Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Late Music 2015 featured composer: Judith Weir

Judith Weir's interests in narrative, folklore and theatre have found expression in a broad range of musical invention. She is the composer and librettist of several widely performed operas whose diverse sources include Icelandic sagas, Chinese Yuan Dynasty drama and German Romanticism. Folk music from the British Isles and beyond has influenced her music for solo instruments, and she has had strong links with performers from non-classical traditions.

In July 2014 she was appointed to the 388-year old royal post of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Judith Weir’s music will be programmed throughout the concert series, with a new piece being premiered by the Albany Trio on Saturday 6th June.

Steve Crowther: Can you describe your music to us?

Judith Weir: I’d say the musical events in it are clear, but it’s not simple. I enjoy fast tempi and rhythmic subtlety. The character/world of the instrument or the voice is something I try to emphasise; I like virtuosic energy, the sense of the instrument or voice doing what it’s really built to do.

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

JW: Conceptual thinking (it can be very vague at first) is important – in the back of my mind I’m asking myself some questions about why I’m writing the piece, for what outcome. I start sketching – just scribbling really. Somehow this activity clears my mind, I start to concentrate and after a while I can see which material will be useful or important in the piece. After that I might start building up lengths of melody or chords to form a short section of the composition. When I get to this point I do need to use the piano a bit to check pitches. From here onwards I write many more versions of the material which have progressively more detail in them.

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

JW: Knowing the performer is my great motivation. That person’s sound, their approach and the brief they have given me (even if unintentionally) is my clue to creating the music. Music for me is a live activity, a social gathering and I feel my job as a composer is to facilitate that, as a colleague to both performers and listeners.

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

JW: I listen reasonably widely and often – I get sent and given a lot of music, I like to keep up with music by my friends and ex-students or people I’ve recently encountered – so it is a constantly changing diet, not based on any particular contemporary figures or movements/tendencies.

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

JW: I don’t get the impression that many of these people were friendly beer-drinking types. At present I’d appreciate talking to Bartok – ask him about the maths in his music, and his experiences as a folk-music collector.

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

JW: Picking eight titles would cause me an endless crisis of comparison. Cutting to the chase, the ‘just one’ is the St Matthew Passion.

SC: …and a book?

JW: You would want a fairly long book, so perhaps Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec.

SC: …a film?

JW: Something singalong I think, so maybe Everyone Says I Love You, the Woody Allen musical.

SC: … and a luxury item?

JW: A well-stocked deli.