Tag Archives: new music

Meet the Artist……Richard Barnard, composer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

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

How do you work?

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Barnard on YouTube

Twitter@richardmbarnard

richardbarnard.com

I Musicanti at St John’s Smith Square

I Musicanti, an ensemble formed in 2013 by double bass player Leon Bosch (formerly principal double bass with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra), launched their triptych of concerts at St John’s Smith Square with an afternoon recital featuring the world premiere of a new work by South African composer Matthijs van Dijk as the centrepiece. This arresting piece was bookended by Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat, K493 and Schubert’s evergreen Quintet in A D667, the ‘Trout’.

I Musicanti includes artists who are all distinguished performers, who play in and with the best orchestras in the world, as soloists and chamber musicians. Sunday’s line up featured pianist Peter Donohoe, cellist Richard Harwood, violinist Tamás András and violist Robert Smissen, with Leon Bosch on double bass.

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Leon Bosch (photo: Hyatt Studios)

St John’s Smith Square (SJSS) is now my favourite London venue, alongside Wigmore Hall, and while I and my concert companion were waiting for the recital to begin (there was a slight hiatus due to some mysteriously missing piano music, which was, luckily, found!) we perused the SJSS programme of forthcoming concerts and decided what we would like to hear next….. It really is a lovely venue, with a fine acoustic for chamber music, solo piano, choral and orchestral music, and its staff are friendly and helpful.

This elegant programme was guaranteed to dispel any lingering post-Christmas blues. The Mozart was elegantly-turned, warm and affectionate, while the Schubert rippled along as cheerfully as the eponymous fish, all holiday melodies and sunlit rhythms, with some charming interplay between the piano and the other instrumentalists. Peter Donohoe’s touch was bright and joyful, as befits the character of the music. Throughout the concert, there was a very palpable sense of all the musicians thoroughly enjoying both the music and the act of performing together, creating a lovely atmosphere in the venue. When I commented on this to Leon Bosch after the concert, he declared “I can choose who I work with” and he must be applauded for selecting musicians who display not only equal talent but also a shared sense of purpose and musical friendship.

The new work by Matthijs van Dijk, But All I Wanna Do Is Dance, was composed as a response to the extraordinary and unsettling events of 2016 which seem, in the composer’s own words, to have unleashed “a never-ending wave of anger, frustration, hate and bigotry in all shapes and sizes – all issues that need to be addressed, of course, and, once one is aware of them, unable to ignore”. The work is not intended as “a joyous declaration”, but rather a plea against the enormity of world events, an elegy to our inner child, and a wish to be allowed to forget what is going on, if only momentarily.

A haunting solo on the viola begins the work before it begins to open up with the addition of the piano and the rest of the ensemble. This meditative section is interrupted by febrile rhythms, suggesting lively dancing but always tempered with a sense of frustration and a yearning for the innocence of childhood, a time when one didn’t really know or understand what was happening in the world…..

I Musicanti returns to St John’s Smith Square on 5 March with an afternoon concert featuring another world premiere by South African composer Werner Bosch. Further details here

X is for……..

dantobinsmith-432-h1100-q90-rz3-b75Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) – composer, architect, boffin. Fearsomely experimental, he linked his disciplines by writing and designing co-dependent music and listening spaces. He arguably laid the foundations for modern electronica. And he was one of the first composers to use mathematical theory in creating music.

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(photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Why does Xenakis belong in a pianist’s alphabet? Because his first longer-form work for the instrument has been called ‘the most difficult piano piece ever written’. Clearly seeing this as underperformance of some sort, 12 years later he produced a second piece for solo piano that is, strictly speaking, ‘impossible’. What’s not to like?

In both pieces, Xenakis uses certain mathematical techniques or theories to shape and generate the music. When I heard about this kind of composition in my teenage years, I was suspicious in my ignorance. 1: If it was all down to maths, was it really composition at all, or just some kind of automated exercise? And contrarily, 2: Surely all music – including the really tuneful, harmonious stuff – has mathematical perfection at its root… so why does THIS have to sound so deranged?

I recently decided to go back to Xenakis’s piano music, purely as a listener. I wanted to satisfy myself that without considering ANY of the scientific background – deploying my ear over my brain – it still worked for me, had something non-clinical to offer.

Here is the earlier piece, ‘Herma’:

 

and the later one, ‘Evryali’:

 

I was genuinely surprised by some of my reactions.

* I found both pieces enjoyable and invigorating – but I wasn’t expecting to hear such a world of difference between the two. I think in ‘Herma’ you hear the maths, and in ‘Evryali’ you hear the music.

* The unpredictable dance to the extremes of the keyboard in ‘Herma’ make it feel like performance art – raindrops one minute, rubble the next. As a result, the piece attains a kind of spiky ambience.

* In ‘Evryali’, however, I think the sweeping curves in the structure are audible, the notes – however dissonant – seem to belong together, journey with each other. The images it conjures up in my head are geometric, symmetrical – spirals, waves.

There’s a twist in the tale, however. ‘Evryali’ is ‘impossible’ partly because in places it’s written using more than two staves (as you can see on the YouTube video). The pianist must create their own version based on which notes they want to cover and which they can live with leaving out.

Of all things, this reminds me of jazz. Jazz has very little to do with mayhem; rather it is (as the critic Whitney Balliett put it) ‘the sound of surprise’ – the unexpected choices players make within the established parameters. With ‘Evryali’, we seem to have a truly original hybrid: a composed framework through which the pianist can follow their own unique path. I love the idea that from mathematical principles, Xenakis has created a piece dependent, like so much other music, on flexibility, spontaneity and feel.

Adrian Ainsworth

Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Twitter:

 

(letter picture Dan Tobin Smith)

Meet the Artist……Moritz Eggert, composer

Photo: Christian Hartlmeier
Photo: Christian Hartlmeier

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

I was taken by surprise – I had always enjoyed music and played the piano for quite a while, without becoming truly excellent. Then I was asked to play keyboards in a school band and suddenly found I enjoyed both playing and composing much more than I had thought. Soon I became absolutely obsessed, practicing 10 hours a day to make up for the lazy time before. And then I became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of band playing and veered more towards contemporary and classical music. I think that impressing the girls was also an extremely strong motivation. I was 15.

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

I listened to a lot of classical music LP’s when I was a kid, also to more progressive pop music like Emerson, Lake and Palmer (which impressed the hell out of me back then). My mother is a theatre photographer, so I was confronted with long and boring operas from a very early age on. I guess I like them more now. My favourite record for 5 years was a recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” played by Svjatoslav Richter, I played that record so often it completely wore out. I was distinctly aware that composing music was something magical and important, and I constantly heard my own music in my head but didn’t really know what to do about it. Later Erik Satie was the first composer I fanatically loved. I was always – and I still am – especially interested in the outsiders and eccentrics of music. Charles Ives was also very important. I was also lucky to have teachers who showed me interesting music and widened my horizon.

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

Realizing that not everyone will love what you do, regardless of how hard you try. And then having the constant courage to give a damn about it, to follow your own instincts, to follow your own intuition. Dealing with envy, your own and that of others. All of this is a constant challenge. Every morning I wake up and try to handle it a little better.

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

I only work on commissioned pieces, so I don’t really know the difference anymore. But of course I remember a time when I didn’t have commissions at all, and back then it was much more difficult to focus and to work with discipline, as there was no real goal, no performance ahead. Dealing with deadlines is harsh, but it has made me a better composer. The secret is to not accept commissions for which you cannot find inspiration, or even better: to have ideas that actually create the commissions you want.

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

It is always an advantage knowing who will perform your music, especially in the case of singers. But then you should always write in a way that everybody can perform your music, at least in theory, so I try not to get too carried away if great virtuosos perform my music. Of course that doesn’t always work. An orchestra too can be like a person, either you get along well or you don’t. I write easier for an orchestra that I already know, that has already played my work. But it is not essential, I also had very positive experiences with performers who I didn’t know before at all.

Which works are you most proud of?

I try to not give anything to anybody that I am not proud of in a way. And then I actually also try to not be too proud, to not constantly look at what I have done. I never listen to old pieces and bask in my glory. But in general the things I am the most “proud” of are my operas, my songs, my orchestra music, my chamber music. Which is already a lot of different things. It would feel strange to single out something, which does of course not mean that everything is equally good. But I really do not contemplate my work, I’m too busy writing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Too many to list here. This is not a cop-out – I truly feel that music history (including the present) is so diverse and rich that singling out anybody feels strange. All the names we know from the past usually deserve to be known, which still doesn’t mean I’m a big admirer of Richard Wagner. But I also respect his work of course. I constantly discover new things, and I also change my mind about composers. I used to loathe Feldman, now I like him. I used to like Prokoffieff, now I find him a bit dull. I felt nothing for Mahler, now he is extremely dear to my heart. I loved the first piano sonata from Kabalevsky, now I feel it’s a horrible, vacuous piece. If there is one composer who I always greatly admired and have never felt any different about it is Schumann. But there are more like him!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing a mixed program of contemporary and classical music to an audience coming from a slum in Lomé, Togo (West Africa). They had been lured into the concert hall by free food and had never heard any piano music in their life. I think they were the most open-minded and enthusiastic audience I ever had. But there were other memorable experiences – like failing to play a concert in Tijuana, Mexico, because there was no piano chair to be found…anywhere. True story, but I’ll tell it another time.

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

To never make the mistake to believe that anybody actually really knows what they are doing. To not listen to people who think they know what they are doing. To instead listen to people who are honest in their constant curiosity. To not listen if somebody says you shouldn’t do something, because then you should do it. In art – other than in life – it is really important to do the things that people do not expect from you. And this might also mean breaking rules that everybody thinks are set in stone. To realize that nothing is set in stone. To realize that all the music world is nothing but a big meaningless circus of vanities and to find the strength to believe in the musical truth that many don’t dare to confront because they take the easy way, because they are too scared. To acknowledge that the wonderful thing about music is that a lot of it is coming from a great unknown that we can (luckily) not map or fathom in its entirety. To be generous, to your friends and also to your colleagues. To absolutely believe in your own inspiration, no matter where it will take you. To take example in musicians and composers that you admire. To love. To write about what you love, not about what you think others might love.

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

At home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being at home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Sadly I have a collector’s heart and have many treasured possessions, among them a collection of 1500 board games, single malt whiskies, comics, films, books…sometimes it becomes too much. So I would probably answer that my single most treasured possession is my firm belief in the freedom and necessity of imagination.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living and learning.

What is your present state of mind? 

Hoping that the idiots don’t succeed.

Moritz Eggert was born 1965 in Heidelberg, Germany. After early piano studies he began his music education at Dr.Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt, first in piano (with Wolfgang Wagenhäuser) and theory, then in composition (with Claus Kuehnl). After finishing school he studied piano with Leonard Hokanson at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt. 1986 he moved to Munich to study composition with Wilhelm Killmayer at the Musikhochschule Muenchen. Later he continued his piano studies with Raymund Havenith in Frankfurt, and his composition studies with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich.

In 1992 he spent a year in London as a post-graduate composition student with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama. His main duo partner is the cellist Sebastian Hess. In 1996 he presented the complete works for piano solo by Hans Werner Henze for the first time in one concert, a programme that he continues to play with great success. In 1989 he was a prizewinner at the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music.

As a composer Moritz Eggert has been awarded with prizes like the composition prize of the Salzburger Osterfestspiele, the Schneider/Schott-prize, the “Ad Referendum”-prize in Montréal, the Siemens Förderpreis for young composers, and the Zemlinsky Prize. 1991 he founded – together with Sandeep Bhagwati – the A*Devantgarde festival for new music, which has taken place for the 6th time in June 2001. His concert-length cycle for piano solo, Haemmerklavier, has been a great international success with reviewers and audiences alike. Moritz Eggert has covered all genres in his work his oeuvre includes 5 large-scale operas, ballets, and works for dance and music theatre, often with unusual performance elements. 1997 German TV produced a feature-length film portrait about his music.

Among his more recent important works are the concert-length cycle for voice and piano Neue Dichter Lieben featuring 20 love poems by contemporary german authors, and the orchestra piece Scapa Flow. His next projects include the children’s opera Dr. Booger’s Scary Scheme for the opera Frankfurt (with Andrea Heuser) and the ongoing internet project Variations IV.XX for 21 composers and live musicians.

www.moritzeggert.de

An evening of firsts in Shoreditch

My first visit to Spitalfields Music and the first time I’ve heard pianist Melvyn Tan live. More importantly, the concert included three premieres, by Rolf Hind, Judith Weir and Jonathan Dove, including a new addition to the ‘Variations for Judith’ which opened the evening.

Composed as a special gift for Judith Serota when she left the Spitalfields Festival in 2007 after nearly twenty years at the helm, the Variations comprise 11 short reflections on ‘Bist du bei mir’ (G H Stölzel arr. JS Bach, realised by David Titterington), composed by other Spitalfields Festival Artistic Directors, all people with whom Judith worked. An initial collection of seven variations was presented to Judith and a further four were added, all by composers associated with the Spitalfields Festival. The Variations hark back to a precedent probably set by J S Bach – a collection of short pieces of varying difficulty – and rather like Anna Magdalena’s Notebook, which Bach presented to his wife, the Variations for Judith were presented to Judith Serota to encourage and inspire her own piano studies.

The pieces which make up ‘Variations for Judith’ are often described as “music for amateur pianists”, and while they may be short and mostly roughly Grade 4-7 level, I would refute the suggestion that these pieces are exclusively the preserve of the amateur pianist. Nor should they be: the suite works very well as a complete concert piece. Each work is unique, portraying its composer’s distinctive compositional style and soundworld, yet they are all connected by the opening theme. In some variations the theme is obvious, in others it is fragmented or subtly veiled. The works are varied in their individual characters, some displaying sparkling wit and humour (those by Anthony Payne and Judith Weir, for example), while others are fragile, tender or lyrical (Thea Musgrave, Jonathan Dove).

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Melvyn Tan

Pianist Melvyn Tan originally premiered the ‘Variations for Judith’ in June 2012 and he is evidently very at home with this music, adept at drawing out each variation’s individual character and alert to the swiftly changing moods of the pieces. In addition to a creating an appealingly translucent sound (helped by a beautiful Steinway D and the acoustic of the venue, St Leonard’s Church), his playing was gestural and sensitive: each miniature was elegantly shaped and coloured. The newest variation by Rolf Hind, premiered at this concert, began with a fleeting sound in the bass and stamping feet, before the main theme emerged. There were chiming bells and plangent bass chords, utilising the timbre and decay of the piano.

The Variations were followed by two more premieres of works by Judith Weir and Jonathan Dove. ‘I’ve turned the page….’ by Judith Weir was a witty musical take on the phrase “I’ve turned the page”, implying that one is start afresh, and each turn of the page in the score brought fresh ideas, from a boisterous dance (page 2) to a haunting twirling melody, then a frenetic rising figure, culminating in treble flourishes and clusters redolent of a Chopin Etude.

Jonathan Dove’s ‘Catching Fire’ was written as a birthday gift for Melvyn Tan (who turned 60 this year), a work which combines elements drawn from the toccata and perpetuum mobile genres, with passages which flicker and shimmer at the far reaches of the keyboard. At times the insistent throb of the music was almost industrial in its sound, while the clever use of repetition and pedal effects called to mind other instruments such as drums and horns rather in the manner of Somei Satoh’s atmospheric ‘Incarnation II’. Tan’s sensitive pacing, dynamic shading and colouristic nuancing ensured the work remained “musical” at all times, and the piece provided an interest complement to Liszt’s three Concert Etudes, which Tan executed with understated bravura.

(picture of Melvyn Tan by Eoin Carey)

Meet the Artist……Shiva Fesharecki, composer

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

I’ve always been obsessed with making music. I was improvising with pots and pans when I was a toddler and a small child. I had set-up a station in the corner of the kitchen that I would use to experiment with sounds. Since then, it’s simply been the same idea but in different contexts.

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

My everyday surroundings, the spaces I occupy, and my friends and family are my biggest influences. My idols are Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.

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

I constantly re-shape and re-think the way I compose and the contexts and people I work with. All in all it is hugely rewarding, but it also feels like I am starting from scratch all the time.

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

Challenges on working on commissions are making sure that the organisers and funders trust and respect your vision and don’t try to compromise it (although I do pick commissions carefully). The pleasure is having the space and time to be able to be truly creative on a daily basis and make a living out of it.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award Holder – tell us more about this?

It’s really amazing receiving this award, and it’s brilliant that it has been sculpted to suit each individual recipient in terms of the resources we receive from it. I have spent the last few years working in experimentation and as a collaborative composer; meeting loads of different people, experimenting in a whole host of settings, in different disciplines and different worlds, and constantly re-shaping and re-defining what I do. Thanks to London Music Masters, I now have the resources to refine my practise, and come back to my classical routes to compose a purely orchestral piece for the London Contemporary Orchestra, with a fresh new perspective due to all my explorations in other contexts.

I am also incredibly inspired by the creativity of children. Having worked in a variety of creative and educational settings with young people, and been massively influenced by the way they think, I am looking forward to applying my own ways of working with young people on the LMM Learning programme: I hope I can offer some interesting approaches.

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

I have this new rule now that I only work with people who are down to earth and easy to get on with, so that the creative process feels free and not rigid. I don’t really mind if they’re musicians or not, or what their background is, as long as they’re nice and we can form a bond. Only then can creativity flow and can we utilise each other’s strengths.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t really have a singular work that I am most proud of, but I am proud of the way I have grown immensely as a person and composer in the past year especially. I feel like I understand things more clearly and what things are truly important in life and art.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Physical.

How do you work?

I try to change-up the way I compose constantly, so that nothing is ever on autopilot. Sometimes it’s with a manuscript, or at my turntables, or maybe I’m in a club dancing and composing at the same time. But my music is experiential, so I try to really mix-up my processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I think my favourite artists are the people I have recently collaborated with such as Haroon Mirza. I am forever grateful for how he has transformed my attitude on art and experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably performing my composition for turntables and orchestra at the Roundhouse in front of the LCO way back in 2010. We were all so young and relatively inexperienced then, yet so much drive, commitment and a unanimous want between us all to take risks. It was incredible. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big gig. People were queuing up literally round the roundhouse to try and get returns when I was arriving.

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

To stick to your ideas, have faith in them, and commit. Don’t waste your time getting frustrated. Go with the flow. Enjoy.

 

Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987) is a composer and turntablist working closely with the physicality of sound. With electronics, she focuses on sampling, as well as analogue and bespoke electrics that generate ‘real’ and pure sounds of electricity, over computer products. With acoustic instruments, she is concerned with the interaction of tone, orchestration, texture, movement and space. Since 2013, Shiva works mainly as a collaborative composer, and uses deep improvisation, explorations into different worlds, or chance events, to create her collaborative teams. She also works with children and young people in a variety of creative environments, and does seminars and projects at universities and music/art colleges.

A scholar and graduate of the Royal College of Music under Mark-Anthony Turnage, Shiva has awards ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, to British Composer Award shortlisted works. She has had performances at major UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbican, Roundhouse, and has had working relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and London Contemporary Orchestra. She also works in and around a variety of contexts and bespoke environments to create spatialised site-specific works. Additionally, Shiva has worked and toured with musicians ranging from cellists Natalie Clein, Oliver Coates and Colin Alexander, to video-gamer/youtuber Freddie Wong, jazz organist Kit Downes and artists Simon Fisher-Turner and Haroon Mirza. She sometimes DJs, and presents experimental classical music on NTS Radio in Dalston.

Future projects include a realisation of Daphne Oram’s groundbreaking work ‘Still Point’ for Double Orchestra, 78 rpm vinyl discs and microphones in collaboration with composer and Oram-specialist James Bulley. ‘Still Point’ predates the work of an entire generation of composers and artists in its radical use of live electronics (including turntable manipulation and sampling with live orchestra) and is one of the earliest known examples of a work for turntables and orchestra.

London Music Masters

 

 

Dappled things and sparkling gems

Stephen Hough, composer and pianist with The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall, Friday 28th October 2016

An evening of music for piano and voice by pianist and polymath Stephen Hough, performed by The Prince Consort, with Hough himself playing in the second half, promised to be something intriguing and special, especially as the programme included the world premiere of Hough’s song cycle Dappled Things, dedicated to John Gilhooly, director of Wigmore Hall.

In setting poetry to music, Hough is working within a fine English song tradition that includes composers such as Purcell, Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Britten, and indeed there were fleeting musical glimpses of these composers within Hough’s works

Read my full review here

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(picture: The Economist)

‘One Before Zero’ – an oratorio for the Battle of the Somme

Benjamin Ellin, the award-winning and critically acclaimed British conductor and composer, has been commissioned to create a classical composition focusing on the concept of peace and this year’s centenary of the Battle of the Somme.  The resulting Oratorio One Before Zero is one movement for orchestra, solo baritone, solo mezzo soprano and boys’ choir.

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(picture source: 1914.org)

This large-scale musical narrative work is inspired by the moment before battle, before zero, zero hour, the time at which hostilities commence.  Benjamin Ellin explains: “It’s the time when all that is known can be turned upside down and where a world of emotions dominates the mind and soul of any soldier”.

The work is in English, French and German and aims to illustrate musically and linguistically how the race to war, the loss of life and the destruction of humanity affected all sides in this devastating war.

Benjamin explains the inspiration behind the new work: “The Imperial War Museum provided a great deal of the research materials that helped inform my understanding of the period and I used the archives of Royds Hall School in Huddersfield which was a military hospital during WW1.  I enlisted the talented writer Ben Maier to help me ensure the work flows as a  continuous and complete line. The work has a personal connection too. My great relative, Private Samuel Vincent Boot (No. 19463) was killed in WW1.  I used his army number to develop a lot of musical material and develop the narrative.”

The performance will take place on 11th November 2016 at the renowned Maison de la Culture in Amiens in Northern France which is located just behind where the front line was established in WW1.  A second performance is scheduled on 12th November 2016 in Beauvais, Maladrerie Saint-Lazare.

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In this Meet the Artist interview, Benjamin discusses his musical influences, the challenges of his career as a composer, and the creation of ‘One Before Zero’.

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

I heard a performance of the Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet as a young boy – my mother took each of us (myself and my two older sisters) to see a ballet when we were young by way of a musical intro – and I was hooked. I persuaded her to buy me the tape recording in the shop and listened to it constantly. Whenever I hear a great piece of music, in whatever genre, I just want to write music or do something creative.

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

There isn’t one single thing. My initial musical impulse often comes from the environment I am in or the world events of our time. I also love the sounds that are around us generally and how they often turn in to little musical ideas all by themselves. For instance, one of the tracks from the TAFAHUM album ‘Osmosis’ is inspired by the sound of the Victoria Line tube at Highbury and Islington; the piece is called Three Fishes Laughing.

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

Being pigeonholed really – or people trying to. For me, music is genuinely indivisible and once you try to put people in to boxes you are missing the point. Sadly it seems, at times, this obsession is a by-product of lazy elements of the ‘business’, but I have always believed that the most inspiring characters around do more than one thing and I genuinely just happen to love and feed off different musical arenas.

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

The shape of a piece is very important. Once the overall structure is set in your mind, even if it changes slightly in the process of being realised, you can really start to write it out. For ‘One Before Zero’ that really was the main issue; deciding on the form and arch because after that a lot of decisions have been made for you. The challenge is knowing what to not use or not do and structure helps that process of illumination a lot. Pleasures? I love harmony and the juxtaposition of chords and the resonances they have; that and treating the audience to the theatrical elements of music so they are – hopefully – truly gripped and engaged.

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

If you have a relationship with a performer or a group then you can try and build the musical material around them in subtle ways; this is a joy. A challenge is to always respect the skill and talent of the musicians. They have to play your music and you hope that they actually want to. I don’t believe music is all about the composer in an egotistical way but always about the collective.

Of which works are you most proud? 

I am proud of my Violin Concerto which was premiered last year with the Philharmonia Orchestra, my Trombone Concerto for Joseph Alessi, my tracks on the TAFAHUM album ‘Osmosis’ and the works I have written in conjunction with Violist Rivka Golani and the people of the Siksika nation in Canada – amongst others…

How would you characterise your compositional language?

That is a difficult question – in fact, all these questions are! In short a mix of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Britten, Vaughan Williams and the jazz world of Miles Davis and Count Basie amongst others. Jazz and blues were major influences growing up in that they were the main style of music that I heard and I still love them. In general, as a composer, I don’t seek to reinvent the wheel but I’ll always express myself as honestly and boldly as I can.

How do you work? 

It largely depends on the piece or the commission. Sometimes a solid idea for a gesture within a piece starts the process and other times I have to work relatively slowly. Waiting for inspiration is all well and good, but sometimes it doesn’t always flow and you have to then rely on your technique – however good it is – when a deadline is there! I also like to sow ideas in my mind and let my subconscious chew them over for a bit; they nearly always find a way of becoming a key part of the process.

Please tell us more about your new work ‘One Before Zero’, to be premiered on Remembrance Day. 

In short it is a large oratorio for orchestra, solo baritone, solo mezzo and SATB male choir to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

Not so short, well, subconscious played a major part here too. I first worked in Amiens several seasons ago when I wrote two smaller pieces for a new festival there. As soon as I went on a research trip I was hooked on the area, the cathedral and the history of World War 1. I knew I wanted to write something about it and that was a good start for mental gestation! Then I had the chance to work with the orchestra in Picardie as both a composer (I wrote a new work for them) and also as a conductor in several performances. Therefore I got to know the players a little and I also got to work with their Music Director Arie. By the time the commission came I had soaked a lot up about the people, the area and so I could start from a decent place. The desired use of an all male SATB choir provided another set of options for the work as it was clear to me that the choir should be the soldiers and the baritone soloist is one of them whilst the mezzo represents the home front, picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of everything that was going on through the mirage of propaganda and misinformation through media…how things change!

Then, after lots of reading and textual research I decided on the structure of the piece. The soldier (baritone solo), drained, exhausted and battle-hardened from war stands at the front of the stage. Gazing out at the audience he begins to question who are the people across the stretch of no man’s land in front of him who he will shortly be ordered to attack, to kill, or indeed be killed by. Who are they? Are they anything like him? How did he get to this point where a mere order from a higher rank can result in him, a hitherto ordinary man, attacking with such aggression and ferociousness.

This awakening marks the start of the work. The title itself (ONE BEFORE ZERO)  underlines the importance of this moment before battle, before zero, zero hour  – the time at which hostilities commence – when all that is known can be turned upside down and where a world of emotions can surely fly through the mind and soul of any soldier.

The text is also a mixture of source letters, propaganda and diary entries from the time and also a number of commissioned texts by Ben Maier – a writer who I work with regularly. The new texts help knit everything together and I wanted to move away from using war poetry as it had already been done several times. The piece is in three languages, English, French and German as the aim of the piece is to underline the human cost on all sides of this conflict.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Again, there have been many for all sorts of reasons. I think my first concert as a conductor at the Philharmonic in St Petersburg was very special. I studied in St Petersburg and saw a concert there during my studies with the St Petersburg Philharmonic. Amazing. Then, years later when I used to do stage managing I stage managed a concert with the EUYO and Ashkenazy there. A few years after that I made my debut as  conductor and with one of my own pieces, WHITE CRUCIFIXION, so it was a powerful feeling of full cycle!

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

Be really honest with yourself about what you are trying to do, what you love and what you are doing. Lots of people will try and knock you down, directly or just through ignorance. If you genuinely love what you do, no matter what, then just keep going – however hard it gets. Take what you do seriously, but never take yourself seriously so that it becomes destructive – ego is the ugliest trait in people and especially in music.

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

Music Director of a Professional Orchestra, writing a small handful of film scores a year, touring and collaborating with Tafahum, guest conducting with a handful of organisations and carving out commissions that I am interested in.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  

Now, as a father, a good afternoon picnic with my wife and children followed by prating around with them, and possibly some creative work in the garden with my daughter helping.

What is your most treasured possession?  

I would say my family, but they are not a possession, so, therefore, I don’t have one.

What do you enjoy doing most?  

Lots of things and as much as I can. I learn about other things from doing something seemingly different so I love variety in work and in life.

What is your present state of mind? 

A mixture of love, contentment, frustration at the world and hope in the many beautiful things that still manage to exist.

‘One Before Zero’, a new oratorio in one movement commissioned by l’Orchestre de Picardie for the Network ONE® – an Orchestra Network for Europe – to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will be premiered in France on Remembrance Day, 11th November 2016. Further information and tickets

Award-winning and critically acclaimed British conductor and composer Benjamin Ellin is currently Music Director of Thursford Productions, Founder of the Contemporary Fusion ensemble Tafahum, Principal Conductor of the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Director of Focus Opera and President of Pembroke Academy of Music, London.

His belief in the positive power of music within society is reflected in the wide-ranging projects of which he is currently a major figurehead. From his own ensemble Tafahum, major projects and collaborations at London’s Southbank Centre, his own commissioned works with the First Nation communities of Alberta, Canada to his commitment to outreach and development work as well as appearing on stage with leading ensembles across the globe, Ellin’s belief in a musical world without boundaries is equalled by a tireless commitment as a guest artist and as a Music Director.

www.benjaminellin.com

Listenpony releases its first live EP

58386342367a289b279c863089709a30Listenpony is a concert series and commissioning body for new and old and pop music, run by three composers Josephine Stephenson, Freya WaleyCohen and William Marsey. The group has been producing eclectic music events in odd venues around London since 2011, premiering over 60 new works alongside international-standard performances of repertory classics, and sets from the most exciting up-and-coming bands.

Bringing the intimacy, eclecticism and high quality musicianship of the concert series to a wider audience, from 1 September 2016 Listenpony will begin releasing EPs of its live recordings, each release dedicated to one performing group, and including a mix of classical music and new commissions.

A triumph both of music programming and an awareness of how to have a good time at a concert. 

Nico Muhly

The first EP, taken from performances by violin duet Mainly Two recorded at our last event in March 2016, includes excerpts from Bartok’s 44 Duos for Two Violins and Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins, as well as new commissions from Dani Howard and Lawrence Dunn.

Mainly Two is formed of violinists Marie Schreer and John Garner, who came together to foster the creation of new work for two violins. Since forming the duet in 2014 they’ve built up a repertoire of over 20 new works written especially for them.

Dani Howard studied at the Royal College of Music and won a Royal Philharmonic Composition Prize in 2015. Her piece, Symmetry, moves at breakneck speed, seamlessly shifting between the leading and accompanying roles of the duet and spinning out joyful, dancing melodies.

Lawrence Dunn is a current Sound and Music New Voices composer. His intimate duet your wits an E la takes the form takes the form of a long, drawn out glissando framed by the repetition of a short melody. It takes its name from the highest note in the medieval gamut: E la. The word ‘Ela’ came to mean a high-flown place, a place of great strain, a place perhaps above which nothing could quite reach.

The EP is available on iTunes, Spotify and all major streaming platforms worldwide

www.listenpony.com

 

(source: press release)

Meet the Artist……Yfat Soul Zisso, composer

26-apr-soul-zisso-contemporary-voices-web-131063328970695992Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
When I was 14 I started writing songs and realised I had so much music in my head that I didn’t know how to write down, as I couldn’t play any instruments. This led to a ‘eureka’ moment where I just knew that composition was what I was meant to do in life, which resulted in my deciding to go away to boarding school to study for an A Level in music from scratch when I was 15. 

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My teachers (both composition and instrumental/vocal) and friends have had the most significant positive impact on my career. They have taught and supported me, always being honest and therefore helping me improve and acknowledge both the good and bad. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 
Having only started studying music at age 15, my greatest challenge was catching up with everyone else: first with general music and performing and then with composition. This meant always making sure I was working harder than everyone around me, and not giving up even when it meant not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for years and years on end.  

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 
Each piece is different and special in its own way. I treat the compositional process as a type of meditation, seeing the players playing in the hall inside my head, hearing what they’re playing and how it works spatially in the space. Once the initial idea of the piece is established, it’s all about answering all the different questions about what the piece is trying to do and how, until I can hear the whole structure in my head and can write it down.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Every different instrumentation brings with it lots of possibilities and new ideas, which is always exciting. Working with musicians I know and admire is particularly great as it’s easier to write a piece that is influenced by them as players / singers and has that added element of being written especially for them. I find writing pieces for myself to perform (as a soprano) the most challenging – it’s like a constant battle between my performer side wanting to perform strange extended vocal techniques and my composer side needing to justify every choice compositionally.

Which works are you most proud of? 
Poke – a piece for large mixed ensemble I wrote two and a half years ago for a workshop with BCMG. Even though it was the only piece I’ve written in the last three years that has only been workshopped rather than performed, I worked on it for a solid three months and am very proud of the level of detail and complexity in it. I hope it’ll someday get a proper performance. 

From the Darkness, for symphony orchestra – this was my first attempt at writing an orchestral piece fresh from finishing my undergraduate studies and my chance to use all I’ve learned about orchestral writing from sitting in on weekly rehearsals and watching countless concerts (another attempt to catch up, this time by a 1st study singer catching up on orchestral knowledge). I’m still proud of this piece because it shows how much I’ve progressed in just a few years, from a singer who couldn’t tell apart oboe and clarinet colours to using the orchestra in ways I haven’t even seen being done before. 

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Ligeti, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Radulescu, Saariaho

What is your most memorable concert experience? 
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have my first orchestral piece ‘From the Darkness‘ chosen to be workshopped and then performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The experience of having my piece played by one of my all-time favourite orchestras when I didn’t think it even stood a chance to be chosen was surreal and overwhelming, one which gave me hope for the future and that I would never forget. 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 
That pieces of music need to have a reason to exist, be it an idea or structure that comes across – there’s no point to writing pieces that just sound pretty without having something to say. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Working professionally as a freelance composer and teaching composition at a University / Conservatoire 

What is your most treasured possession?
I have a few items that, to someone who doesn’t know me, might seem childish and bizarre but actively help me compose. These include a ‘touchy-feely’ hamster book, a squeezable orange octopus toy (with its knitted hat), and my personal scores for the Berio Sequenza III for female voice and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (which are both symbolic in reminding myself I can overcome massive challenges when I set my mind to it)

How do you work?

I usually compose in what I like to call my ‘office’, which is essentially sitting on the floor in the hallway of the Conservatoire, opposite the composition notice board. It may sound bizarre (and passers-by keep wondering what I’m doing there or assume I’m queuing for a practice room), but it really helps to think about new pieces away from a piano or any other instruments at first in order to get a clear idea in my head of what I want the piece to sound like and do. The sound of lots of different students practising nearby actually becomes a kind of white noise that helps clear my head and I really prefer it to silence, and lots of people walk by so it doesn’t feel too alone. To add to the weirdness, I’m usually surrounded by my ‘composition aides and mascots’ which help me deal with stress – quite often I’ll be sitting there hugging my copy of Berio’s Sequenza III and petting my hamster book. I heard I’ve become quite a mystery for pianists who frequently practice on that floor.
How would you describe your compositional language?

I really like using different types of microtones to explore less common soundworlds. My pieces used to be mostly harmonic-series based but in the last year or two I’ve been frequently experimenting with other microtonal soundworlds, which feels like exploring a wealth of unexplored territory. As part of my doctoral research at Birmingham Conservatoire I am researching microtonal singing in order to create my own unique microtonal language that will incorporate voices as well as instruments, which is why I’m currently trying out lots of different ways of using microtones. Another side of my compositional language is influenced by my work as a performer – using extended techniques and/or a greater sense of acting/performing, especially for voices.


Carla Rees and Xenia Pestova premiere Hidden Elegy for alto flute and piano at The Forge, Camden, on 6th September 2016. Further information and tickets here

Ever since commencing on her music studies at the relatively late age of 15, Soul has been dedicated to her dream of becoming a composer. She graduated from Cardiff University, studying with Arlene Sierra and Robert Fokkens and for a brief time studying with Alison Kay, before commencing on a Masters and later a PhD in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire under the tuition of Joe Cutler and Howard Skempton.

Her music, which has been described as “curiously original” (Wales Online) and having “real character and sensitivity” (Wales Arts Review), has been performed by the likes of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Orchestra of the Swan, Xenia Pestova and the Fidelio Trio across the UK, Europe and Canada in a wide range of venues including Wells Cathedral, Hoddinott Hall and Stratford Town Hall, and festivals such as the Cheltenham Music Festival, Occupy the Pianos and Frontiers new music festival.

Her interests range from the use of different microtonal soundworlds and textures to children’s books and the exploration of various extended techniques. She is also interested in writing for dance and has composed music for Rambert Dance’s Vintage Rambert project.

In addition to composing, Soul is also a singer, specialising in performing contemporary repertoire, including Berio’s Sequenza III for female voice. She is a member of Via Nova chamber choir, has performed as both soloist and choral singer across the UK (including at the Wigmore Hall and at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) and abroad and is committed to promoting new music, which includes premiering many new pieces, particularly ones for solo unaccompanied voice.

www.yfatsoulzisso.com