|MEET THE ARTIST QUESTIONNAIRE
Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I have never pursued a career in music, it ended up like this. Ok, let me tell you backwards. All I wanted in my life was to compose my own music, whatever it may be to other people. The end result of my compositions are often categorised as “contemporary classical music” (which was also not my choice; I thought of my music is as easy listening top of the chart pop music, but I guess a lot of people don’t feel that way, sadly), and I always want to compose.
Like a lot of people, one needs to earn money to live, as I am from normal working class family; in other words, if I breathe, I need to earn (like everyone else, I guess), and I don’t want to spend time doing things other than composing. So naturally I had to think how can I compose music so that I can also eat. Then it became profession.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would be doing the same thing, composing-wise. My life hasn’t really changed since I was an 8 year old composing every day. I guess I don’t have to go to school as I am 37, so I can spend more time composing, not just after school hours and weekends.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
If I can speak about inspiration (before I get to the influence), I think I would say everyday life. I really think the inspirations are everywhere. Most significantly, by watching my wife being pregnant, going through each day until the birth, then my daughter growing and changing every day (she is now 3). The one and only good thing about being a composer is that you get to stay home and work, so you will not miss any of these magical times. I have written many works inspired by the specific parts of these situations, from early pregnancy to 2-day-old baby, movement of 2 week old cheeks, learning to walk, etc etc. All separate works.
Now, speaking of influences, I will mention these 4 people: Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian.
I am incredibly lucky, not just to know these people, or just shake hands once, but to actually work with these people, whom I grew up listening to when I was early teens. Sakamoto and Sylvian were my everyday play list, and Boulez and Eötvös were my everyday play list from when I was at music college student to today.
To be honest, I feel I’ve met everyone (my heroes) I wanted to meet in my life; everyone else, however many “famous” people are standing there in front of me now, I wouldn’t feel star struck.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Hmmmm, maybe writing my first opera SOLARIS.
It’s 90min, music for 5 singers, ensemble and live-processing electronics (I worked for months in IRCAM).
I must say I was a little worried before I started working on this opera, how would I feel about writing an opera. But from bar 1, until the final bar, I felt great. I have never had such a wonderful experience writing it, making drama, telling the story, controlling the pace, mood, atmosphere of the drama. At no point did I feel “I didn’t know what to do next” while composing SOLARIS.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Not every commission, but some commissions come with some “request”. I quite like this.
For instance, I wrote a piece for Lucerne Festival, which was for anniversary of the oldest and biggest insurance company, Swiss RE. They requested me to write music about “risk management”, a term which I had not even heard of until then. Soon I found out one of my close friend’s partner whom I knew for years, is a professional Risk Manager! I knew that he wears a suit every day to go to work, unlike floating around everyday like a jobless person like me. So it was fascinating for me to study this totally unknown area.
Another was the anniversary for Kierkegaard. I knew the name, but never really knew about him. It was a great excuse to study and research him.
So it is not a challenge, it is an excuse for me to know more, a good reason to do research.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I wouldn’t say “challenges”, but I always think about the musicians who will perform (for the first time) the work I am writing. It may be hard to believe for some, but I really do. If it is an orchestra then I think about the conductor (especially if I know the conductor very well); if it is a solo or concerto works, I would have lengthy face to face or skype sessions with the musicians I am writing for. It is so important that I have these musicians in mind when I am composing.
But it is strange, quite often I compose music like that, then they premiere the work, they say nice things, but they never play the work again. A few years later, someone totally different from whom I imagined when I was writing the piece contacts me and then plays the work obsessively many times, as if the work was written especially for him/her.
I can never really control this, it’s a chemistry, I think. But it is nice, for me to try to seek the “reason of the work’s birth”. Once he/she is born, they walk their own life….
Which works are you most proud of?
Can’t answer that….though my old works, I feel are quite distant, a bit like someone else’s compositions with lots of bits I feel comfortable with, or like or am familiar with. I feel more possessive about recent works.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
The four I mentioned above.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
“Daphnis and Chloe”, BBC Symphony Orchestra, at the Barbican, conducted by Pierre Boulez. It was amazing to me that I literary could hear every single note which was played, and the pacing of it, the piece started, and finished as if in 1 breath. Really clean, like the most smooth single malt whisky.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Why do you play these particular works in this exact time and for whom, and why those instruments. When I feel this clearly as an audience, I will most likely to like the concert.
OPTIONAL - Please select one or more from the following (these questions are borrowed from the Proust Questionnaire):
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to be writing larger scale works only, like operas. Hmmm….. maybe some little pieces in between for people I like.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Composing - and when my daughter is lying on me on the sofa, watching tv or reading books (preferably the latter).
Frances Wilson who blogs on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist") www.crosseyedpianist.com