Thursday, 7 March 2019

Composer of the Month: Hayley Jenkins

Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background? 
Hayley Jenkins: I am a composer from the North East and a lecturer of Music and Education at the University of Sunderland. In my spare time I play flute and saxophone in Darlington Orchestra and I conduct Darlington Clarinet Ensemble. I first really accessed music through dance lessons, and it was a trip to see Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance that inspired me to play the flute. A dancer dressed in a gold costume sat on the front of the stage and played a beautiful flute solo, afterwards I said to my Mum ‘I want to do that’. From that point onwards I knew music was something that would always be part of my life.
I didn’t really get into composing or conducting until University due to not really having the opportunity to explore music in those ways until that point.  This led me to major in composition and then continue on to do a masters at York St John University with Dr David Lancaster before deciding to do a PGCE. I am currently undertaking a PhD in Composition with Dr Gareth Williams at the University of Edinburgh. This year I have been composer in residence with Streetwise Opera and have learnt anew the power music can have on people’s lives and have really explored composing as a collaborative process with participants which has been fantastic.
SC: Can you describe your new work to us?
HJ: My new work is called ‘Wrong Jacket’ and sets the words of York poet Carole Bromley. Before choosing which words to set, Carole and I met up for a coffee and discussed our creative processes and what inspired us both to write. I think getting to know the author of the work is very important to how I approach the writing. When Carole mentioned this particular poem, I could instantly hear the musical possibilities just from her descriptions of the story it was telling, and I fell in love with the fact it focused on a small life-moment which has probably happened to everyone at some point in their life. 
SC:Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
HJ: With any setting, I usually print out the poem and annotate it- where the important consonants or alliteration are, where there might be room for repetition to help tell the story or if a particular motif/musical metaphor needs to be attached to certain words or phrases.  Then I usually sit at the piano to get a feel for a basic mood/chord structure. After that, I usually compose in fits and bursts, sometimes sitting for a whole afternoon where I get lots down followed by a period where I need to rest my ears and take a break from it. Walking always helps to think through a piece and decide where to go next. If it is not a setting of words, I sometimes draw out a structure as an image or timeline before I put notes to paper.

SC:
Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
HJ: Most definitely. Sometimes it is hard to get the time to have an extended discussion, but I certainly like to contact them, ask them some technical questions and also listen to some of their work before I start writing. I am also happy to discuss the work and see what their thoughts are, if they think anything might work better done in a different way for example.
SC:How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
HJ: I love things that sound beautiful and have ‘space’. When I say beautiful that doesn’t mean everything has to be consonant, there is a lot of beauty in the resolution of dissonance or in unusual chord changes. I like things to have a meaning behind being there- so thematically and metaphorically a chord or motif might be very symbolic and recur at very specific points. Recently I have also tried really hard to create more space in my work, for there to be pauses for a sound or motif to rest and be pondered. As a flautist it is very easy to write ‘tunes’ so there tends to be a ‘singability’ and lyricism to the melodies I write.
SC: What motivates you to compose? 
HJ: Learning and curiosity first and foremost, but also a passion to tell a story or to communicate a feeling. I often read something or see something, and I think ‘that would be a lovely starting point for a piece of music’. It is usually something extra-musical like a poem, landscape, piece of art or even something someone says in conversation.
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
HJ: From my days studying the flute it has be to Ian Clarke, as he writes some beautifully organic (and technical) pieces that are a joy to play. For the same reason I also really admire Guy Wolfenden’s work, but unfortunately, he passed away in 2016, so I guess I cannot count him in this list now, but I have loved playing and conducting his work over the years. In April 2018, I had the opportunity to go to a composing residential with Gavin Bryars and although already a huge admirer, a week getting a unique opportunity to reexplore his work has been particularity influential and inspiring. Finally, the work of female composer Anna Clyne has been of huge interest to me, her use of imagery and musical textures is really interesting.
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
HJ: Oh gosh, this is difficult! I guess I have always loved Benjamin Britten’s work, especially his Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Midsummer Nights Dream is just such a magical spectacle on stage. I am not all that sure what I would ask him however, I don’t think one pint would be long enough to have all my questions answered! 
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
HJ: A bit of an eclectic mix here: Arvo PärtFratres, Billy Joel She’s Always a Woman, Mark Knopfler Romeo and Juliet, Pink Floyd Breathe (In the Air),Phillip Glass Low Symphony, Gavin Bryars Three Elegies, Ian Clarke Sunday Morning, and the one I could not be without has to be Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interlude 1: On the Beachfrom Peter Grimes. 
SC:…and a book?:
HJ: To choose one book is absolutely impossible! If I have to choose it has to be Vera Britten’s Testament of Youth.
SC:…a film?
HJ: I could say Testament of Youth (again) but I absolutely loved Robin Hood Prince of Thieves as a child, the music is wonderful but the cameral trick with the arrow was amazing for 1991! I remember pleading for a bow and arrow after watching it. If it was on TV I would still love to sit and watch it.
SC:… and a luxury item?
HJ: My camera, I love visiting new places and taking good quality photographs. 

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Composer of the Month: Graham Fitkin

Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background? 
Graham Fitkin: I suppose I come from a lower middle-class background with a strong work ethic spine.  I was encouraged to play the piano and anything else we had lying around at home, and had an older brother who fed me interesting music as a child.  So I heard the Kind of Blue when I was 9, The Rite of Spring when I was 10, Philip Glass when I was 11 and Keith Jarrett when I was 12 and so on.   I had very supportive parents who encouraged me to follow a musical path if that was what I wanted to do.
SC: Can you describe your new work to us?
GF: Shard was a commission from Ensemble Bash when they were understandably looking for pieces that used instruments they could carry round in a shopping bag.  I know from experience that carting the stuff around is a huge part of being a percussionist.  It’s big, costly, heavy,  causes back pain and stops you going to the pub after the gig as it takes an age to pack up.  It all starts from the timbre of the dampened triangle.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
GF: My compositional process changes with each piece.  I like using a desk with a piece of paper and a pencil.  I often use a piano, and often use a computer with associated software.  At the moment I’m learning some new software which I think is going to be useful for the next project.  I do pre-plan.  And I always have a piece of paper with the fundamental starting aims of the piece placed on the desk so that I don’t forget what I’m meant to be doing and get caught up on the moment.

SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
GF: I love writing for performers I know.  It’s not imperative at all, and when I write large scale music for orchestras for instance (where I can’t know all the performers) or a new commission from a group I don’t personally know then it’s different and potentially equally interesting. But when you write for people you know there is the chance to mould a sound round them, you know the way they might approach it, phrase it and that’s lovely.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
GF: I find that impossible to answer. I wish I didn’t.
SC: What motivates you to compose? 
GF: I like creating things and generally enjoy the process, sometimes tortuous, hard and painful, but generally fascinating.  I also don’t know what else I’d do…
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
GF: I admire Harrison Birtwistle, Arvo Part, Laurence Crane, Mark Turnage, Michael Gordon, Louis Andriessen, Thomas Larcher, Anna Meredith, James Saunders and that’s just for starters.  Whether I identify with them I don’t know and I’m not sure who I’d choose.
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
GF: Sibelius.  I’d like to know what went on his head in those symphonies, and what happened in the last 30 years.
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
GF: Well this is all a bit fanciful as I’d change my mind tomorrow anyway I’ll play along - De Tijd by Andriessen, Lux Aeterna by Ligeti, Petrushka by Stravinsky, Music for 18 Musicians by Reich, Symphony by Webern, Messe de Notre Dame by Machaut, Clarinet and String Quartet by Feldman, Hunky Dory by Bowie .  Probably De Tijd is the one, but maybe not…
SC:…and a book?:
GF: Barnaby Rudge by Dickens
SC:…a film?
GF: North By Northwest by Hitchcock
SC:… and a luxury item?
GF: Ruth Wall

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Composer of the month: Julian Broughton

Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background? 
Julian Broughton: I went to a grammar school, and then to Cambridge, but playing in a folk band and working on a pig farm in Alsace were also important parts of my education!  My parents were both teachers, and never really stepped out of role, so my childhood was very very educational. . .  That was also a privilege, of course, and in musical terms, it meant that I was supported in my wish to learn the piano and the violin and, later, composition.  I composed from about the age of 6 (at first my father wrote down what I invented), but didn’t really learn much about it until the grammar school where I had an extraordinarily gifted teacher in Quintus Benziger – inventive, open-minded, challenging. Even his name was extraordinary!
SC: Can you describe your new work to us?
JB: If you call something a string quartet then you will probably be writing for two violins, one viola and a cello.  In the past, you would probably go a step further, and think of the string quartet not only as a medium, but also as a form: a work in four movements (typically), with structures taken from a limited array of possibilities.  After writing two string quartets that don’t follow the standard four-movement pattern, I felt like writing one that did.  My Quartet No.3 has a decidedly classical aspect, although it doesn’t stick rigidly to traditional structures.  So the first movement has a strong sense of dynamic contrast, and there are clear moments of recapitulation; but it also incorporates a fugue – and the fugue is itself both interrupted and recapitulated (and disobeys some of the usual constraints).  The second movement is slow and expressive, but is also (largely) a fugue.  I think my early enthusiasm for the quartets of Tippett is evident from both these movements.  The third movement is an extended scherzo, which plays with the contrast between rhythmically ‘bumpy’ passages (where the time signature keeps changing) and a lyrical episode in regular time.  Again, the sense of contrast and recapitulation is important. The final movement is less interested in sharp contrast, although its lyrical flow is interrupted at times by sterner gestures.  It ends on an elegiac note.
SC:Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
JB: I sometimes write at the piano, and always check what I’m inventing on the piano, but I also work away from it.  It definitely helps me to spend some time just trying to imagine the music, and I sometimes do this while walking somewhere.  I don’t pre-plan on paper, and I often find myself already thinking about a piece without having consciously started to do so.  Once I have an idea going, I will sometimes plan the overall shape of a piece before going too much further.  With the scherzo of my quartet, I think I started a little way in, and later realized that I needed to add something introductory.  Usually I feel I have to start by listening inwardly to the music that seems to be there, and then I try to capture it and work with it.  Sometimes this involves a lot of thought, and a lot of mistakes, and at other times I would say that I feel my way towards what sounds right, and what appears to work well.
SC:Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
JB: It is always very good to know the performers, but I often write music without having a particular performer in mind. In such cases, I imagine an ideal performer!
SC:How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
JB: Lucid and animated.
SC:What motivates you to compose? 
JB: Composing is like searching for something, or trying to ‘capture’ something, which you feel has an inescapable and desirable vitality;  and so you want to share this treasure with other people!
SC:Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
JB: I don’t identify with any one composer, and (or but) I do wish I knew more of the work of other living composers. Among those whose work I do know, I particularly admire David Matthews for the confident range of expression in his music, its dynamism, and its willingness to draw on whatever musical materials – idiom, form, idea – feel right for the job.
SC:If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
JB: Beethoven.  I would bring a hearing aid for him, of course, and would then ask him to improvise a piano duet with me (if there was one in the pub). We might then explore how far we shared a musical sense of humour.
SC:Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
JB: In no particular order, and bearing in mind that tomorrow I might give a different answer:
Monteverdi:Vespers  Beethoven: String quartet in Eb, op.127; Sibelius: Symphony no.5and Tapiola; Tippett: Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage; Vaughan Williams: Norfolk Rhapsody; Britten:Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes;  Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro.  If I had to select just one, it would be Tapiola– the final B major chord of that extraordinary work steps briefly into an entirely different world from the storm and distress of the piece up to that point.  This new world is fragile, but wonderful – somehow consoling, but without the least trace of sentimentality.
SC:…and a book?
JB: I think it would be Birdsongby Sebastian Faulks – because it explores what is left of humanity (and for humanity) when people treat other people as the objects of systematic and mechanized violence.  Somehow the book manages to be not entirely hopeless. . . 
SC:…a film?
JB: I would have to choose from something I’ve seen recently, as I’m very ignorant about film.  I would say Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, because of its sensitive awareness of the way violence and empathy can both be found in any one of us.
SC:… and a luxury item?
JB: a Fazzioli grand piano (tuning hammer included).

Monday, 10 September 2018

Ten New Debussys on the BBC

© Ian Dingle

Saturday 1st September saw the culmination of the 'Ten New Debussys' project. Pianist James Willshire performed ten premieres, each of which took us on a journey from a piano piece by Debussy into the composer's unique sound-world. In the same week, the project featured in two BBC broadcasts.


On Wednesday 29th August, James appeared on BBC Radio 3's 'In Tune' programme. As well as discussing the project, James performed two pieces live: Debussy's fourth prelude, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir, and Nicola LeFanu's Souvenir du petit berger, inspired by 'The Little Shepherd' from Children's Corner.

The programme is available to listen to at the link below until 28th September. 
The 'Ten New Debussys' feature starts at 34'50'' with the Debussy performance first, continuing with discussion at 38’44”, and finishing with the LeFanu performance at 44'15".


https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/m000087y

Errollyn Wallen appeared on BBC 2's Proms Extra programme on Saturday 1st September. At 2'26", Errollyn talks about the 'Ten New Debussys' project, and later on discusses Bernstein, Bach, Ravel, and more. The episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer until 30th September.


Many thanks to Errollyn, James and the BBC for these, and special thanks to all the project composers for their great pieces: Jia Chai, Robin Holloway, David Lancaster, Nicola LeFanu, Ailís Ní Ríain, Michael Parkin, Lynne Plowman, David Power, Thomas Simaku, and Errollyn Wallen.

Left to right: Parkin, Plowman, LeFanu, Willshire, Lancaster, Chai, Power, Ríain, Simaku.
© Jingzhi Chen

Friday, 24 August 2018

Composer of the month: Robin Holloway


Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background? 
Robin Holloway: Both of my parents trained as artists and loved music, though untrained. I sang in the local church choir (Balham), had piano lessons and was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral.
SC: Can you describe your new work to us?
RH: The new piece is a response the (Late Music) commission to write a short piano-number taken from any piano-original by Claude Debussy, for the centenary of his death. My choice is a little-known morceau D’un cahier d’esquisses launched out from into several new places before homing in on where it began.
SC:Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
RH: I do write at the piano – though also sketching when out and about, or confined to queues, boring meetings, interesting lectures, or insomnia. But I can’t describe the “compositional process”!

SC:
Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
RH: When I know the performer(s) I of course have the character, gift, nature, sound etc in mind. But I’m also looking general dissemination after the particular: I have written lots of music with no-one specific in mind.
SC:How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
RH: Very multifarious, eclectic, protean!
SC:What motivates you to compose? 
RH: There’s something I want to say, to express, communicate, share, give.
SC:Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
RH: Birtwistle, Goehr; Norgard; Del Tredici; Weir; Benjamin; Andriessen; Abrahamsen …
SC:If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
RH: I’d love most of all to try to discover what makes Schubert tick – but fear he’d not be able to understand or reply!
SC:Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
RH: (out of many thousands!) – Bach St Matthew Passion, Haydn Seasons, MozartFigaro, Beethoven C#-minor String Quartet, Schubert Winterreise, Schumann Liederkreiss Op 39, Wagner Tristan und Isolde, Brahms Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, SchönbergFive Orchestral Pieces, Debussy Jeux, Berg Violin Concerto, Stravinsky The Fairy’s Kiss. The one I couldn,t be without is Bruckner’s 9thSymphony.
SC:…and a book?
RH: Nostromo by Conrad, Ulysses by Joyce
SC:…a film?
RH:La règle du jeu by Jean Renoir
SC:… and a luxury item?
RH: A gorgeous book reproducing the entire output of Piero della Francesca.