Monday, 13 July 2015

Composer of the month: Emily Crossland

Emily Crossland
Emily Crossland is a graduate of the University of York, completing a BA (Hons) in Music in 2007 and an MA in Community Music in 2010. She remains involved in academic life as a tutor at this institution and as a visiting lecturer for York St John University and the University of Leeds.
It was during her academic studies that Emily's excitement for collaborative and theatrical music developed, alongside an interest in community music and a passion for Javanese gamelan. The combination of these influences has shaped Emily's work as a composer, leading her into collaborations with artists whose experience of the world is very different to her own. Emily is particularly interested in exploring the art made by those who are often excluded or disabled by society – something she investigates as one of the founding artists of Engine Room Theatre, a devising company of performers and makers from diverse backgrounds.
Emily has recently been commissioned through the BBC Performing Arts Fund and was one of six composers selected to take part in the 2010-11 Adopt-a-Composer scheme run by Sound and Music, the PRS Foundation and Making Music. Her work has notably received performances at Gaudeamus Muziekweek, the National Concert Hall Dublin, the Glasgow West End Festival, and on BBC Radio 3. Emily Crossland’s new work 1v4(v) will be performed by the Late Music Ensemble, conductor James Whittle, at the next Late Music concert, Saturday 1st August at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York.
Steve Crowther: Can you describe the work to us?
Emily Crossland: 1v4(v) is a drawing together of many different aspects of music and music-making that interest me. At the core of the musical material are elements of Indonesian music, which is something I’ve been particularly into as a performer for the past ten years. Particularly, the piece features heavy nods to Balinese kecak (rhythmic, interlocking vocal chant), Javanese gendèr cengkok (patterns played on a metal-keyed instrument) and the notes of the pelog scale found in Javanese and Balinese gamelan. 1v4(v) also marks a deeper foray for me into more theatrical music and audience involvement – both of which I have explored before but not in combination and never before embracing the light-hearted and fun approach taken in this piece.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
EC: It varies greatly from piece to piece. There’s usually a lot of scribbling involved though! I’ll often start by writing down as much as I think I know about a piece at the beginning of the process and then move forward by seeing where the links are and what coherence draws the ideas together. I’ll often continue by trying things out at a piano or on my violin or at another instrument (1v4(v) was partly written sat among the beautiful instruments of Gamelan Sekar Petak). The draft version of a piece usually exists in a combination of staff notation, words and other doodles. I’ll then work out from there what sort of notation is needed for the final score and tend to write up in Sibelius, unless there is no staff notation needed whatsoever, when I’ll generally write by hand.

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

EC: I always adore projects in which I can get to know the performers and create the piece in true collaboration – it appeals to me a great deal to develop a piece of music that reflects more than one voice and more than one way of seeing the world. Most of my work is in response to a commission or a specific request, so I often have a starting point in mind before getting underway with the writing of the piece.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
EC: That’s a tricky one! I know the gamelan influence often comes through in my work, to varying degrees. I am also a big fan of dissonance, so at least a few crunchy chords find their way into each piece. But as I’m often exploring a different challenge or collaborating with a different ensemble each time, there tends to be a really different focus for each piece.
SC: What motivates you to compose? 
EC: It’s something that has always made the most sense to me. As a child learning the violin, I went away after my first lesson and wrote a piece for the open strings we’d just learnt to pluck. I recall my teacher being astounded that I’d thought to make up my own music. I couldn’t get my head round that reaction. What else did she imagine I’d do with this new knowledge she’d given me?! I continue to write because I continue to be intrigued and because there are so many sounds I haven’t heard yet.
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
EC: Someone I met recently and have a great deal of admiration for is Judith Weir, not just for her music but for her generosity of spirit and the value she places on the next generation of creative musicians, regardless of background/influence/genre. 
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
EC: I find myself fascinated by the composers that the history books don’t record. I’d love to find out why their stories didn’t get told and how it would have shaped our understanding now if they did. So I’d love to have a beer with Anon. and Trad.!
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
EC: I’m terrible at this – my musical tastes change from moment to moment. I think I’ll struggle to find 8 genres I couldn’t be without but let’s give it a go... [30 minutes later]… I think the 8 pieces that would have lasting ‘desert island’ value for me would be: Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet; Ladrang Pangkur (Javanese gamelan); Maya by The Incredible String Band; O Primus Homo Coruit (Aquitanian polyphony); Junk Box Fraud by Donnacha Dennehy; Death and the Maiden as performed by Waterson Carthy; The Boy in the Bubble by Paul Simon; and An Animated Description of Mrs Maps by The Books. If I had to pick just one I think it would be O Primus Homo Coruit because the first time I heard it was such a turning point in my musical life and I find it astonishingly beautiful.
SC: …and a book?:
EC: Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse or The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.
SC: …a film?
EC: Everything is Illuminated
SC: … and a luxury item?
EC: My violin