Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Composer Series - Paul Patterson

Our fifth interview in our composer series is with the well-known composer Paul Patterson. Paul has been a great friend to the harp world over the years and has contributed a number of major works to the harpist's repertoire. His music is great fun and highly evocative, with programmatic detail in abundence. As an ensemble, we have much enjoyed performing his 'Avian Arabesques' in our concert programmes, and audiences reaffirm this with their rapt attention during our playing and amused laughter at the end of the third movement where we get to 'stroke' the bottom string in a way that creates a squeaky kind of whisper!

You are well-known in the harp world. What has been your favourite commission for harp so far?

Image result for paul pattersonThis is a difficult one to answer because when one spends so much time composing a new piece, they all have the same level of compositional engagement and achievement. “Spiders” is very significant because it is the piece which has become very well known to harpists. Writing for one harp is very challenging but writing for 4 harps is a real challenge and a half, so my “Avian Arabesques” is the one which has become my favourite.

Avian Arabesques was not commissioned by 4G4H. What made you decide to write a piece for four harps?
It was commissioned by the RAM harp department (Skaila Kanga) who had created a harp ensemble and wanted to create new repertoire and they asked me specifically to write for 4 harps.

What was the inspiration behind Avian Arabesques?
Having already written works for harp with an insect connection i.e. “Spiders” and “Bugs” I thought that I should write a harp quartet that also had a flying connection. Having given it some considerable thought, I decided to go a different route and be influenced this time by birds! Having chosen the 3 birds it helped me with the choice of 3 titles to define the nature and style of each movement.

You have written for solo harp as well as harp quartet. Do you have a preference for either option? How did the challenges differ when writing for one harp and multiple harps?
I really liked writing for 4 harps and I am looking forward to rewriting my Mosquito Massacre from “Bugs” soon for the 4G4H’s birthday celebrations! When writing for 4 harps one has to consider the overall sound as it can be very cloudy if there are lots of notes, so thinner individual lines are important for clarity. On a more exciting level, the harmony changes can be more abrupt and adventurous, and as in the last movement of Avian Arabesques, there are chromatic scales which are impossible on the single harp!

What composers have inspired you over the years and have any shaped your musical style?
I have had many influences; the most important in my younger days was the music of Penderecki and Polish music. Bartok also has had a big influence harmonically and rhythmically

You have written quite a lot of music for children. How important do you think it is for young people to have access to classical music and what would be your piece of choice for a child to listen to?
For the future of classical music it is crucial that children should be exposed to classical music. I have written a number of pieces aimed at young children, my “Little Red Riding Hood” with words by Roald Dahl communicates with children because of the story-line which usually they already know. The music is part of the plot and often introduces them for the first time to listening to the classical music idiom (and hopefully then they will want to play one of the instruments they have heard).

We (4G4H) are very excited that you will be one of the judges for our new harp chamber music competition in June next year. Do you think it is possible for anyone to judge how well a person plays or do you think it requires a specialist skill set?
I believe that having some specialist skills is helpful when making important decisions when judging a competition.

You were heavily involved in the Dutch Harp Festival in 2014 where your ‘Fantasia’ concerto was performed by the three finalists. How did it feel having it played by three different people on the same day? Did the different performances highlight anything in the music for you that you hadn’t heard before?
It was fascinating to hear 3 different interpretations of my music on the same day and it was satisfying to know that my ideas worked from different view points.

What is your favourite instrument (or combination of instruments) to compose for?
Definitely the Harp!
What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
I would like to extend it by one to four, and take 4Girls 4Harps!!

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