Monday, 18 September 2017

Composer of the month: Errollyn Wallen

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

Errollyn Wallen: I was born in Belize a came to England when I was two. I grew up in London and was educated in Tottenham, London, before going to a boarding school in Sussex.  I studied dance seriously and spent some time at the Dance Theater of Harlem before going to Goldsmiths’ to read music. I did a Masters in Composition at King’s College, London and an M. Phil at King’s College, Cambridge. Before becoming a full-time composer I worked as a keyboard player with various bands, ran my own recording studio and was tap dancing musical hostess/composer on a tv game show including Anthony H Wilson and Caroline Aherne.

SC: Can you describe your new work to us?

EW: The Negro Speaks of Rivers is a setting of Langston Hughes’ poem of that name. I remember that starting The Negro Speaks of Rivers came easily, as the vivid imagery of the poem is so inspiring. I have drawn on a variety of techniques and textures, all imbued with the language of the blues. I was guided by the knowledge that Langston Hughes’ own work was imbued with folk and jazz rhythms.

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

EW: I work in a variety of ways. Some works start at the piano and some start away from it. I am always thinking about music so pre-planning and problem solving are going on all the time in my subconscious. I always use the piano to check every note; for me, every note in a work has to earn its place.

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

EW: It is very important to know who I am composing for so that I have their sound in my mind. Atmosphere in music can be created in many ways and the sound of voices are uniquely expressive. It was most important for me to hear The Ebor Singers before I composed The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

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

EW: I am not very good at describing my music but the attitude behind it is that I want the listener to feel what I feel and to hear what I hear and to come along on a marvellous adventure with me.

SC: What motivates you to compose?

EW: Composing is and has always been part of my physiology. As a little girl I composed before I knew what composing was. Composing is my default mode.

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

EW: This is a very rich time in composing with composers working in a multitude of ways. There is a greater sense of freedom than when I was studying — which is healthy and to be encouraged.
I am great friends and admirers of Joe Cutler, Andrew Poppy, Jonathan Cole and  Charles Amirkhanian. Through Charles I met Alvin Lucier and Pauline Oliveros who have utterly original ways of looking at the world. I miss Pauline — she died last year.

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

EW: I would love to have a whiskey with Stravinsky! Evidently he said, “My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.” I would like to talk with Stravinsky about life. He was such a hustler.

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

EW: Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, 48 Preludes and Fugues (which I play at the piano most days), Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Ella Fitzgerald singing anything, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Ravel’s String Quartet, Puccini’s Tosca, Earth Wind and Fire’s rendition of Gotta Get You Into my Life. I will never ever get bored of the 48, so that has to be my ultimate selection.

SC: …and a book?

EW: That is almost too tough. However, I would like to take the time to re-read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Latin and English.

SC: …a film?

EW: Am I allowed the boxed set of The Sopranos..? A TV series that is truly Shakespearian in its scope.

SC: … and a luxury item?


EW: A Steinway grand piano, Model D.

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.

SC:
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

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Composer of the Month: Christopher Fox



Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background?
Christopher Fox: I was born in York, just off Holgate Hill, but the time I wrote these songs I was living in Berlin.

SC: Can you describe A-N-N-A Blossom Time to us?
CF: It’s a set of nine songs to poems by the German artist Kurt Schwitters. I translated the poems into English, sometimes quite freely.

SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
CF: With these songs I remember choosing the poems I liked the most, favouring the ones which seemed to tell stories or were love songs. I had worked out some years earlier, from a long study of Schubert’s songs, that the best way to write songs was to start with the accompaniment – that’s what gives each song its character.

SC:
Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
CF: Always, and especially with singers. I wrote A-N-N-A Blossom Time for Amanda Crawley whose voice I had first heard in 1974. By the time I wrote these songs we had been married for nearly ten years, so I knew her voice very well. The piano part was written around my own rather less developed technique.

SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
CF: I don’t think I can because I’ve never tried to cultivate one.

SC: What motivates you to compose?
CF: I want to change the world, just a bit.

SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
CF: Many – but of younger composers I really admire Cassandra Miller, Egidija Medeksaite, Linda Buckley, Georgia Rodgers, Juliana Hodkinson.

SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
CF: Stravinsky. My musical hero.

SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
CF: Cage, String Quartet in Four Parts; The Slits, ‘In the beginning was rhythm’; Joni Mitchell, ‘A case of you’; Handel, Semele; Tallis, Lamentations; Stravinsky, Apollo; Mozart, Serenade in B flat for thirteen instruments; Scelsi, Kya. I’d pick the Handel because it’s the one I can remember least well.

SC: …and a book?
CF: Emma.

SC: …a film?
CF: Himmel ├╝ber Berlin

SC: … and a luxury item?
CF: A cricket ball.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Composer of the month: Philip Cashian

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

Philip Cashian: Born Manchester, 17/01/1963 but have lived in London since 1984.

SC: Can you describe Mechanik to us?

PC: It’s very brief and is inspired by Eduardo Paolozzi’s sculpture Mechanik’s Bench, rhythmic, repetitive, mechanical.

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

PC: I always start at the piano. Eventually I’ll also use the computer. I used to plan pieces but not anymore; I start at the beginning and through compose now.

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

PC: It really helps and most of the time I’m commissioned by people I’ve worked with before or who I’ve heard perform which is always a starting point when writing. Not vital though.

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

PC: That’s the listener’s job. We all hear things differently depending on what music we already know and context. It’s dangerous for a composer to describe their own music as it might suggest to the listener how to listen to it or what to listen out for which isn’t a good.

SC: What motivates you to compose?

PC: Excitement.

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

PC: Harrison Birtwistle, Hans Abrahamsen, Andrew Norman, Radiohead, Oliver Knussen, Tom Waits, Pascal Dusapin.

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

PC: Stravinsky, obviously

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

PC: Goldberg Variations, Sibelius Symphony 5, Beethoven Symphony 7, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Silbury Air, Gruppen, Broadway the Hardway (album), Schubert ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet.
And one would be the Goldberg Variations.

SC: …and a book?

PC:  East of Eden

SC: …a film?
PC:  Seven Psycopaths

SC: … and a luxury item?

PC: iPhone 7

Friday, 19 May 2017

Composer of the Month: Chris Gander




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

Chris Gander: I have lived in India and Iran where I studied the music of these cultures. I learned to play tabla and Dombak. I also studied Yoga and Indian philosophy. On returning I studied combining Indian music with Western compositional techniques, with the Indian Composer John Mayer. Also I studied western music at the University of Sussex and North Indian Music at SOAS The University of London.

SC: Can you describe Son et Lumiere  to us?

CG: Son et Lumiere in many ways follows on from this as it presents musically and visually how we and the environment that surrounds us is united through, sound light emotions ,the seasons times of day the chakras etc. Often using the parameters above to describe this. The French title also tries to evoke the universality of the work, unity in a world and country that can seems divided. At the end of the day we cannot escape the fact that the universe is in balance and that we are part of that balance.

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

CG: I assimilate all the practical elements of the work. Length, instrumentation, where it is to be performed. Who is playing it. This swirls around in my brain (mind) for a while. Then I start at the beginning  and finish at the end. There are of course some edits and adjustments. I never write sketches. The piece just forms in my head and I write it down. I don’t write at the piano but I do use a computer.

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

CG: I can’t imagine writing not knowing the performers. I am lucky I have always written for people I know.

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

CG: Well yes, as described above, it has always been a meeting point of different cultures, this I take great care to make as convincing as possible. Hence the reason for emerging myself in the cultures that meet (including our own).

SC: What motivates you to compose?

CG: Multiculturalism.

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

CG: John Mayer, has always been my great inspiration, it was an honour to study with him. Also not the sound world but the commitment of Michael Finnissy. I was also greatly influenced by the sitar player Dharambir Singh, who I also studied with.

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

CG: Who wouldn’t want a chat with Bach, probably the beer would be with Beethoven.
Bach because he said it all, we just follow in his light. Beethoven because we do need Ode to Joy right now.

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

CG: Imagine - John Lennon, My Sweet Lord - George Harrison, Like a Rolling Stone  -Bob Dylan, G’imme Shelter - The Rolling Stones. Bach -  Chaconne, Beethoven - Late String Quartets, Sibelius - Violin Concerto, John Adams - Violin Concerto.

My Sweet Lord - George Harrison.

SC: …and a book?

CG: The Ragas of North India by Walter Kaufman

SC: …a film?

CG: Amelie

SC: … and a luxury item?

CG: Bottle of Bourdeaux (French Red)