Friday, 7 November 2014

Composer Series - Edward Watson

2015 will be our 15th anniversary. We feel very proud that we have been working as a group for such a long time, however, a lot of our success is down to the music that we perform. We are indebted to the many great composers of the past whose music we have 'borrowed', but also to the composers alive today who have written us some fantastically varied, challenging and inventive pieces of music. We would therefore like to honour them over the next few months by running a series of interviews with each composer who has created an original work for us. We hope that this will give you the chance to find out a bit more about the people behind the music that has been our constant companion for so many years.

Edward Watson The first composer to write for us was Edward ('Ted') Watson, who we commissioned in 2002 to write 'A Celtic Springtime'. We recorded Ted's piece on our first ever CD when we still went by the name 'Barkham Harp Quartet'. We were very young and still had lots to learn about pretty much everything from how to play for a recording to how to get the best out of playing with four harps. Ted's composition is a spritely piece of music with lots of interweaving parts threading through the harps. It really makes you think of the eagerness behind the change in season from Winter to Spring, and all the abundent life that is about to leap forth! You can listen to 'A Celtic Springtime' here.

You have written for the harp many times before – what is it that has drawn you to this instrument?
I used the harp in light music arrangements for the BBC. Somewhat simplistically! ‘A Celtic Springtime’ was my first venture into a serious concert piece. The harp is a magical instrument that conjures up antiquity.

What musical styles are you most inspired by – is there any particular composer that you identify with?
I adore Mozart! I particularly am drawn to the Classical, Romantic and Impressionistic. Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Ravel and Debussy.

What was it that you liked about the idea of writing for four harps? Had you ever heard the harp being played in this way before?
I had never heard four harps before. Once the idea had been put forward (I was asked to write the piece), the mind begins to ‘tick over’.

Were there any challenges in writing for the combination, and what did you enjoy most about the compositional process?
One harp is a challenge. HELP I had FOUR!!! Once I have an overall idea of what the piece is going to say, I enjoy seeing it develop. I often write the ending before the beginning.

What was the inspiration behind your piece for the group ‘A Celtic Springtime’?
Like most English composers, I went through a ‘Celtic’ phase. The bardic influence, Merlin etc. I still visit Glastonbury (The Isle of Avalon) frequently to pick up the vibes.

You have a new Christmas work for harp with mezzo-soprano and choir being performed later this year, with our very own Eleanor Turner as the harpist. How have you used the harp in this piece and is it based on any specific carols or texts?
This work contrasts the first Christmas (Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in the stable) with the hustle and bustle of preparations for a modern day Christmas. The harp accompanies throughout and has an opening solo Prelude and a solo Interlude. The carols are based on Breton Folk Tunes and the words are by Gabrielle Byam Grounds.

Are there any young and up-and-coming composers you think are ones to watch?
Can’t answer this! Everyone seems to compose these days. Time will do the sifting!

What would you like your composing legacy to be?
I’ll be happy if any of my pieces are played and enjoyed.

What do you enjoy doing in your down time?
Practising, composing and gardening.

What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
My clarinet, a box of reeds and a penknife.

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