Thursday 17 December 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Andrew Baldwin

(c) John Dutch
Full Name: Andrew Baldwin
Age: 29

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?
I was born and educated in Dunedin, New Zealand, and have been living in London for the most part of four years (having studied here for two years). Whether or not where I’m from has a bearing on my music – I’m not sure! Possibly. I have certainly in some recent works been using cultural references to home but it varies from piece to piece.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

My aim for OPUS2016 is to make the most of the opportunity to work with professional musicians and revisit what I have learnt about instrumental techniques in the past, and I am excited to be given the opportunity to write for piano trio as I had planned in the future to write one!

The initial approach to my piece will include a lot of planning as I would quite like it to be a substantial work and know in which direction the piece is heading. Certainly this is important when for the January workshop we present the beginnings of the work as this will help in knowing the trajectory in which it is likely to take when I finish developing the work in the future.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

I have had pieces workshopped and recorded by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances by the Auckland Philharmonia and Southern Sinfonia. During my studies at the Royal College of Music I composed music for a new collaborative project with English National Ballet. Recently I was commissioned by the London Mozart Players and the Choir of Portsmouth Grammar School and the resulting work was performed at a concert commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. I write for choirs regularly also and this has been a big focus over the last few years, though I am now looking more towards a balance of choral and instrumental/orchestral.

When did you first start to write music?

My first compositions came about through piano lessons at age 10. My piano teacher suggested I write a short piano piece for a local composition competition and the resulting piece was awarded a prize. I was so delighted that I started writing for fun and it very rapidly became a huge passion of mine. I would come home after school and spend hours working on new pieces, often until the wee small hours – and being very tired for school the next day!

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

I started seriously focusing on composition at secondary school mentored by my Head of Music, an amazing teacher who had been at the school for thirty years and was a towering figure within the music scene in my city. He encouraged me to listen, helped me with techniques and put me off to a good start. The next major step was beginning my undergraduate degree at the New Zealand School of Music as it was my first formal training in composition. I loved all the classes that went with it as it was my first introduction to harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration.

My compositional style has taken a while to focus, and though it is still not entirely focused yet I have much to thank my teachers at the RCM for – it was during my Masters years (2011-13) that things began to slot into place for me as a composer. Looking at that time and remembering what I learnt there retrospectively has really helped me to move forward as a composer.

How do you start a new work/ what is your composing method?

When I began composing I almost entirely composed on the computer. This is because I was bought Sibelius for my birthday when I started school and it seemed so natural to use it. As my ideas became more complex and I started to plan and structure my compositions more, I found the need to adapt this method to include a mix of different methods. Currently, I do a lot of planning and writing on manuscript paper and much less on computer than I used to as I find it gives me more freedom. 

The last concert you saw?

The last performance I saw (that counts, doesn’t it?!) was the production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at the Royal Opera House. I thought it was one of the best things I’ve seen at the ROH and I think it’s a very clever opera, particularly the first act which is a whirlwind of music and ideas.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

In typical composer fashion I like really geeky things like harmony and counterpoint exercises. A recent project which was a lot of fun was transcribing a mid 20th century choral work of which the score was lost. I was armed with the original LP recording and the first page of the choral score, and writing out the whole work. It has made me realise I’m a bit strange as this undertaking sounds like most musicians’ worst nightmares but to me was a great and enjoyable challenge!

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

I have been very fortunate to do my undergraduate degree in New Zealand where there are endless opportunities for workshops and recording sessions – it is wonderful as it allows young composers to really make a head start and build up a portfolio of music which they can then use to apply for courses, commissions and funding. I do not have as much experience of composer opportunities in the UK but what I do understand is that there are some fantastic schemes here for composers but with so many applying it makes the chances of being successful rather slim – hence I am delighted that I was chosen along with my fellow composer colleagues!

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Write without restriction, listen to feedback but don’t let what you do be ruled by it.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I would like to do some further study and base myself in Europe for a while. Eventually I see myself working as a composer in New Zealand but before I do that I would like to spend a good amount of time soaking up the vast opportunities in this part of the world.

You can join Andrew and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

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