Saturday, 12 August 2017

Composer of the month: Nicola LeFanu

Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background?

Nicola LeFanu:  I was born in Essex, but I am not a typical ‘Essex girl’ because my parents were both Irish. My father was a librarian (there are a lot of literary LeFanus) and my mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy.

SC: Can you describe String Quartet no4. to us? 

NL:  String Quartet no4 is pretty short – about nine minutes – but its economy makes it quite intense. I wrote it in June in the high Pyrenees and I really enjoyed composing it! It was inspired by a poem by the Russian Andrei Voznesensky – ‘with the open eyes of their dead fathers/towards other worlds they gaze ahead/children who..’

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

NL: I write at the piano and/or my desk; then I go to the computer and there is a revising and editing stage as I put the piece into Finale. Yes, I do pre-plan, though with luck the music takes over and shapes the plan anew.

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

NL: I always prefer to know who will be performing and write for them – character and sound; and also where – the audience and the acoustic for the premiere concert make a difference; though it is always the hope (and usually the case!) that the new work will be performed many times and in many places.
I have known the Bingham string quartet since the nineteen eighties, when they recorded four of the Maconchy quartets for CD.

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

NL: I usually say ‘lyrical and dramatic’, but I don’t know if that is helpful…

SC: What motivates you to compose?

NL: I always want to… it is what I like doing best, even though it can be maddening, elusive..and always hard work. But always worth it.

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

NL: I probably have most in common with the New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead; not least, we share an addiction to composing opera. But as to British living composers, I still admire Birtwistle very much and there are a number of younger composers whose music I like, and try and keep up with.

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

NL: Holst, because my father said talking to Holst made you feel more alive.

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

NL: Living composers is too difficult to choose, though that’s what I listen to most..
For composers from the past, the list might change a bit day to day, but right now, it is:
Bach – Goldberg Variations; Mozart – The Marriage of Figaro; Beethoven - Csharp minor string quartet op131; Schubert – Quintet in C for strings; Schumann  - Dichterliebe (or Liederkreis!); Janacek – Katya Kabanova; Stravinsky – Petrushka; Maconchy – The Land , suite for orchestra.
Stravinsky – Petrushka is the one.

SC: …and a book?

NL: Thackeray, Vanity Fair

SC: …a film?

NL: a Buster Keaton  - could be ‘The General’ but I do love ‘Neighbours’.

SC: … and a luxury item?

NL: Black chocolates