Thursday, 15 March 2018

Composer of the Month: Angela Slater

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

Angela Slater: I grew up in a large village called Cotgrave in Nottinghamshire. Thinking back to my childhood I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t know about music. Even before I was at an age where I could have piano lessons I was always drawn to play on the piano and mess around, and probably disturb my brother’s practise. Later I would write little pastiche type pieces, which then transformed into pop-songs in my teenage years and then melded back to classical music, though now of a very different kind of course. I was always distracted through my childhood with the sounds of music and would more often than not end up not practising because I was found a strange chord by accident.

SC: Can you describe your new work to us?

AS: In my works I like to take inspiration from extra-musical materials and most often from the natural world. My piece Sun Catcher draws on both the imagery of a metal Sun Catcher and folklore around the sun. A Sun Catcher is a metal object that spins in the wind capturing the sunlight and creating colourful patterns. There are also many myths and folklore tales about how the sun was once captured, and either fixed in its proper sphere or else made to stand still in the sky. Other tales explore the idea of capturing the sun and bringing it down so darkness could prevail. So in my piece Sun Catcher I explore both themes, therefore essentially having two competing musical ideas occurring simultaneously in parts of the piece. The first is serene and expressive exploring shimmering light and colour. The second is a fast, undulating and increasingly agitated music as though the music itself is trying to capture the sun and drag it from the sky. This agitated music gradually infiltrates each instrument's line and captures the serene music from before, holding it hostage on a manic rampage and race to the end of the piece.

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

AS: It is really a combination of the two and very dependent on the piece. When I compose I find it extremely helpful to have a clear concept for the piece before I begin. I often find the title for the piece before I start as this can give me a lot of stimulus from which I can develop musical ideas and a framework. I often first sit down with a blank piece of paper to plan the structure of the piece. This can take the form of written words and timings, but more often then not there are shapes and sketches and notes to myself about instruments or timbre. As much as possible I like to feel a connection to the instruments for which I am writing and will try to compose ideas on the instrument as much as I can, even if I can hardly play the instrument at all. This allows me to feel how the fingers sit and how the sound really resonates.
            So with my piece Sun Catcher the musical material was created through a combination of me playing my flute, dabbling on clarinet and the rest at the piano.

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

AS: It’s certainly extremely useful to know the performers when writing. I certainly believe it can change the way you approach a piece when you know their style of playing and their personality as this of course alters the music you write as you compose with this in your mind’s ear. I hadn’t previously met the Atéa quintet before writing Sun Catcher for them, but before I began writing I did the next best thing and listened to the recordings of them playing on their website. This gave me some idea of their playing styles and personalities and will certainly have fed itself subconsciously into my composition process.

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

AS: My soundworld I feel can really shift from piece to piece, but I generally strive to be highly expressionistic and sometimes lyrical in my music.

SC: What motivates you to compose?

AS: Composing is something I have always felt a need to do. It is my internal desire to communicate and express something of myself and my impression of the world.

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

AS: Helen Grime, her music really speaks to me. I find her fluid gestural language and skill of orchestration to create changing timbral colours in her music fascinating.

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

AS: Messiaen, because I find the way he uses colour in his works and talks about colour and his music fascinating, so I would want to find out more!

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

AS: This is such a tricky one as I feel this could easily change from week to week! At the moment I would pick  
Helen Grime Into a Cold Spring
Stravinsky The Firebird
Kaija Saariaho – Orion for large orchestra
Thomas Adés – Concentric Paths – violin concerto
Judith Weir – Piano Trio Two
Elliot Carter – Triple duo
Amy Beach – Romance for violin and piano
Messiaen – Quartet for the end of time for string quartet
…and out of those I think I would have to pick the Firebird for its pure drama!

SC: …and a book?:

AS: Phillip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy

SC: …a film?

AS: I’m going to pick a TV series instead – Black Mirror

SC: … and a luxury item?

AS: My own piano to compose on