Thursday 6 November 2014

Joey Roukens on composition

Composer Joey Roukens is writing a new work for Britten Sinfonia, which will be premiered on Wednesday 4 March 2015 in London's Wigmore Hall followed by performances in Cambridge and Norwich as part of our At Lunch 4 programme. Joey is one of the composers you can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. Find out more about Joey in this blog post as he answers questions about himself and his music...

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
I'm a composer with an eclectic (yet hopefully distinctive) musical language embracing the great diversity of styles and genres that make up our current musical age.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Probably listening to my father’s vinyl records: mostly crooners, country and folk music. But I also remember a record of songs played by a Dutch street organist, which I was very fond of.

What do you like most about composing?
What I like most is when you stumble upon an idea that seems brilliant and you think this is going to be the masterpiece you’ve always wanted to write… only to realize the next day that the idea is not that brilliant after all and the piece you’re working on is definitely not going to be a masterpiece. For the most part, it’s not fun to compose: it’s an agony – 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration!

What inspires you?
Anything can be a source of inspiration – a good movie, a museum, a night club, etc. But what inspires me most is other music. When I hear music that really moves or excites me I get inspired to write my own.

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
With each piece, I go through a stage of writers’ block, sometimes it lasts only a day, other times it can last many weeks or even months. Frustratingly, there’s not much you can do about it; it’s part of the creative process. What works best for me is to just accept it and take a break.

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
In these times of arts cuts it is very important that projects such as Musically Gifted exist to make alternative financing of new music commissions possible. Musically Gifted is a wonderful initiative I can only applaud. New music that’s being written today must be performed today, for it has something to communicate to the audience of today.

What would you like to be recognised for?
Frankly, I don’t care. I just write the music I want to write and as long as there are listeners out there who think my music is worthwhile, I am happy.

What advice would you give to other composers?
I don’t think I’m in the position to advise other composers, but if I had to advise younger, aspiring composers, I’d say: Be open to the whole gamut of styles, genres and sources that the current musical culture has to offer. Embrace everything, question everything and write only what you want to write, even if you think you shouldn’t write it.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I’ve got plenty: the lush film scores of John Williams and Morricone, Strauss waltzes, Bacharach songs, new agey ambient music, at times I can even enjoy a bit of Einaudi.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
That could be anything from Renaissance vocal music to the new Aphex Twin album.
Favourite five tracks of all time?
That’s difficult to say because I have so many favourites, plus, they change all the time. So let me just give you my favourite composers. As of now, they are (in no particular order): Bach, Mahler, Mozart, Sibelius, Stravinsky.

The last concert you saw?
A concert with orchestral works by Dutch composers, including a piece by me, about a month ago.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?
Either I would have become a researcher in cognitive psychology (in fact, I studied psychology at university, as well as music composition), or I would have ended up a tramp.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
The violin. Because of the enormous emotional range it is capable of expressing.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
No, enough said, just listen to my music!

Joey's new work will be premiered in March 2014 as part of our At Lunch 4 programme, which also features works by Lou Harrison and Shostakovich.

You can find out more about Joey's music by listening to some tracks on his website.

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