideas will communicate in one setting but not another is an endless challenge, but the satisfaction of finding a way to let a group of brilliant and talented people make music together to their maximum potential is one of the most fulfilling experiences imaginable.

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

Very simply! A wonderful colleague once advised me never to say anything in rehearsal that I couldn’t express in my third language. If I couldn’t say it in German or Italian it was probably too complicated. I think this is wonderful advice. Whilst I have complicated poetic and metaphysical ideas in my head, they are only allowed out through my hands, eyes and body. If you heard me speaking to an orchestra, 99% of the time it would be about the practicalities of note-lengths, balance, intonation, and tempo.

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

I am definitely the composer’s representative in the room, and I feel very strongly that it’s my job to bring not only the composer’s ideas but their historical context, assumptions, faith, politics and personality to the rehearsal (though as per above, this generally stays in my head unless really interesting to anyone else!).

Following from that, I think that it is my job to have the whole picture in my mind, whether that be an opera or a symphony, and to be responsibility for the integrity of that. Each singer in an opera needs to be focused on their character, motivations, and emotional arc. My job is to make sure that these knit together into a story. This is why it is often a good sign if we disagree, or at the least have different emphases. Likewise in an orchestra, any given player (or section) has to concentrate on phrasing, articulation, intonation. To let them do that, and to mesh all of those individual lines into a coherent whole, I take charge of the balance, tempo and ensemble so that they focus on making music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Too many! I’ve been very very lucky and been allowed to conduct a huge range of repertoire from the 13th century to the present so have no complaints. But having gained a reputation for English music and the Italian bel canto I wouldn’t protest if someone booked me to do Walküre…. or Boris….

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I am a huge fan of the various Frank Matcham theatres around the country. The Hackney Empire is my home turf and I feel a special affection for that space, but Buxton, Cheltenham and Wolverhampton are all glorious venues to make music in. That said, I’m looking forward to making my Bridgewater Hall debut next year which may change that…

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

No favourites! Verboten!

Though more seriously I have never failed to fall in love with a piece I’m working on.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Cynically, it’s the moment when you’re spending more time and energy on doing the work that looking for it.

But fortunately success comes daily when we bring music off the page and through our performance into people’s lives. Every single audience member whose soul goes home lighter after a show is the reason that we’re here.

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

They need to have an absolute clarity of purpose. They need to have addressed the big questions: Why do we do what we do, who is it for? Why is it important? They need to have this core of confidence in order to develop resilience to the thousand natural shocks that anyone in the performing arts faces daily.

I think they need to come to these conclusions for themselves and we don’t need to agree. In fact for the continued development and evolution of our profession it’s better if we don’t! It’s very unclear to me what our world and profession will look like in ten years’ time, let alone twenty. Anyone entering now needs to know why and bring with them a readiness to make music in different ways and in different places, so that we continue to touch audiences.

Arthur Sullivan’s complete incidental music to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and The Tempest with his concert overture, Marmion, performed by sopranos Mary Bevan and Fllur Wyn, Simon Callow (speaker), the BBC Singer and BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews, is available now on the Dutton Epoch label


John Andrews is Principal Guest Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, Conductor-in-Assocation with the English Symphony Orchestra, whom he conducts regularly at the English Music Festival. He has conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and concerts in 2018-19 include the 2018 International Composers Festival, the Bridgewater Hall with the Manchester Concert Orchestra, and the London Handel Festival with the Brook Street Band, the Malcolm Arnold Festival and Baroquestock.

His performances of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei for English Touring Opera, were praised for his ‘highly cultured, shapely and pressing direction… ’ whilst Bachtrack described his interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor as ‘faultless’. Recent credits include Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with the Young Artists of Garsington Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the Rostock Volkstheater, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Opera Holland Park. In 2018 and 2019 he returns to English Touring Opera for Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, and Il segreto di Susanna for Opera Holland Park.

John is currently making a series of world-premiere recordings with the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and The Brook Street Band for Dutton Epoch and EM-Records. The first of these – Sullivan’s Music for Macbeth and The Tempest – was named a Disc of the Year in The Sunday Times, described by Hugh Canning as ‘pure delight’. Future releases include Arne’s The Judgment of Paris, and Sullivan’s Haddon Hall and The Martyr of Antioch.

His gift for combining empathy and feel for both music and musicians with an ability to directly and powerfully communicate his ideas, together with his passion for locating music in its social and historical context, brings dynamism and warmth to his interpretations of both rare and classic repertoire.

johnkandrews.com