Sunday, 28 September 2014

Composer of the month: Eve Harrison

“A sensitive and refined imagination” Eve’s music features in Michael Hall’s forthcoming book British Music Theatre. John Casken and Anthony Gilbert supervised her MusB (Hons) and MMus respectively. Eve’s critically acclaimed chamber opera Hera’s List toured to Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2012 and she was awarded first prize at Heriot Watt Composer Competition. Shapeshifters was premièred by the Hebrides Ensemble as part of the prestigious composers’ course at St Magnus International Festival, Orkney in 2013. Recent commissions include National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, Big Noise - Sistema Scotland, Durham Brass Festival and Phoenix Clarinet Quartet with vocal sculptor Jason Singh (PRSF). Eve co-directs performer and composer collective Sounds of the Engine House who recently toured the north of England, co-produced by Sound and Music. Her new piece of music theatre, commissioned by the Bridgewater Hall, was part of this touring programme of music by living composers. This year, in collaboration with BREAD Arts, Eve was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta as part of Blue Touch Paper to develop an engaging piece of contemporary music and light artwork that invites an audience to interact and participate using their smartphone.
In addition to her own composition Eve is a passionate educator and leads composition and song writing workshops for Opera North’s Youth Company, In Harmony Liverpool, Manchester Camerata and Yorkshire Young Musicians, amongst others. She is also a keen trumpet player, performing both orchestrally and with Balkan Stomp band The Rubber Duck Orchestra.

Eve Harrison’s New Work will be premiered by the Ebor Singers, conductor Paul Gameson, at the next Late Music concert, Saturday 4th October.
Steve Crowther: Can you describe the work to us?

And Now, Exhale… responds to an evocative text by my collaborator Bruce Arthur and has inspired a colourful palette of vocal textures and resonances to heighten the poets’ response to an experience with nature. When discussing his text Bruce describes a huge sense of relief  and unburdening whilst walking along the coast in Sunderland. I'd like to find some of that lightness in contrast to the dark and percussive weight of an oppressive figurative and literal ocean. I hope to provide the audience an immersive and spacial journey, bringing to life both the emotional and aural sensations captured in the text.

SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?

EH: I usually plan an harmonic outline, often graphically representing dramatic tension and texture. I’ll do some work at the piano during this stage until I’ve established my framework then work away from the piano, writing by hand at first and once I feel I have a good grasp of my material I’ll move to notating on Sibelius.

SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?

EHI think it’s extremely important to be familiar with the skills and strengths of the performers to get the most out of the opportunity to write for them and to give them the opportunity to communicate what you’ve written. In addition, as a trumpet player, I’ve always valued enjoying playing the music put in front of me and this stays with me when composing, but there are always exceptions

SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?

EH: I’m interested in colours/timbre, spacial placing of sound, modes,  transcribing birdsong and the phoenetic sound of text, non-Western rhythmic patterns and harmonic fields. I find it a difficult thing to describe so here are some words that other people have used:
“witty” “vivid” “imaginative” “impressive instrumental colours and dramatic pacing” “meticulous”

SC: What motivates you to compose?

EHAs a child I painted and worked with clay a lot: my dad is an abstract artist and I think I soaked up that kind of experimentation and curiosity in building layers. There is something of this in my love of composing. I also love telling stories but am not very good at doing so verbally! Through music I have a way and this comes through increasingly in both my vocal and instrumental writing.

SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?

EHHarrison Birtwistle, Charlotte Bray, Mira Calix, Gary Carpenter, Anthony Gilbert, Roger Marsh, Anna Meredith, Matthew Sergeant, my colleagues at Sounds of the Engine House Steven Jackson and Ben Gaunt and numerous others whose names escape me at this particular moment.

SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?

EHI’d probably be absolutely terrified but it would have to be Olivier Messiaen. His work with birdsong and instrumental colour have been extremely influential in my development as a composer. Chaser with Ligeti please...

SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.

EHMessiaen - Chronochromie for large orchestra
Ligeti - String Quartet No. 2
Lutoslawski - Grave for cello and piano
Birtwistle - Punch and Judy
Toru Takemitsu - Rain Tree Sketch II
Ravi Shankar/Alla Rakka - Three Ragas
Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring
Schoenberg - Pierrot Lunaire

Tricky to choose but I'll go for the Takemitsu!

SC: …and a book?:

EH: Haruki Murakami: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

SC: …a film?


SC: … and a luxury item?

EHDecent coffee and associated paraphernalia please!