I was so cheered to read this thread of tweets from cellist Julia Morneweg, and I agree with her comment that it is those in the profession with a “Can do” attitude who are driving the return of live music to venues.

It’s true that London’s Wigmore Hall has done a great deal to bring live music back to audiences, first with its summer series of livestream concerts (albeit to an empty hall) and now with its autumn season of concerts with a limited, socially-distanced audience. Other larger venues, such as St John’s Smith Square, are beginning to follow suit, finding ways to manage the logistics of admitting living, breathing audience and performers within the constraints of government covid-secure guidance and rules, and its seems audiences are very keen to be back. It is well known that classical music audiences are generally older/elderly – the demographic which is most vulnerable to coronavirus – but these are also people who are well able to make their own judgements about levels of risk, without constant nannying and interference from the state, and it’s encouraging to see pictures such as those in Julia’s tweets of people enjoying live music again.

As I wrote on my sister site ArtMuseLondon back in May, the pandemic may have forced the closure of music and arts venues, but it has also presented musicians and concert organisers with an opportunity to innovate and experiment. Julia Morneweg is quite right when she states that it is the smaller venues and organisations which will rebuild live music. Musicians want to perform and with the support of such organisations, they can do so again. Smaller venues/organisations are often more adaptable – from how seating is arranged to managing overheads and other financial considerations (bigger venues have hefty overheads such as staff costs, property maintenance and rent).

If we sit on our hands and wait to be told when is the right time to resume live concerts, we could be waiting a long time. With this in mind, I and my pianist friend/colleague Duncan Honeybourne, who founded Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts which we run together, decided we would take the initiative and approach the church where we hold our concerts with a view to resuming our series with at least a handful of concerts before Christmas (our last concert before lockdown was in late February). We decided that before approaching the church management, we should formulate a plan about how we would manage the events (I’m the concert manager, so am responsible for ticketing and audience relations, amongst other things). We were delighted that our suggestions were met with an very enthusiastic response from our friends at the church, and we then met at the church to do a risk assesssment and discuss covid-secure arrangements.

Without the contribution of food and beverage sales, from which venues like the Wigmore Hall and Southbank Centre derive a sizeable income stream, smaller concert venues/organisations/music societies often rely on ticket sales alone for revenue. Smaller audiences due to social distancing obviously mean lower ticket sales – and it is not necessarily practicable, nor fair on audiences, to hike up ticket prices to make up for the loss of revenue. For our Weymouth series we decided, again with the support of the church and our performers, to offer two shorter concerts on the same day. All being well, we will be able to sell nearly as many tickets as we used to for a single lunchtime concert with the church at full capacity (c70 people). And to ensure that numbers are strictly managed, I set up an online box office so that people can book in advance, with the option to reserve a ticket by phone and pay on the door (for which I have invested in a neat little contactless card reader which can be run from an app on my phone). This also allows me to keep track of people’s contact details, which we are required to do by law for Track and Trace purposes. I have been delighted by the response so far – the many telephone calls I have taken from our regular audience members confirm my belief that elderly people are willing to venture out, and many told me how pleased they are that the concerts are resuming.

The most crucial aspect is making audiences feel safe and confident about returning to a venue (restaurants have already demonstrated that it is possible to do this). People have praised the Wigmore Hall for its sensible approach and the venue has more than demonstrated that social distancing and other safely measures can be implemented without audiences feeling they are being herded like sheep or subjected to unnecessarily bossy rules. (There is nothing worse than visiting a venue, restaurant or visitor attraction and being ordered around by some officious person on the front desk!). If we treat our audiences as adults, with courtesy and respect, they will respond by observing guidelines, one-way systems, use of hand sanitisers and face coverings, etc. For many, these are fairly minor irritations (and things which we have by and large grown used to this year) in exchange for the renewed pleasure of enjoying live music in the company of other people. And my goodness do we need it, after the year we’ve had so far!


Some tips to make concerts happen safely and successfully:

  • Be fully conversant with the government guidelines/rules on live performance
  • Liaise with your venue, and understand and respect their own covid-secure rules/guidelines, including maximum numbers permitted, the Rule of Six,  including Track & Trace requirements, green room arrangements, cleaning of venue etc
  • Consider using an online ticketing platform such as TicketSource or Billetto to allow people to book in advance. Easy to manage, such platforms allow you to track bookings, including customer contact details (necessary for Track & Trace), and produce sales reports/guestlists
  • Consider using a portable card reader to take contactless card payments on the door, to avoid handling cash. iZettle and SumUp are two such systems and are very simple to use via a smartphone or ipad app.
  • Make sure covid-secure guidelines are prominently displayed on your website (if applicable) and at the venue.
  • Make sure your performers and audience are fully aware in advance of the venue’s covid-secure arrangements
  • As printed programmes (and other printed material such as tickets or flyers) are not allowed, consider displaying the programme with programme notes on your website or send it to your audience by email. Encourage performers to introduce their programmes to the audience.

A postcript: on 21st October 2020, Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts, for which I am Concerts Manager, held its first concerts since late February. As described above, I and the Artistic Director, Duncan Honeybourne, together with our colleagues at the church where the concerts are held, had put together a plan to ensure the events would be covid-secure, safe and enjoyable for our audience and performers. We presented two concerts of the same programme to allow for a socially-distanced audience and welcomed a total of 50 people to the concerts. All the arrangements ran very smoothly, and the pleasure in hearing live music again, and the audience’s applause, after so many months was like being given water after a drought. But perhaps the best part was the enthusiasm of our audience, evident not only from their warm applause for the music but also the many positive comments we received, on the day and in the phone calls when people rang to book tickets. This gives me hope for the future of our Weymouth series and others like it, and with the support of both audience and performers, and our friends at the church, we are looking forward to our next concerts with excitement.

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Piano music commissioned and recorded during lockdown to support musicians struggling during the Covid-19 crisis

There have been many initiatives to keep the music playing and support musicians during these difficult times. What all of these initiatives demonstrate is that musicians are, despite straitened circumstances, determined to keep playing and to continue to share their music with audiences. It also sends a powerful message to government that the industry is determined to survive, to let the music play, come what may.

I have a personal interest in this wonderful project by pianist Duncan Honeybourne: Duncan and I are friends, and also colleagues – together we run a lunchtime concert series in Weymouth.

During the UK lockdown, Duncan decided to offer short video recitals from his home every day. He called them ‘Piano Soundbites’. The series proved very popular and within a few weeks, Duncan had the idea to approach composers to ask them to write new piano pieces for him, to be premiered as ‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ in his video recitals. Alongside this, Duncan set up a Just Giving page to raise funds for Help Musicians UK (formerly the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund). The response was incredible – the project, which was ranked in the top 10% of Just Giving fundraisers nationally during April 2020, has already raised well over £2000 for Help Musicians UK, supporting musician colleagues struggling in the current situation.

‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ celebrates the diversity of styles embraced by a broad cross-section of professional composers working today. Featured composers include Sadie Harrison, Graham Fitkin, John McLeod, David Lancaster, Francis Pott, Luke Whitlock and John Casken, as well as younger and emerging composers, and each piece is no more than 6 minutes long at the most. These piano miniatures represent an important contribution to the ever-expanding repertoire for the instrument, to be enjoyed by amateur, professional and student pianists alike.

pianist Duncan Honeybourne

“….it was an invigorating experience to record an entire disc of pieces which hadn’t existed less than four months earlier! Especially stimulating and exciting is the juxtaposition of several leading senior composers with some of their most gifted younger colleagues. Several young composers make their first appearances on disc.

My objective, as I stated in my invitation to composers, was fourfold: to imaginatively harness the zeitgeist of our present situation: to bring comfort and enjoyment to a large ready-made audience stuck at home, to aid musicians badly affected by the “cultural lockdown” and to add to the contemporary repertoire, creating an artistic keepsake of this extraordinary phase in our history.

My long term plan is that, as well as helping our colleagues at a time of need, the collection will provide a snapshot of reflections and musings by some of the finest and most distinctive composers of our time at a unique and unprecedented moment in our history. I hope the disc will make for a refreshing, enriching, stimulating and quirky listening experience too!”
Duncan Honeybourne, September 2020

The music was recorded in late July 2020 in the new Gransden Hall at Sherborne Girls School, Dorset.

The disc is released on the Prima Facie label and is available to order now

For review copies, sample tracks, interviews with Duncan and other press information please contact Frances Wilson


Meet the Artist interview with Duncan Honeybourne


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Make A Donation

At the risk of sounding clichéd, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the precarious nature of most professional musicians’ lives. With concert and opera venues closed – and only now beginning to reopen cautiously – many musicians have been faced with the very frightening situation of being without any means to earn money. This survey by Encore, the musicians’ booking platform, reveals the current dire state of the UK music industry.

The profession has always been unstable. Most musicians are self-employed and many combine performing with teaching to supplement meagre concert fees – high salaries are reserved only for the ‘celebrities’ at the very top of the tree. For most, concert and teaching fees are not truly commensurate with the amount of time and commitment musicians must put in to sustain their careers. There are few jobs in the developed world which are so highly skilled yet so poorly remunerated, and many musicians are simply not economically resilient. The events of this year have highlighted this to an even greater extent, and there is absolutely no guarantee that life will return to “normal” for musicians when venues do re-open. Added to this, there exists a certain societal misunderstanding, sometimes bordering on contempt, for people who make a living in non-standard ways – musicians, writers, artists, actors. The inference is that these people should get “a proper job” and quit moaning.

During lockdown, and its aftermath, those musicians for whom teaching provides a significant part of their income have fared better than those for whom concertising is the only source of making money. But for the professional performer, the lack of concert engagements can feel like the loss of a limb because for many musicians their very identity and raison d’être is defined by performing.

We’re going to have to be a lot less fancy in future” remarked a concert pianist friend of mine, when we were talking about the effect of the pandemic on concerts and concert-going in the early days of the UK lockdown. He means, to be brutally frank, “beggars can’t be choosers“. Venues and concert organisers/music societies will have less cash to spare and musicians will be chasing fewer engagements; an already competitive profession is likely only to become even more cut-throat. As a consequence, musicians will have to take the work when the opportunity arises without worrying about the prestige of the orchestra, ensemble, or venue.

To accept that the profession, for which one has spent many years training and honing one’s craft and one’s skills, putting in hundreds of hours of practicing and, as a consequence, giving up many aspects of life which other people outside of the profession would consider “normal”, can no longer be one’s primary source of income comes as a bitter blow to many musicians. When one’s identity is defined by one’s music-making and one’s very personal attachment to one’s chosen instrument, it can feel like an attack on one’s very body and soul.

“Portfolio career” is a fashionable term for “doing a variety of jobs” and musicians are masters of the peripatetic working life. Now more than ever, a willingness to be adaptable is crucial – and that may mean drawing one’s main income outside of music.

Some musicians regard this as a sign of failure, but why should there be shame in taking work outside of the profession? Maybe now is the time to be less squeamish about “non-musical” jobs? In straitened times, pragmatism must come before art, and if that means taking a job outside the profession, there should be no shame in doing this: you are no less a musician just because it is not your main source of income.

Unfortunately, the musician’s training tends to discourage looking outside of the profession for work. Sure, you might have worked in a bar or helped with front of house duties at a concert venue when you were a student, but very few conservatoires and music colleges offer specific courses in business skills and entrepreneurialism for musicians – from the basics of setting up a personal website to more sophisticated self-promotion, marketing and PR. In addition, they do not necessarily encourage students to consider other careers within music, such as arts administration or orchestral management, publicity/PR/marketing, music publishing, or working for a venue or recording label. Conservatoires train musicians to be performers and many continue to peddle the idea that a career as a performer is a sustainable one.

Of course, working outside the profession comes at a cost to one’s practice regime: if you’re doing a 9 to 5 job elsewhere, you still have to find the time to practice – and that’s a full-time job even without concerts.

I’ll close with some thoughts from musician friends and colleagues:

I really never want to give it up as a profession. After a few days not practicing I lose a lot of mechanism, so going into a 9-5 job would devastate everything I’ve worked for. But undoubtedly this will see people off…..There never was a “career”. I still don’t really know how it’s meant to work, I just got called for random things that all added up. I had an amazing last 10 years and I hope to God it’s not over. There’s always playing but it wouldn’t be the same. A lot of us have been very, very lucky to get to do this. (RS)

I am a great believer in turning everything to one’s advantage, and I feel that this could be a very liberating time in which musicians can feel that they have permission to explore other interests and career paths which they may have otherwise put on hold. As a pianist, I feel that I identify so strongly with that vocation that to choose any other direction would be a betrayal of that identity, and deemed by others to be a strange decision or even a sign of a lack of success in that area. Musicians are under huge pressure to always look busy with their music, and even made to feel guilty when doing something other than practising(!) – there is no shame in admitting that music isn’t actually the *only* thing which makes you tick. (LKP)

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An interview with pianist Beth Levin by Gil Reavill

I assume you’re in quarantine along with the rest of us. How have the months of isolation influenced your creativity, or, on a more commonplace level, changed your practice routines?

I’m not sure. Everything is different—that much I know. I’ve been working on music that I would have performed in the spring and summer- specifically Schumann, Chopin, Beethoven and Yehudi Wyner. But I notice that I’m approaching it in ways that match the longer road we’re on—taking time to pull things apart, to muse, to examine voices and phrasing and only then putting the pieces back together. Even in the most “presto” passages now there seems to be an inherent slowness. I was always saying things like, “I wish I had a year to learn that concerto,” or, “I wish I had two years for that set of variations.”

“The pandemic is a portal,” states novelist/activist Arundhati Roy. Do you find it so?

Perhaps it is an inward portal. One’s creativity really can be nurtured right now because we are in a blank state, with nothing pressing, nothing other than music and time. I’m amazed at how much emotion rises up as I practice—nothing is there to stop it. Also I’m looking back, perhaps too much. I’ve put many old performances on Soundcloud and listening has been cathartic. This passage from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets came to mind:

The river is within us, the sea is all about us

The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation

You seem to be attracted to tremendously challenging works, and have recorded The Goldberg Variations and The Diabelli Variations, with your recording of the Hammerklavier sonata forthcoming.

Well, first, that’s a tradition from my teachers, particularly Shure and Serkin. And I like works that are made up of variations such as the Goldbergs, Davidsbundlertanze, The Schumann Symphonic Etudes, Diabelli, etc. I have never let not being able to play something stop me from learning a new work—ha-ha! Honestly, I have friends who won’t play this or that because of a large stretch or a fiendish page or two. If a work has a great and true expressive quality (practically anything of Schumann, say), but is technically challenging, expression wins out.

I’m interested to know the ways in which the emotional tenor of a work such as the Hammerklavier might change in the run-up to performing it in concert or preparing for a recording, shifting with the player’s increasing facility, familiarity, or understanding.

I find closer to a performance that the whole endeavor seems utterly impossible. I felt that way with the Hammerklavier even after months working on it. I mean you have good days when you feel that there is hope and everything is coming together. Just that fact of making Op. 106 feel like one piece is quite a challenge. Thinking in the longest lines possible helped and not being afraid of glacially slow or impossibly fast. The dynamic range asked for was also exciting in its scope. There is an ecstatic aspect to the sonata that may only be truly realized on stage. I think you can understand aspects of the Hammerklavier, be familiar with it and even have the facility to play it well—but the work has its secrets. I think in the end you play it to see where it will take you and take the audience.

You write poetry. What sort of cross-fertilization do you detect between language and music?

The ear and one’s sense of pulse has so much to do with both language and music. Especially if you read a poem aloud—you can hear how the pure sound of the words has a musical and rhythmic basis. I’m quite an amateur poet and never feel I know what I’m doing. I’m pretty seasoned as a pianist, and a novice at poetry writing. But my musicianship does help me as I write a poem. This strange pandemic seems perfect for using time in creative ways and in ways we might not try otherwise.

You’ve had a long association with the works of Robert Schumann, recording Kreisleriania and performing other works, and have also written about him recently. How do you engage with Schumann as a composer and creative force?

I probably have an affinity for composers who don’t want to be tied down, completely understood or caught. When I think of Schumann I think of someone reaching upward, yearning, seeking and with an ardent intensity. And I think of ultimate contrast. As soon as you meet Florestan and Eusebius in his writing, you experience Schumann’s own extreme dual nature. Schumann loved words as well—see his writings in Neue Zeitschift für Musik. I was given the music of Schumann as a child and am still discovering it. Most recently I performed the Piano Trio in D minor with Roberta Cooper and Eugene Drucker and currently I’m working on the Symphonic Etudes for piano. His music is uncannily intimate and so on that level it is very easy to engage with it. On the other hand Schumann strove to write orchestrally for the piano and wound up writing some deliciously hard music for the instrument. Schumann wrote fondly of Clara’s performance: “The way you played my Etudes—I won’t ever forget that; they were absolute masterpieces the way you presented them—the public can’t appreciate such playing—but one person was sitting there, no matter how much his heart was pounding with other feelings, my entire being at that instant bowed down before you as an artist.

There’s been some back and forth of late about whether Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was written for harpsichord or clavichord. With cellist Samuel Magill, you’ve performed preludes from the piece, arranged by the virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles. Any thoughts on period instruments versus their modern offspring?

The music of Bach has that ability to survive just about any treatment and still emerge as Bach. When I first saw the Moscheles transcription the word “schlock” may have crossed my mind. But Sam won me over with his gorgeous playing and love of Romanticism. I believe we began the programme with the Bach and after the concert it was one of the most remarked upon works.

You often perform and record contemporary composers. Do you seek out connections, comparisons, commonality, or inheritances in earlier works of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Modern canon?

Some of the contemporary music I’ve played seems to spring very naturally from earlier periods—say, the music of David del Tredici, Yehudi Wyner or Scott Wheeler. Other works break off from tradition completely; Bunita Marcus comes to mind. Lately I’ve been sending little music notebooks to composer friends and one, Frank Brickle, has begun writing me pieces for piano. I can’t wait to see the result. I think as in more traditional music you have to find the voice of the work itself and not make comparison studies.

Beth Levin, Brooklyn, NY, August, 2020


Beth Levin’s recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata and other works mentioned in this interview will be released by Aldila Records

Blurb:

When Beth Levin released her third live album seven years ago, she summed up Ludwig van Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas under the motto ‘A Single Breath’. At the time, a critic called her a titan and wrote that she played as if she was a contemporary of Eduard Erdmann, Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Backhaus and Walter Gieseking. This has not changed. Since then, colleagues, admirers and connoisseurs have repeatedly asked her to present her interpretation of the Hammerklavier Sonata. She has now complied with this request, also with a ‘Live in Concert’ recording. And again she plays in a highly explosive manner, spontaneously as in an improvisation and at the same time with an incorruptible inner logic, with inexhaustible power and an immense dynamic spectrum of expression.

The Hammerklavier Sonata forms the symphonic climax of Beethoven’s piano work with its final fugue that transcends all boundaries. This concert program is introduced with a suite of George Frideric Handel, including a set of wonderful variations. Handel was Beethoven’s favorite composer, and the motto “All power to the dominant” could stand above both composers. Between the works of the two old masters is the 3rd Disegno by the great Swedish composer Anders Eliasson, who died in 2013, entitled ‘Carosello’. This free-tonal cantabile study in 5/4 time creates a sphere of weightlessness in contrast to the cadential purposefulness of Handel and Beethoven.

“One may agree with it or not. No one plays Beethoven like Beth Levin.” (Christoph Schlüren, 2013)

https://www.bethlevinpiano.com/

Cast your mind back to the end of March. It seems like another time now, doesn’t it – a period of great uncertainty and anxiety for all of us. For many musicians, whose busy lives up to that point were dominated by full diaries of rehearsing, performing, teaching, recording, initially it felt like an opportunity – to pause, reflect, rest and reset. And with the venues shut and performances cancelled, it was a chance to spend valuable time with the music.

At first it felt like a great gift – to have so much time, free of punishing rehearsal and teaching schedules, tiring travel and late nights, post-concert. Here was an opportunity to learn new repertoire, music one had had on one’s “to do” list for years (a pianist friend of mine enthused about learning Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata for the first time, in a professional career of over a quarter of a century); or to revisit previously-learnt works – an experience akin to reacquainting oneself with an old friend – and discover new details.

But soon the time became a curse – because the more time one had, the more it confirmed that there would be no swift return to “normal life”. The venues remained shuttered; there were no performances, beyond livestreams from living rooms, and an enervating weariness set in. Why practice when there was nothing to practice for? My pianist friend admitted that the ‘Hammerklavier’ had mostly lain unopened on his music desk….

The situation has been rather different for amateur musicians, who have revelled in this gift of time. Working from home or furloughed, these months have provided hours of pleasure. Practising is no longer shoe-horned into one’s busy daily schedule, no need for precious moments to be snatched amongst the responsbilities of work or family life. Oh the joy of guilt-free practising and playing for the sheer pleasure of it (something which professional musicians often envy in amateurs).

Focus, and having something to work for, is so important for the professional musician. It provides motivation and fuels intent. Without it, one can feel stranded and unsettled, dislocated and depressed. Routine is also crucial, and the self-discipline of a daily routine not only gives structure to one’s time, but also feeds creativity. In addition to solitary practice, musicians find stimulation and structure in rehearsal with colleagues and ensemble work – all of which has been, until very recently, put on hold.

Perhaps the worst part, the most draining aspect of this situation, was the not knowing: not knowing when it would end, or how the industry would look as we emerge from this grand fermata. Not knowing if one would still be able to sustain a career in music (the subject of a future article). The government sent out confusing messages, or retreated on previous announcements, offering crumbs of hope and then retracting at the eleventh hour, only adding to the uncertainty and frustration. We looked at our European counterparts, many of whom had endured even more severe restrictions than us, with a degree of envy as it appeared most were getting back to normal life far more quickly than us, with venues opening up, albeit with smaller, socially-distanced audiences, and some festivals running, scaled down but, importantly, with real, live audiences.

Now UK concert life is beginning to re-emerge from the great hibernation as venues prepare to reopen and admit audiences once again, with restrictions. There’s a renewed energy as musicians shake off the debilitating ennui of the past five, yes, five months, and return with renewed focus to their practice schedules and rehearsals. Diaries are open again. It’s a time of relief, tinged with trepidation: musicians are pleased to be getting back to doing what they do best, but there’s caution too, about what the future holds….


Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

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

As a child my aunt was a pop singer, and released music; she also recorded my first song. My music teachers at school were supportive, and luckily Northamptonshire had a great music service when I was a child.

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

As a composer I have been lucky to have great female role models – Rhian Samuel, and Diedre Gribben briefly taught me at post-graduate and undergraduate levels.Sadie Harrison is a great mentor and teacher, an inspiring woman. I am also incredibly lucky to have worked with Kuljit Bhamra on his Tabla notation project. I was commissioned by Sound and Music to learn a new notation system for Tabla and compose new work for Kuljit, Anne Denholm and Joe Richards, mentored by Colin Riley. Most recently, the amazing soprano Gweneth Anne Rand is advising and mentoring me on composing for voice for my new work for Téte å Téte Festival in September 2020.

The music industry is tough and it is so important to have guidance and support. I have been lucky to be surrounded by strong female spirits throughout my life; even now my own grandmother has been teaching my son piano over Skype through lockdown. Her mother was a pianist (whom I never met), born in Greater Manchester, and studied in Vienna as a young girl. She married a lovely man from Lancashire who worked in the cotton mills and she ended up teaching and playing in the pubs of Oldham. My Grandma was keen to buy us a piano when I was little, so we got one from a pub in Wellingborough, where I grew up, and I began lessons as a child. Later I learnt cello, through the Northants Music Service at Junior School. I probably resonated with the cello after listening to the Bach Cello Suite’s, by Jaqueline Du Pré, on a tape cassette of my Mum’s that I think she was introduced to through contemporary dance. I grew up listening to a mixture of Bach, Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, Carol King, The Specials, Madonna and Soul to Soul. Lisa Stansfield was my first proper concert at Sheffield City Hall with my Aunties, Mum and sister. As a young person I went to concerts at The Stables, a 40mins drive from where we lived, and performed in Youth Orchestra Concerts at The Derngate, Northampton. There was also a local Jazz night at a local pub which had some good players that my sister’s saxophone teacher let us know about, my Dad has always been really into Jazz and Blues and has been a huge influence on my listening. Latterly I became introduced to all kinds of music, North Indian Classical, Bartok, Shostakovich, Mahler, Saariaho, Cage, Oliveros, and all kinds of dance music, from electronica, drum and bass and Techno.

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

On leaving Newcastle University, I initially found it really difficult to find work, and was on The New Deal for Musicians. It was amazing as I got business advice and support from various professionals. I also got a Prince’s Trust grant to buy a computer as I had never owned one and then when I began working professionally as a cellist I had some guidance and awareness of the industry. A year later I was performing on The Mercury Music Prize (2000); perhaps without the chance to learn the ropes of being a self- employed musician I would not have had that opportunity. An RSI injury in my late 20s and early 30s was a real low point. My inspiring cello teacher at the time, Sue Lowe, built me back up again, emotionally and physically, which took several years. Luckily my composing career has been building slowly since then. My most recent career high was hearing my work for Tabla and String Quartet performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter just before lockdown in March. The work was for amateur performers from the Devon Philharmonic with professional Tabla player Jon Sterx. The musicians were amazing – with very little rehearsal time they performed with such vitality and commitment.

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

The pleasures often outweigh the challenges; however since the Covid-19 lockdown I feel many musicians and artists in general are facing huge barriers to their livelihoods. Currently I am composing new work for Fenella Humphreys, and have contributed to her Caprice’s project, funded mostly by Kickstarter (see her website). It is thrilling when performers like Fenella agree to perform and record your music. Fenella has a Youtube channel which is enabling new work to be premiered to wider audiences, so moving on from the devastating lockdown challenges, people are really trying to overcome them through digital platforms, and I just hope people can continue to contribute to artists’ projects financially right now, as so many freelance artists have lost so much work and income.

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

So much of my work, commissions and premieres have either been postponed or cancelled, and as an emerging composer, it is especially tough and heartbreaking. I only began composing again seriously after my son was born, so I am a bit of a late starter, and I just hope my energy and determination carries me though this unstable period. Some amazing opportunities have still managed to happen. I am currently working on a new Imaginary Opera project Song of Isis, Goddess of Love, for the Tête-à-Tête Festival 2020, which is a truly inspiring, inclusive and exciting festival to be part of. This wonderful opportunity is a lifeline as it is still going ahead in September, regardless of Covid restrictions. See the wonderful blog from Bill Bankes-Jones for more information. The practicalities of working on this are huge – devising and rehearsing new work with actor/singer Sèverine Howell-Meris over Zoom will be particularly unique to these times. I will be documenting this process online on the blog but really also hope to share our work in a real live format somehow.

Our performance date is, hopefully, 9 September 2020 (please follow us on @imaginaryopera or @laurareidmusic to find out when/if the performance will be going ahead live at The Cockpit Theatre, London). Again finances are tight, and Tête-à-Tête are fundraising for the festival on their website.

I am working with writer Chris Aziz, and animator Martha King to provide online content. I am hoping to include a virtual chorus, using singers and friends around the UK to participate in some capacity from their homes. Working with an all-female team is exciting, but as it is our first opera it is incredibly daunting at the same time. Networks such as Engender, run by producers at the Royal Opera House, are proving to be so important right now to get things to happen. Hearing leading figures like Gweneth Ann Rand and director Adele Thomas talk at the last meeting was inspiring and really encouraging.

Of which works are you most proud?

My commission for the Dorset Moon ‘Celestial Bodies’, performed to over 1,000 members of the public via headphones underneath Luc Jerram’s amazing Museum of the Moon.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Eclectic, diverse, contemporary folktronica.

How do you work?

Sporadically. In the old days pre-covid, I had routines and time to think. But now it’s in odd moments when I am not doing childcare or home-schooling, mostly in the evenings since lockdown, although I am usually a morning person. I am really looking forward to, and feel incredibly lucky to be going to Made at The Red House, Aldeburgh, hosted by Wild Plum Arts, which will be an amazing opportunity to compose and think away from domestic responsibilities.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My tastes are always evolving and changing. I currently love listening to Jill Scott, Tallis, and Bach. I really enjoyed listening to After Rain by Hildegard Westerkamp recently at the UK and Ireland soundscape conference in Sussex.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Happiness balanced with enjoying the process of composing and playing, and working on projects that inspire change and amplify narratives from the margins.

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

Keep a sense of your self and what feels right to you. Learn the rules, and then how to break them. Nothing matters very much, except staying sane and positive. We all face challenges so try and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello J

 

Song of Isis. Goddess of Love, with music by Laura Reid, will be premiered by Tête-à-Tête on 9 September. Further information here


www.laurareid.co.uk

@laurareidmusic

@imaginaryopera

https://imaginaryopera.wordpress.com/