LSO Futures: two composers give us their thoughts

By | April 10, 2013 at 7:07 pm | No comments | Artist Interviews, Behind the Scenes | Tags: , ,

This week, as we celebrate the world of new music with our mini-festival LSO Futures, we’re giving you the chance to get to know some of the emerging composers at the cutting edge of music right now. For today’s blog, we’ve given two previous participants of the LSO’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, Raymond Yiu and Elizabeth Winters, a grilling. Both composers have contributed variations to the new work Panufnik Variations (based on a theme from Andrzej Panufnik’s Universal Prayer), which will be premiered at the Barbican on 13 April, so we’ve asked them about how they found they project and their experiences of working with the LSO.


Raymond YiuRaymond Yiu
Image © Malcolm Crowthers

When did you start composing?
I tried to write down my piano improvisations when I was a teenager, but never got very far. I really started composing when I was studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College in the mid-1990s, but without really knowing what I was doing, and I was very isolated musically as I did not know any player or composer. On the brink of giving up, I met Lukas Foss, who, after seeing my petty attempts in writing a string quartet, said that I must carry on (possibly out of pity). So I did.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your influences and inspirations?

As I grew up in Hong Kong, Cantopop and old 1930s Chinese pop songs (a.k.a. shidai qu) were my first musical memories; they still play a big part in my life. I came to know and appreciate Western arts music much later, but there are composers whose music I cannot live without – Mozart, Chopin, Domenico Scarlatti, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Nielsen, Sibelius, Elgar, Walton, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Dutilleux, Berio, Ligeti, Julian Anderson and most of all, my mentor, the German-born American composer Lukas Foss.

What did you enjoy most about being part of the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, and how has the experience affected your music and career since?
After I completed my first stage work The Original Chinese Conjuror in 2006, I reached a creative dead end and did not write a single note for two years. At that time, I thought I would not write again.

In 2008, I was encouraged by friends, including Julian Anderson (who wrote the reference letter for my application) to apply for the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme. To my surprise, I got a place. The 12 months that followed were a big turning point for me – other than working with one of the best (and friendliest) orchestras in the world, I regained enough confidence as a composer to eventually give up my day job in IT and started a full-time doctorate in composition at Guildhall School. The things I learnt about writing for orchestra through the scheme served me very well when I came to work on my next orchestral piece, The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured.

Last but not least, I got commissioned by LSO to write a piece for Lang Lang and the Silk String Quartet in 2009, and I even got to conduct the first performance!

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of contributing to the new commission Panufnik Variations? How did you approach writing your variation?
As soon as I saw the theme by Panufnik given to us, I recognised it as a palindrome right away. I was drawn to the second part of the theme, containing a perfect fourth rise, which reminded me of the striking Vision I from Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra (1963). Therefore, I went along with the idea of composing a variation based on a theme from Universal Prayer, with the memories of Sinfonia Sacra attempting to sneak in every now and then.

As I started working on the piece, I learnt the sad new of LSO Principle Oboe Kieron Moore’s (1963–2012) death. Therefore, in the middle of my Allegro Giocoso variation, the first oboe takes the centre stage and sings.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently writing a work for brass band, and planning my next opera.

 

Elizabeth WintersElizabeth Winters

When did you start composing?
That’s a hard one!  The first piece I remember writing was when I was about seven or eight years old, but the earliest piece which is out there being performed is the Recorder Sonatina (2004).  I certainly wouldn’t want to look back any earlier than that!

Could you tell us a bit about your influences and inspirations?
My influences vary from piece to piece, so it’s quite hard to generalise.  They usually stem from the composition brief in some way.  However, I would say that I have more extra-musical influences on my music than musical ones.

What did you enjoy most about being part of the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, and how has the experience affected your music and career since?
As working as a composer can be quite isolating, I very much enjoyed the chance to meet some other composers.  There are a large number of composers involved in the Panufnik Scheme in some way, so even though I knew quite a few people already I made some new contacts through the scheme, which was great.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of contributing to the new commission Panufnik Variations? How did you approach writing your variation?
I think I began by doing the obvious, which was listening to the original piece by Panufnik.  I then took three elements from the piece, which I incorporated into my variation in some way:  symmetry, repeated notes and flourishes of harmony/colour.  I tried to take a linear approach; my variation is quite sparsely scored but I aimed to create a variety of instrumental colour.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Actually, I’m having a break from composition right now as I’m completing a PGCE.  I hope to be fully qualified as a primary school teacher by July and so will hopefully be out there teaching full time from September!

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