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 über 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)

Monday, 27 March 2017

Composer of the month: Joe Cutler

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

Joe Cutler: I grew up in Neasden (London Borough of Brent) in a family that was interested in music but not professionally (although I have a cousin who is an avant-rock drummer). I grew up playing a wide range of music from playing in orchestras to funk bands and went to Huddersfield Polytechnic really because I wanted to compose. That’s really where it all began. From there I did a post-grad in Durham and then spent three years in Warsaw studying at the Chopin Academy of Music on a Polish Government Scholarship. Since then I’ve lived in London and Birmingham (and in between) and also work a lot in Holland.

SC: Can you describe Gaia to us?

JC: It’s a very earthy piece in which I try to imagine an archaic, imaginary folk-music. There are a lot of open strings and double-stops, and the structure is rather like a big arch.

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

JC: I tend to have two procedures going on at once. On one hand, I try to conceptualise the piece and get a sense of the structure, intentions, and what I’m trying to communicate (this can take some time....). But then there’s also quite a chaotic, improvisatory side to writing a piece where I play around on the piano, or violin, or with visual material, trying to generate ideas without really knowing where I’m going. Gradually, these two procedures begin to coalesce. 

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

JC: Over the years, I have tended to work with a number of different groups or performers on a regular basis so I then get to really know their sound and personality. I do like this way of working, although it’s exciting too to work with someone new too. I like to be able to imagine the way a piece will “feel” and sound and that is tied quite closely to who will be performing. 

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

JC: I think it changes from piece to piece, but I’m not looking for clean, glistening soundworlds. I am much more interested in something more raw than that. Imperfection is much more interesting than perfection.

SC: What motivates you to compose?

JC: Having fun/trying to communicate something/making things

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

JC: Louis Andriessen and the second generation Dutch post-minimalists have been important for me (Martijn Padding, Cornelis de Bondt, Yannis Kyriakides). Frederic Rzewski too. And my colleagues in Birmingham like Michael Wolters, Howard Skempton, Errollyn Wallen, Ed Bennett, Andrew Hamilton, Sean Clancy and Richard Ayres.

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

JC: Well Mozart I think would be fun, but I’d love to go for a Chinese with Morton Feldman, and I almost met John Cage in Huddersfield but was too shy to talk to him, so I’d like to put that right.

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

JC:
Richard Ayres - In the Alps
Morton Feldman - Coptic Light
Howard Skempton - The Moon is Flashing
Finn Peters - Butterflies
Joni Mitchell - Don’t interrupt the sorrow
Couperin - Les barricades mysterieuses
Paul Brady - Arthur McBride
The Divine Comedy - Our Mutual Friend
If I could select just one, it would be the Couperin, as that was the piece playing whilst our son, Arthur, was being born last year.
  
SC: …and a book?

JC:  One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell

SC: …a film?

JC: Can it be TV? The six series of Breaking Bad

SC: … and a luxury item?


JC: I like playing table tennis so a table and a table tennis robot (they do exist) which hits balls at you (you can control the type of spin on the ball too).

Friday, 10 February 2017

Composer of the Month: Thomas Simaku


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

Thomas Simaku:  I began my composition studies at the Albanian State Conservatoire in Tirana (now the University of Arts), and when I graduated in 1982, I was sent to work as Music Director in Përmet – a remote little town in Southern Albania right at the border with Greece. There wasn’t much of a classical music scene there, to put it mildly; so this came as a ‘bombshell’ to me, for it felt like a ‘dead-end’ at the beginning of my career. But there was no point in arguing about it (!), so I took with me some cassettes and off I went where my fatherland needed me. I had Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and his Divertimento for Strings, and Prokofiev’s Sonata for violin & piano in F-minor, and his Symphony No 5 with me. Both were in the so-called ‘approved list’ of 20th century composers; well, Prokofiev, just about – he died the same day as Stalin, on 5th March 1953. Anyone else who survived Stalin was not acceptable! A ‘campaign’ by senior musicians in the capital, who argued that I belonged to the ‘national team’, as they put it (officials were particularly fond of football), was successful, and I was allowed to return to Tirana after three years.
In Përmet I met some wonderful people, and the folk music there is unique and beautiful, and there was plenty of it! The first-hand experience I had working with some amazing folk musicians was to have an effect in my compositions to this day, and aspects of that idiom, especially the heterophonic singing and instrumental virtuosity, was to become part of my own music. 

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

TS: Yes, I like to feel the sounds and play them on the piano before I write the notes down, but for me the most important aspect of composition is finding the right idea for the right piece! So the moment you chose a chord or a succession of notes, a process of ‘elimination’ has already happened at a subconscious level.
I do indeed do some planning, especially at macro-structural level – the architectural aspect of composition is important to me. But I consider this pre-compositional work as a ‘musical map’, as it were, which allows me to freely navigate! To put it differently, I cherish the fact of ‘discovering’ the new piece by composing it!

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

TS: I have written pieces for the so-called ‘ideal’ performer, such as Soliloquy I for Violin - a challenging piece, at that. I submitted it to the international jury of the ISCM festival in 2000, which that year took place in Luxembourg. The piece was premiered by Vania Lecuit who, to my astonishment, performed it from memory! This was a stimulating experience, and I went on to compose more solo works for various instruments within the Soliloquy Cycle. There are six of them now, and there is more to come!
But I’ve also been lucky to have had the opportunity to write for, and work with, some amazing musicians, such as Diotima Quartet (for whom I wrote my 4th and 5th quartets, which they premiered at Huddersfield Festival in 2011 and 2015 respectively), Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Rohan de Saram, Neil Hyde, and some wonderful artists of the younger generation, such as Joseph Houston, Sarah Whatts Roderick Chadwick and Chris Orton.
I can tell you that without Chris Orton’s encouragement, I would not have written the piece Soliloquy V – Flauto Acerbo, which went on to receive the BASCA Award in 2009. When Chris asked me compose a piece for him, I said ‘I will do it only if you can teach me about the recorder’; and I thought he would take that as a ‘No’! But he took it as a ‘Yes’, and came to York with a bag full of recorders and showed me what he could do – I was amazed by what I heard; hence I wrote the piece for him – how couldn’t I.

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

TS: This is a difficult one! I certainly don’t like my music to be pigeon-holed (and it would be difficult to find a box for it), but I’ve always tried to say something personal with my sounds expressed in a language that is in tune with our time.

SC: What motivates you to compose?

TS: I compose because I can’t do without.

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

TS: This is a good question: we all try to write the music that we want to hear; I certainly do, and write what I hear, but there are certain ‘affinities’ and ‘propensities’, sonic or otherwise, that cannot be ‘ignored’. Kurtag, for example, is a composer who has been an inspiration to me. And I’ve met Kurtag, twice, in Essen at the 1995 ISCM Festival, where his magnificent orchestral piece Stelle was performed, and at Huddersfield festival. So gentle and you could even say, a bit ‘shy’, but these are not the words you would use when describing his music! I also greatly admire Birtwistle’s music; when I first heard his orchestral piece Earth Dances I nearly fell off my chair.

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

TS: There are a number of composers from the past, remote and recent, that I would like to say cheers to; but if it had to be just one, then Ligeti would be the one! There is something special and moving about his music, which I feel I understand, for it speaks to me!

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


TS: In alphabetical order, they would look like this:
Bartok: Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta,
Beethoven: Symphony No 7 and String Quartet Op 131 in C-sharp minor
Berg: Lyric Suite
Mahler: Symphony No 2
Mozart Clarinet Quintet
Ligeti: Lontano
Verdi: Requiem
If I had to choose just one, it’s Beethoven’s String Quartet Op 131 in C-sharp minor.

SC: …and a film?

TS: it will have to be a comedy that will make me laugh!

SC: …and a book?

TS: I grew up with Ismail Kadare’s books, the Albanian writer now living in Paris, and I would go for his novel The Palace of Dreams – his cool expression is indeed powerful.

SC: … and a luxury item?


TS: Can I be a bit ‘nostalgic’? A cup of tea from the Albanian mountains would do for me; it’s called ‘Mountain Tea’.