Tuesday, 26 May 2015
Composer Series - Nicola LeFanu
We are only two days away from the World Premiere of our 15th Anniversary commission, Tetra, and are all really excited about sharing this wonderful collection of pieces with the world! This next interview in our composer series is with eminent composer Nicola LeFanu. Nicola is widely respected in the musical world as a composer, director, and teacher (having previously been Professor of Music at York University and taught composition at King's College, London). Her music varies from large scale orchestral and operatic works through to smaller chamber pieces and music for solo instruments. She is particularly drawn to vocal music and has composed eight operas, the most recent of which, Tokaido Road, a Journey after Hiroshige, was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival last year.
On being asked to write a piece for four harps, what was the first thing that went through your mind?
That it would be a beautiful and striking sonority, but that the piece might not get many other performances as it was for such a ‘niche’ ensemble.
Your movement of Tetra is inspired by Millicent Fawcett. What was it that drew you to this particular historical figure and how did you incorporate her into the music?
I admire all she achieved in her life, and she had a very full life, both professionally (she was passionate about her work and her campaigns) and as a wife and mother – that is something I also aspire to. Her name – its rhythms and contour – appear in my piece. I tried also to keep the chronology of her life in mind – her DBE appears at the end!
The harp is a very ornate instrument to look at, with a strong stage presence. Is the way a performance will look or be coordinated on stage ever a factor in the way you compose?
In my many stage works it’s all-important; for a chamber piece, less so, though I did take careful note of the preferred seating arrangements of the four harpists.
Tetra uses the opening theme from Henriette Renié’s solo harp work, Légende as a motif to link all the four movements together. How did you incorporate this into your composition?
You can hear reference to its harmony and the melodic outline, but I did not find it a very inspiring theme, I must admit, so it does not figure very prominently in my piece.
Looking at your catalogue of compositions, it seems like you are particularly drawn to write music for the human voice. Is it the ability to use words in addition to musical sound that inspires you, or is it a deeper connection to something that is within every person, be they musical or not?
In addition to writing your own music, you also teach other composers? What is it that you enjoy about this process, and if there was one bit of advice you could give to young composers, what would it be?
I enjoy the two-way dialogue, I enjoy watching their development. As to advice.. to be as professional as possible, and to work with performers at every opportunity.
When you are writing a piece do you prefer to compartmentalise things and write in a structured way, or does the creative process completely take over?
Sorry, I do not understand the question! ‘Compartmentalisation’ is not a part of composition; and the ‘creative process’ is a structured one.
Aside from being attracted to certain instruments, what else inspires you? In a similar vein, do you think it is possible to undertake a commission if you aren’t drawn to the idea behind it?
I would not undertake a commission that I was not drawn to. As to inspiration – many things, different at different times.. often it is other music, it might be a poem, it might be a landscape..
You have written a number of pieces with an educational purpose. Is it harder to write something where you have to bear in mind the playing level of the performers?
Yes, it is a technical challenge, but it is fun.
What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
Assuming that I had sufficient fresh water, I’d take an endless supply of lemons, a sunhat, and pencil and paper. If that is 4 items, leave out the sunhat and I’ll make one out of a sheet of the paper.