Tuesday 5 January 2016

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Andrew Thomas

(c) Liz Boyd
Full Name: Andrew Thomas
Age: 33

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I was born in Essex but have lived most of my life in Surrey. I don’t feel this has a direct impact on my music though - I would say I have a global outlook and field of aesthetic influence.

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

I’m going to write a piece that will exploit the skills of the players in the ensemble and develop some recent pre-occupations in my music and hopefully as a result find some new directions for me to go both in this piece and in the future.

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

London Sinfonietta, CHROMA, Orkest de Ereprijs, Schubert Ensemble, London Chamber Orchestra, Construction Site Ensemble, Kokoro amongst others.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

I used to love the song with the chorus ‘we didn’t start the fire’ (so much so that I broke my dads tape player from rewinding it so often) although I can’t remember who it’s by. My first ‘classical’ memories are singing as a treble in choirs and seeing the Lutoslawski cello concerto at the proms.

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

My lecturers as an undergraduate (Simon Emmerson and Dennis Smalley) were very influential in the exposure and insight to new music they offered, as well as the encouragement of my composition teacher Rhian Samuel and flute teacher at the GSMD, Katy Gainham, who encouraged my exploration of contemporary repertoire. I was also lucky enough to study with Jonathan Harvey whilst completing my masters which has had a lasting impact on my aesthetics and technique. In terms of my music I would say that a project I completed with the London Chamber Orchestra in 2012 was pivotal in the maturing of my voice and style which continues today.

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

I always start by imagining sound, then I try to notate it with pencil and paper. I then do a lot of pre-composition and analysis of the material I’m generating so I can start to structure the piece. Depending on the piece I then might use a computer to check complex rhythmic combinations or discuss things with a performer. I never use a computer to orchestrate and I’m a terrible pianist so work at the piano is only ever in the early stages.

What living person do you most admire, and why?

Apart from (obviously) my beautiful wife and two young children I am a big fan of Kaija Saariaho - her music is so original and she speaks and promotes contemporary music with real authenticity.

What instrument do you play?

I trained as a flautist and have been playing professionally for about 12 years. I also sing professionally as a bass in small ensembles and solo oratorio roles as well as conducting.

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

There are a lot of good, able, qualified composers applying for not many opportunities. Very few involve anything more than expenses so it is becoming more and more difficult to devote enough time to composing and earn a living. Luckily it’s something I’m passionate about so I find the time but it can be hard and involve very late nights and time away from the family.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Listen to as much music as possible but always be critical and ask how your voice and aims fit with what you're listening to and don’t forget the importance of music of the past on what we do today. Be pro-active in writing for players, don’t wait for them to come to you and grow thick skin - for every success there’s more rejection. Only do it if you REALLY want it - you won’t make a fortune out of it!

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

I’m working on a new piece for Japanese Noh musicians, harp, soprano and electronics for Kings Place and will then be starting a piece for The Hermes Experiment to be premiered in November 2016. I’m also arranging a number of future projects for various duo combinations.

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.

No comments: