Help Musicians ShootWho or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I didn’t have a lightbulb moment with deciding to follow a career in music. It was more the accumulation of many joyous and happy moments right from when I started to play the clarinet, and from there it seemed a natural thing to keep working and enjoying what I did. As I was growing up and playing more and more, nothing else appeared that seemed more attractive as a career, so I simply stuck with it!

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

My first clarinet teacher, Vanessa, who got me started on this crazy journey. After that, I had lessons with Joy Farrall who remains a wonderful colleague and friend to this day. Other than that, more generally: everything! I take great pleasure in listening to what other people have to say. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt – one of the greatest mistakes we can make is passing judgement before we form our own opinion. (This is especially true, I think, as we exist in an era where peoples’ attention spans and tolerances often seem shorter and lower than ever before.)

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

A continuous challenge is sitting with uncertainty, and knowing that you’re only as good as your last performance. Of course, we all make mistakes (and whoever created this obsession with perfection in our industry has a lot to answer for), but it can be hard to feel like you are always being evaluated, compared, ranked. On the other hand, to do a job which keeps me on top of my game constantly is a challenge that I relish. The thought of having a job where I can become stultified and get away with constantly being mediocre is frightening.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Truth be told, I don’t really listen back to many recordings I do – once I’ve done something I move on pretty quickly to the next thing. Any performance or project that I walk away from knowing I learned something or gave everything to I am proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Anything where you get a lot from the score or the collaborators. I draw a lot on what is right in front of me in the moment – the more there is to bounce off, the more involved I become.

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

I don’t really choose a lot of repertoire myself – this often comes down to the orchestra’s schedule. With freelance work you get booked and the repertoire is always decided in advance – you just turn up and play. With The Hermes Experiment, we always look to do new and different things, be it commissioning a certain composer, playing at a certain venue, or exploring a different theme (or all three!), and so our repertoire grows around this.

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

Before Christmas I took my bass clarinet along to a pub in Stoke Newington and joined in a blues jam at the invitation of a friend. I am pretty sure I was terrible but it was by far the most fun atmosphere I’ve played in for months.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Anyone who has flair and says things in an interesting way that also make sense. I think Joni Mitchell is a genius. I am discovering Kate Bush. A friend introduced me to the wonderful music of Brad Mehldau.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Some of my most treasured memories come from my time in the National Youth Orchestra – playing at the BBC Proms with Vasily Petrenko as the culmination of months of delving so deeply into repertoire and forging wonderful friendships is something I’ll never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is asking the two questions ‘What do I want my life to be right now’ and ‘What do I actually have in my life right now’ and having as narrow a gap between the two as possible. There’ll probably always be a small gap, but it’s a good thing to aspire to. As a musician, as a person, it’s all the same thing. I’m not talking about wanting to own a nice car or winning the lottery or something. I’m talking about doing things that leave you fulfilled, that are true to your values. That is success. And being able to pay the rent. That’s also nice.

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

Firstly: Listen to as much music as you can. Try and get a flavour of everything, and then find what you’re passionate about and investigate it as much as you can. Be obsessed. Find what makes you happy and follow it relentlessly.

Secondly: Listen to other people. If you think they’re a moron. Listen to them. Everyone has something worth saying. Even if you walk away thinking ‘I definitely wouldn’t do it that way’, you were present and you listened and made the active decision to do things your way, rather than walking away out of close-mindedness, arrogance or laziness.

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

I still ask myself on a regular basis if I want to do this, if this is something that I want to be doing. As soon as the answer is ‘no’ I am out of here! Music is something that you do because you want to, because you are passionate about it and it brings you happiness (as well as happiness to others, of course). Why do it if these things don’t happen? To do something as personal as music for a living, but be empty or cynical inside just doesn’t make sense to me. Go and become a banker or something. Or a consultant (I still have no idea what consultants do). In 10 years’ time I will be wherever I am.

Oliver Pashley is a young London-based clarinettist and founding member of contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment. He holds the position of Sub-Principal Clarinet with Britten Sinfonia and plays regularly with orchestras and ensembles at home and abroad, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia, The Riot Ensemble, Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and the Haffner Wind Octet. Highly in demand as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, he has played guest principal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, London Mozart Players, and English National Ballet.

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(photo credit: Thurstan Redding)

Who or what inspired you to form the ensemble and pursue a career in music?

As an ensemble we wanted to create something completely new and innovative, and believed we had creative ideas that could make us different to other groups.  The aim was ultimately to build something that could become a central part of our careers as freelance musicians.

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

In the two years since we formed our ensemble, we have been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of individuals and organisations that have inspired us and influenced our work. There have been so many, but a notable experience was a gig we did with the experimental composer collective, Bastard Assignments; we saw such bizarre and new things and this was so eye-opening for us musically! Equally, we continue to be inspired by the composers we work with; we all remember a workshop with Stevie Wishart during which she pushed us to discover so many new techniques and completely challenged our approach to the sounds we made.

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

There have been several challenges we’ve had to overcome as an ensemble, and there continue to be new challenges as the group moves forwards. Initially, it was getting started in London and balancing studying with developing as an ensemble. A constant challenge is developing concepts and programmes that encourage people to come and watch us: attracting an audience for experimental music. And of course one challenge we continue to face on a regular basis is learning extremely complex pieces of music!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Our season concerts are always a feat to bring together, but also hugely rewarding and inspiring; we get to explore our own themes, and every organisational element lies with us from the beginning. One we are particularly proud of was our LOVESCAPES concert in June 2015 which brought us together with six young composers and a photographer, and culminated in a concert-exhibition in a beautiful crypt in Clerkenwell.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

We are very proud of our semi-improvised (devised) pieces, which require an unconventional approach in their preparation in that we as an ensemble take on more of a compositional role.  These are works that more traditional ensembles might perhaps struggle with, but we find they bring us much closer together as an ensemble. Similarly, we really love improvising and experimenting with our sounds.

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

We start off by choosing themes for our season concerts (which have included Metropolis, Sonic Visions, Soundscapes, Rhythm…) and we then commission new pieces around these themes, and choose pertinent arrangements to supplement them. We always try to think as creatively as possible and nearly always have full control over our repertoire choices.

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

We really enjoy playing at The Forge in Camden, and will be playing there for the third time on 16 February. The Aubazine Abbey in France was also a fantastic and beautifully atmospheric venue to play and sing in. We have been very lucky to perform in some amazing museums (the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, New Walk Museum in Leicester, and looking forward to the National Portrait Gallery in May). The Wigmore Hall, albeit full of kids for For Crying Out Loud and Chamber Tots, always has a special atmosphere too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

We love performing Giles Swayne’s Chansons devotes et poissoneuses, one of the first large-scale pieces written for us, as well as our more upbeat arrangements, for example Meredith Monk’s Double Fiesta, Bernstein’s I Got Rhythm and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Slow Foxtrot (we do most of the arrangements ourselves) – and of course our free improvisation!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

We all have our own individual heroes that we look up to: instrumentalists and singers who inspire us to bring something different and unique to the group and to aim for the highest possible musical standards.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

We all had different answers to this! We vividly remember our first ever gig at the Rag Factory in December 2013, as well as the marathon that was our Soundscapes concert in November 2014.

Héloïse’s (accidental) improvised singing at Aubazine Abbey at the start of the concert was also pretty memorable! One of the audience members came up to us afterwards saying ‘Hallelujah!’ so it must have made a good impression regardless.

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

We’re learning a lot still but here are a few things we have learnt already:

  • Don’t take shortcuts with any aspect of work (e.g. learning pieces / publicity), it’s not worth it in the long run
  • Dare to be different
  • Be confident in what you are doing and why
  • But consider carefully all advice you are given (even if you then choose to ignore it!)

The Hermes Experiment presents ‘Sonic Visions’ at The Forge, Camden, London NW1 on Tuesday 16th February 2016. The concert includes premieres of new works by Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar, together with works by Ed Scolding, Richard Rodney Bennett, Claude Debussy and Don McLean

Full details and tickets

The Hermes Experiment is:

Oliver Pashley, clarinet

Marianne Schofield, double bass

Anne Denholm, harp

Héloïse Werner, soprano / co-director

Hanna Grzeskiewicz, co-director