Every year, we run our Peter Reynolds Composer Studio for six emerging composers. The scheme offers a week of intensive learning and a chance to have work performed by leading musicians.
This year was a little different, but the participants were still able to have their pieces recorded by piano-percussion duo Siwan Rhys and George Barton at home.
To help us get to know them a little better and tell us more about their compositions, we interviewed this year’s participants. Next up is Angela Slater with her piece Etchings:
1. When did you first start composing, and what made you pursue it?
It is hard to know exactly when I started composing as I basically was composing as soon as I could reach the piano. Before I even began learning properly I was already make things up and when I did start learning the piano and later the flute practice would often be sidelined by improvising my own music.Composing is something I have always felt a need to do. It is my internal desire to communicate and express something of myself and my impression of the world.
2. What is your most memorable musical experience?
It is hard to pinpoint one most memorable musical experience but I feel the most important and affirming have been when I have heard larger compositional works live for the first time. For example I had my piece Roil in Stillness workshopped by the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra in 2015 and then premiered by New England Philharmonic in Boston in 2019, the strength of the orchestral sound and how it hit me on both occasions was quite astonishing!
3. How do you know when a composition is finished?
This is very context dependent, timeframe in which to write the piece can often be a factor. It is finished when the deadline comes around! In some ways pieces may remain fully finished per se for years but at some point you have to let them go. Pieces are finished when you have completed what you wanted to say in them in the most clear and expressive way possible.
4. Would you say you mostly consider your audience or your players when composing?
Neither and both! First and foremost you as the composer are the first audience member and if you are not writing for yourself then why are you writing at all? If I am writing a piece with specific performers in mind then absolutely I am also composing for my players. Their musicality and personality seep through into my consciousness as a compose of and course have an effect on the type of material and therefore the overall character of the piece.
5. When you compose, do you have an idea of a story or concept that you want to express, or is it more abstract?
It is really a combination of the two and very dependent on the piece. When I compose I find it extremely helpful to have a clear concept for the piece before I begin. I often find the title for the piece before I start as this can give me a lot of stimulus from which I can develop musical ideas and a framework. I often first sit down with a blank piece of paper to plan the structure of the piece. This can take the form of written words and timings, but more often then not there are shapes and sketches and notes to myself about instruments or timbre. As much as possible I like to feel a connection to the instruments for which I am writing and will try to compose ideas on the instrument as much as I can, even if I can hardly play the instrument at all. This allows me to feel how the fingers sit and how the sound really resonates.
6. Which composers have had the biggest influence on your music?
Helen Grime, her music really speaks to me. I find her fluid gestural language and skill of orchestration to create changing timbral colours in her music fascinating. Also other composers such as Kaija Saariaho, Dai Fujikura, Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adés, Jennifer Higdon, Judith Weir, Messiaen, Elliot Carter, Ruth Crawford Seeger and many more I am sure have all influenced the music and my compositional voice today.
7. Can you tell us about the piece you worked on with George Barton and Siwan Rhys for the Peter Reynolds Composer Studio?
Etchings was written for the GBSR duo for the Vale of Glamorgan Festival’s Peter Reynolds Composer Studio. The piece explores the idea of etching out different shapes and lines in blocks that form sections, which are then tied together. The shapes are gradually revealed as the piece unfolds.
Angela Slater – Etchings
8. What are you looking forward to about rejoining the Scheme next year?
I am looking forward to creating music in person again, meeting and working with performers, hearing fellow composers’ work develop across the course.