classikON talked to him about composing.
Something I’ve noticed is the topic of classical music being ‘accessible’. Is that something you think about?
I approach my music as an artist when I’m writing it but I approach the exploitation of my music as a business. I write music for the spine tingling moments, now whether you’re taken to a very dark place or a very elating place, depends on the mood I’m in. Is it achieving what it’s trying to achieve? Is it communicating what I’m trying to communicate?
I’m writing a piece about being 27 years old, which I just did for the Goldner Quartet. Not everyone is going to understand that, it’s my experience of being 27 and very different to everyone else’s.
What tingling moments are you trying to get out about being 27?
Definitely how seemingly difficult it is, but at the end of the day really isn’t, it is just the beginning. At the beginning of 27 I had a nervous breakdown because I was so busy: running a festival, another company, being on the board of another company, plus a composition career. I couldn’t move for 2 weeks. That was a very dark place and that is emulated in the music itself, but now I’m coping very well with the very high workload and it is higher than when I was first 27. The juggling act has become much easier as I’ve learnt how to deal with high stress levels and high activity.
When Maria Grenfell was talking about her composition development for a recent premier she said that she walks next to the composition laid out on the ground and sings it in her mind. What is your process?
At first I start with a story, describing in words the content of the piece and where I want it to go, even details like structure, I put it into words first. Then I draw a pretty picture, like a plan or a skeletal blueprint. Then I hand write sections for the entire piece, and then only when I finish that I’ll stick it on a computer.
Not every composer approaches composition that way, some people can actually start writing and go right through without doing a visual plan first. I approach composition like I approach business planning; vision, mission, values, KPIs and milestones. I have milestones in compositions.
How is it different conducting your own work versus someone else’s work? Do you find you get more upset if a musician doesn’t interpret it how you want them to?
Actually I’m more blasé about my own work than others. If I’m conducting my own work, I know that my intention is usually the gestural content rather than anything else. If they play a note wrong it is usually ok, unless it is a crucial note. Whereas if I hear a mistake when conducting other people’s works I pull the ensemble up.
Chronology Arts is currently running a Pozible campaign to create a new way for composers to be funded that is crowdsourced and tax deductible. Supporting the campaign will help composers to grow their careers and ensure new music is created.