Wednesday 3 June 2015

Edward Nesbit on compostion

Edward Nesbit won Britten Sinfonia's OPUS2015 competition for unpublished composers. His new Horn Trio, Lifesize Gods, commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Wigmore Hall, as a result of winning OPUS2015 will be premiered during the At Lunch 1 tour on Friday 27 November in Norwich with further performances in Cambridge (1 Dec) and at London's Wigmore Hall (2 Dec). In this blog post Edward answers a few questions about his work and life.

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
I like music.

What do you like most about composing?
The excitement of it: to get to the end of a day’s work and think ‘that passage of music didn’t exist this morning’ is a real thrill. Especially when things are going quickly, and I am pleased with and even surprised by what I am writing, this feeling can be one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.

How do you start a new work?
This varies hugely from piece to piece.

Occasionally I know what the title of a piece will be before I start writing, and this can help to clarify my ideas hugely. I have, for example, recently been working on a piece called Like Some Forgotten Music, which is a quotation from Anne Enright’s novel The Forgotten Waltz. It is a phrase I find extremely evocative, and that has shaped the rather archaic sound-world of the piece.

Sometimes I sit down to start a piece with no pre-conceptions at all, and I just see what happens. Sometimes this leads to disaster and I have to scrap what I have written and start again multiple times; sometimes, however, this approach can lead to the most interesting results, and I produce work which I could never have imagined in the abstract.

Before I started Lifesize Gods, my horn trio for Britten Sinfonia, I knew that everything I wrote would be repeated – literally every phrase has repeat marks around it. This semi-arbitrary restriction has far-reaching implications for the syntax and structure of the piece: nothing can ever be a surprise, for example, as the second time that material appears it would cease to be surprising. I quite commonly employ this kind of procedure to help get me started with a piece, and to help me push my imagination in new directions.

Sharps or flats?
Actually, I’m pretty keen on white notes.

Tea or coffee?
Strong black coffee. A lot of it.

What and/or who inspires you?
It’s always listening to music for me. Composing is a very abstract and cerebral activity – after all, you don’t actually hear a note of what you’ve written until after you’ve finished the piece! This is a very odd situation in some ways, I find that the extreme disconnect between what I spend my days doing and what I am ultimately trying to achieve can occasionally be disheartening. In this situation, listening to music I love – above all, Sibelius – reminds me what is possible for music to do, and that all the hours of hard work are worth it.

What’s your advice for budding composers, or anyone considering entering OPUS2016?
Work tirelessly at honing your craft – and I use the word ‘craft’ deliberately – and never be satisfied with what you have written.

What would you like to be recognised for?

Although, of course, having a ‘big’ career would be nice, I’m really not driven by recognition at all, and it is the profound satisfaction of being proud of a piece of music I have written which drives me. Having said that, I do hope that I have something individual to say musically, and I would like that to be shared with as many people as possible.

Any embarrassing music-related moments?
No comment! I do, however, have an irrational fear of misreading the details of the ensemble for which I’ve been asked to write and submitting a piece written for the wrong instruments. That would be pretty embarrassing…

The last concert you saw?
Carolin Widmann giving the world premiere of Julian Anderson’s poem for violin and orchestra In Liebliche Bläue with the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall. An amazing piece and performance!

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?

Schnee by Hans Abrahamsen.

If you hadn’t been a musician…?
I’d love to have been a novelist. I love composing due to the joy I feel at creating things, and I’m pretty sure that writing novels would give me the same satisfaction – although I’m less sure that anyone would want to read my books!

The best gift you’ve received?
I love being given books across which I haven’t come before, and being directed towards reading material which it wouldn’t have occurred to me to read.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
As a composer who is interested in literature, my biggest dream is to write opera. I always have ideas for operas floating around in my head, and I hope to have the chance to write one as soon as possible!

You can help support the development of Edward Nesbit's new work, Lifesize Gods, through Britten Sinfonia's Musically Gifted campaign. Click here for more details.

For full details of the world premiere tour of Edward's Horn Trio click here.

Are you an unpublished composer living in the UK? Why not apply for OPUS2016? Click here for full details.