Monday, 20 April 2015

Composer of the Month: Philip Cashian

Philip Cashian's music has been commissioned, performed and broadcast worldwide - recent performances have included the Ojai Festival (California), Musikmonat (Basle), Cleveland Performing Arts Series, the St.Paul Chamber Orchestra, BCMG, Aldeburgh Festival, Spitalfields Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and the BBC Proms as well as performances in Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Holland, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and China. Philip Cashian’s Dark Inventions will be performed by the ensemble Dark Inventions at the next Late Music concert, Saturday 2nd May at the National for Centre for Early Music.

Steve Crowther: Can you describe the work to us?
Philip Cashian: It’s in five sections; the first is a solo for alto flute, the second, waves of minimalistic-like textures, the next section is a low line that slowly rises, growing all the time, then a cello and piano duo and finally a dark coda built around the amazing sound of a low 5 octave marimba.

SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
PC: I write mainly at the piano but, since Gary Carpenter told me about Wallander Note Performer (which is superb), increasingly also on the computer using playback. I pre-plan to the extent that I know the overall feel and character of a piece - like a snapshot- before starting it. I accumulate lots of sketches and fragments before actually starting to write. I hate scratching around for ideas once I’m writing a piece.

SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
PC: I’m writing a piano concerto for my friend Huw Watkins at the moment. If it was for another pianist the piece would be completely different. Of course once the piece is written any pianist could perform it but thinking about Huw’s playing whilst I’m writing it directly affects the choices I’m making. Yes, I always write with a sound in mind.

SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
PC: Last year I had a review in Tempo magazine for the recent House of Night CD and there’s a paragraph which I think describes my music very well: Several Cashian hallmarks emerge in the course of this CD: bold melodic gestures for instruments in unison; a kind of 'broken machine' texture in which uneven rhythms lumber almost out of control; motor rhythm sections pointing up a relationship with minimalism; and contemplative passages, akin to Morton Feldman, in which musical objects are carefully placed in 'static fields'. Above all there is a brisk intelligence behind the music, unsentimental certainly, but never arid.

SC: What motivates you to compose?
PC: That’s very difficult to answer. I’ve accumulated lots of ideas that I want to hear and articulate in all sorts of different ways and contexts. Also, trying to correct the errors I can hear in previous pieces. I can’t not compose - which I can’t explain.

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

SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
PC: Stravinsky, do I really need to explain why?

SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
PC: Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, Birtwistle: Silbury Air, Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, Schubert: Death and the Maiden Quartet, Bach: Goldberg Variations, Ligeti: Violin Concerto, Radiohead: Kid A (the whole album)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

SC: …and a book?
PC: Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children
SC: …a film?
PC: Pulp Fiction
SC: … and a luxury item?
PC: an iPhone