Philip Edward Fisher Plays Handel: An Interview

Philip Edward Fisher has a wonderful Handel disc coming out on March 30. Sean was able to interview him about the disc, and his plans for the future! Philip Edward Fisher

Philip Fisher. Photo © Rita Castle


Sean Hickey: Philip, you’ve recorded the Handel Keyboard Suites for Naxos. Despite a huge resurgence in the composer’s opera, oratorio and vocal music in the past few years, most people are not familiar with his keyboard music. How did you decide to record this repertoire and why not the obligatory Bach?

Philip Edward Fisher: While Bach’s keyboard works have been established as staples of the piano repertoire for many years, Handel’s seem to have been viewed almost exclusively as belonging to the harpsichord. This has always struck me as strange…the two composers were, after all, exact contemporaries, and these suites in particular translate just as effectively to the piano as do Bach’s. I first came across them more than fifteen years ago, and quickly grew to love them for their great beauty and visceral, down-to-earth qualities that are so unique to Handel’s music. When the opportunity to record for Naxos came along, the project seemed to align itself well with the label’s creative and innovative programming — and it felt to me infinitely more stimulating a challenge than simply to tackle works that had been recorded countless times before, however great.

SH: Fascinating, and we appreciate anyone who looks into the byways of this vast repertoire. It seems silly to put Handel in a category such as this, but it seems many great composers have parts of their output that are neglected, often unjustly. Handel for his keyboard music, Vivaldi for vocal music, etc. Are there more Handel suites and do you have plans to record them?

PEF: Well, I just finished recording the other four suites of the set this past September. That disc is in post-production right now, and soon to be released on Naxos. Those eight suites make up the set that is often referred to as Handel’s “Great Keyboard Suites”. There are quite a few others, composed later in his life, but none of them are quite as substantial in nature as the “great” suites. Having said that, there is some beautiful music to be found there, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out recording some of them in the future.

SH: Given your concertizing and other recordings, it certainly wouldn’t be fair to label you a specialist in the Baroque repertoire, simply because you tackle music from the 17th to 21st centuries. Is there a period that you gravitate toward more than others, and any composers or works from that period that particularly inspire you?

PEF: You’re right that I don’t really specialize in any particular period, and I must admit it’s not something I have felt the inclination to do as yet. I feel a strong connection to a wide variety of works and composers, and I would find it hard to have the level of focus necessary to specialize in a specific style or period to that extent…..although I have tremendous respect for those that do.

I could probably answer the second part of your question differently on an almost daily basis! There definitely are works I feel a deep connection to and particularly love to perform — Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto, for example (which I’m excited to be performing with the wonderful Longwood Symphony in Boston this May!) — but in general I am inspired by a huge range of composers and periods, and I’m particularly passionate about immersing myself in contemporary music as well as the classics. I must admit that I don’t really listen to so much piano music….I’m crazy about the symphonic medium — and it’s also not just classical music that can be a tremendous source of inspiration for me!

SH: What can we expect from you next, in terms of performances, recordings and project and what would you like to see happen next in your career? Any conductors or collaborators on your radar?

PEF: Other than the second disc in the Handel set, soon to be released, I’m excited to be recording a disc for the Chandos label this coming summer — a disc of works by the ‘Mighty Five’ handful of Russian composers. It will be an interesting combination of very popular works and rarely-heard gems; a challenge I’m particularly looking forward to.

In terms of future performances, I have a number of concerto appearances lined up, and I’ll be taking a recital program based around the Handel suites and various works by other composers inspired by Handel to a number of venues around the world, including New York, London and Birmingham, UK (where the Handel disc was recorded). As well as playing solo recitals and concertos, I love to collaborate with other performers, and I have been lucky enough to work with many up to this point — so I’m looking forward to many more of those experiences.

Where my ‘radar’ is concerned, I am particularly keen to work with the CBSO, my hometown orchestra! It meant a great deal to me to return there to record the Handel disc, particularly when the Symphony Hall is such a special venue, and it would be an even more incredible feeling to return and work with what is a fantastic orchestra! Stay tuned!

Read More →


David Aaron Carpenter & the Viola Sing Out

These past two months have brought something not typically widespread – wonderful releases from talented violists, and excellent reviews to follow! The LA Times recently did a viola feature on this very topic, citing two of my latest favorite violists, Eliesha Nelson and David Aaron Carpenter. As a violist myself, I love to see such regard and praise come to the instrument, and am excited for the opportunity to help bring attention to these brilliant violists. In late September, I interviewed Eliesha Nelson, and graciously, David Aaron Carpenter recently answered the same questions concerning his experience as a violist. His debut album from Ondine, “Elgar & Schnittke Viola Concertos,” has received much critical acclaim, most recently winning the Gramophone Editor’s Choice Award in October 2009. He is one of the brightest viola talents to come along in many years. It’s wonderful to have such a star associated with the viola, and it makes me very optimistic we will continue to see more of this type of excitement towards viola releases. In Mark Swed’s words: “The viola…is the future.”

How did you first develop a love for music? What inspired you to begin playing?
I am fortunate enough to have an older brother and sister who play the violin. Growing up in a musical environment helped me obtain a passion and love for music. I never had a one-track career in mind to become a soloist, and my mother always believed in a well-rounded education for her children. I never would have foreseen that I would be making a career as a viola soloist, especially after attending a liberal arts college and majoring in political science and international relations.

Although this is not the case for myself, like many violists, you began your musical instruction on the violin and later switched to viola. What ultimately made you stick with the Viola, and what do you enjoy most about playing Viola as opposed to the Violin?
I started playing the violin at age 6 and gravitated to the viola at 11 years of age. In my opinion, the viola can sometimes be a very clumsy instrument to begin with for young players, and I always recommend starting on the violin to develop good habits for technique. I attended pre-college at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music as a double major in both violin and viola and it was very liberating for me to approach different works on both instruments. In the process, I was always more inclined to the complex tone of the viola. Also, the repertoire on the viola is unique and the possibilities are endless.

Artur Nikish believed that ‘a player’s psyche depended upon the instrument he played,’ and he characterized violists as being ‘calm and good-natured.’ It has also been often said that ‘viola players are the least troublesome’ in orchestral settings. Do you agree?
I agree, and think we need to change such a passive role! It is time that violists start to make a stand to change the status of the instrument. Violists have historically been the “least troublesome,” and I believe that if we had more virtuosi like Lionel Tertis and William Primrose living in the classical or romantic eras, we would certainly have more extant masterworks for the viola repertoire.


What are some of your favorite compositions to play? Do you have an era you prefer?
This really changes depending on the project and composer that I am studying at any given point in time. I like all eras of music, which include the baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary periods, although I have been recently focusing more on 20th century compositions. I am also interested in sensible transcriptions for the viola, especially those that are sanctioned by a particular composer.


As you have just recently released your first album, what did you enjoy most about the recording process? Least?
It was more than a dream to record the Elgar and Schnittke Concertos with the
Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Maestro Eschenbach. The synergy of all parties involved was truly magical, and I am extremely proud of the product and outcome of the recording. Although there wasn’t any particular aspect that I enjoyed least, I must say that playing for 2 days straight was quite a strenuous undertaking.

If you could choose one composer, conductor or artist, deceased or living, to meet who would it be? Why?

Jacqueline Du Pre—to this day, I have never encountered in person or heard on record an artist who was the embodiment of musical intuition, emotional connection, and raw talent. Her artistry was the primary reason I gravitated towards the deeper sound of the viola.

When you’re not performing or practicing, what activities do you enjoy?
I enjoy playing tennis with my brother and sister, and also like to read and keep apprised of world events, financial markets, and international diplomacy. When I am traveling, I try to make it a priority to attend museums and special cultural events that are occurring in each city.


Which composer would you most like–or would have liked–to contribute to the instrument’s repertoire?
One of my favorite composers who never wrote but sanctioned a viola concerto will be featured on my next recording. I won’t disclose the composer’s name yet, but I am sure it will stir up some controversy!


There are countless viola jokes. Can you share a few of your favorites?
I have never heard of one before. ;-)

To see videos of David Aaron Carpenter’s playing: http://www.youtube.com/user/violarocks45

Read More →


NONCLASSICAL: A conversation with the ELYSIAN QUARTET

With our recent North American Launch of Gabriel Prokofiev’s “Nonclassical” label we find ourselves fortunate enough to have two fantastic releases by the Elysian quartet. In sept we released Gabriel’s string quartet no. 1 and now on Oct. 27th we’ll release Gabriel’s 2nd string quartet also performed by the Elysians. I can’t rave enough about these recordings, it’s also given Elysha Miracle and I a chance to interview the quartet in anticipation of this second round of Nonclassical releases….

First off of course we’ve become familiar with the quartet through its work with Gabriel Prokofiev and Nonclassical, can you tell us how this relationship came about?
Laura went to York University with Gabriel and they had a lot in common musically, both being interested in contemporary and electronic music. A few years later, when she had joined the quartet and we had started working with amplification and electronics, she rang him up and suggested a collaboration. He wrote his first ever string quartet for us, and it went so well that we commissioned him to write us another.

Of course on these Nonclassical releases of Gabriel’s string quartets your performances are also remixed, what’s the groups take on this part of the projects?
We thought it was a great idea, especially as Gabriel’s music is so influenced by dance music in the first place, and when we heard the remixes we were all pleased with how they had turned out. They only use sounds from the original recordings, so the remix artists had to find ways of creating new music from original material without resorting to extra drums or beats.

Which remix is most fun to play? Which do you prefer listening-wise?
The remixes are not written to be performed live – they were made by people using sounds from the recordings and have had many many effects and layers put on them. We have talked about trying to turn them back into live pieces, but the complications have so far put everybody off! Listening-wise it would be far too cheeky to single anyone out…

Can you give us a little history lesson on the quartet itself? Maybe tell us a bit about each member?
The quartet got together at Trinity College of Music in 1999 and gradually morphed from a normal classical string quartet into what it is today, totally dedicated to contemporary, electronic and improvised music. A big turning point for us was playing George Crumb’s music, and then also meeting Gabriel. Each member of the group has a very diverse background in classical, jazz, pop, and improvised music and everyone plays regularly with other groups, and on other instruments. This seems to bring many styles of playing into the group and gives us a great advantage and certain lack of fear when we improvise.

You have such a fun and energetic feel as a group. What makes you have such a unique approach to playing and ‘classical music’?
Thanks! I think we might come across like this because we all consider ourselves ‘musicians’ rather than ‘classical musicians’ and we bring our different musical experiences to the group. For instance, two of us used to play in a samba band, and that not only teaches you a lot about rhythm and feel, but also a great deal about group vibes. Also each one of us knows what it’s like to play on stage in a pop/folk/rock context, which is usually so much more fun and relaxed than playing classical music. So I think subconsciously we probably bring a bit of that into our concerts.


Have you recorded projects for other labels? If so what were / are they?
We recorded a great project with British composer Max de Wardener last year, with cover art by Stanley Donwood (Radiohead collaborator), for Stanley’s record label Six Inch Records. We have also contributed our improvising skills to some pop albums, and recorded our own EP of improvised music. We are also planning a few albums with other people next year – will let you know which label they come out on!

What music / art inspires the quartet as a group?
Wow big question. I think our various inspirations would be so massive it would be crazy to list them all! But as far as music goes you could definitely throw in the Crumb, and Gabriel, then Dai Fujikura, Reich, Stravinsky, Hot Chip, Melanie Pappenheim, Can, Janacek, Keith Tippett, Adem, Simon Fisher Turner… Art is a bit less relevant to us as a group, but individually I think we are all pretty modern in tastes…

I see from your facebook updates that you guys play in Germany from time to time, where else do you perform regularly and what rep do you play generally?
We have been to Belgium and France several times, and many other countries internationally, but mostly we perform in the UK. Our repertoire has become more and more fully improvised over the last two years, but we also play a lot of British and American contemporary music, most of which is either written for us or commissioned by us. Our concerts at the moment tend to be a mixture of very contemporary music and improvisation, sometimes both within the same piece.

Are the members involved in other music projects? What might those be?
Emma and Vince together are remix artists Geese and are becoming quite successful with their string instrument based remixes. Jenny and Emma play in Mercury-nominated Basquiat Strings, which is a jazz based project, and Laura is successfully carving out her own solo career with her music for cello with voice. All four of us are involved with other performers too: James Yorkston, Nancy Wallace, Adrian Crowley, Gilad Atzmon to name a few.

Ok so WoW you’ve worked with Damo Suzuki! how did this come about? Your impressions of Damo? Was this material recorded? How is CAN important to the quartet?
Damo is a pretty amazing guy, in that he makes his living going round the world improvising in a made up language every night. i’d like to make a living this way…seems like a nice life! He’s usually very friendly and interesting, occasionally grumpy when he hasn’t had enough sleep and has been flying around the world too much.. He is a total showman on stage with incredible charisma and a great voice. We’ve played with him twice now, and the first time was the best, at the Purcell Room on the South Bank, London. This was recorded, and Damo absolutely loved it, so it was then edited because it was VERY VERY long, and then…don’t think it got released or anything. Hopefully one day… As a group we obviously listened to a lot more CAN prior to and after working with Damo, and I think we all took a lot of inspiration from the spirit and energy in that band. Obviously when we improvised with Damo it was an entirely different thing. But CAN are great. You can always learn a lot from bands like that.I can’t quite remember how the collaboration came about.

Any future plans with Nonclassical? Plans on performing in the USA?
Nonclassical’s pop imprint StopStart will hopefully be putting out Laura’s solo album next year, and we are also discussing our future projects with them, but nothing is concrete as yet. We would absolutely love to go back to the USA after our very successful first time out there this March for SXSW, perhaps with composer Graham Reynolds who we met in Austin, or with Meredith Monk who we are working with next year. If anyone wants to book us a tour we’ll be right there….

Read More →


Langgaard’s MESSIS: A chat with Flemming Dreisig

After hearing this monumental piece of organ music by Langgaard I simply had to find out more, what better place than to go directly to the artist who took the project on.

Flemming, Can you give us a little background on yourself and your playing?
Coming from a home where there was an understanding and an interest in classical music, I showed an early interest in sound and timbre and in consequence was taught piano from the age of 5. This led later to studying at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music with a major in piano. Later I switched to a church music education with organ as my main instrument. This education was attractive in preparation for a continued, varied occupation in music, because of the many substitute job possibilities as an organist and the concert challenges provided by the church.

What music inspires you to do what you do?
Already as a child when my preferred composer was J. S. Bach – for instance because of his music’s sustained motor dynamics – the ground was laid for what has become a lifestyle for me: playing organ.

Are there any composers that really blow your mind?
If early on it was Bach who impressed me, then in my growing years the classical composers like Beethoven, Brahms and not least, Wagner were a considerable inspiration for my perception and way of approaching the matter of improvisation, which is an indispensable and rather essential discipline for professional church musicians.During a study period in Paris in the early 70s, I met the especially gifted improviser, Pierre Cochereau, at the Notre Dame cathedral, and that meeting became a turning point in my musical perception up to then, by leading to my listening to the cathedral organist’s exceptional, daring melodically, harmonically and rhythmically stimulating improvisations.

The fact that Messis is such an epic piece of music, can you describe for us the process behind learning and tackling Messis?
In the sound Danish musical tradition of the 60s, there were only a few pioneers who had discovered Langgaard’s stylistically outdated and therefore rather unknown works, but finally there still remained the possibility of getting to know Langgaard, as through a radio-transmitted shorter version of Messis.
This was my first encounter with Danish romantic music, that at the same time clearly deviated from the well known ”Golden Age” composers from the same period: the normally otherwise jovial, well balanced and clear forms of composition contrast here in Langgaard’s music with tension, unrest, unexpected lines of development to dramatic climaxes – to once again, in a symphonic tone picture, move towards new, fantastic states of being.
A considerably richer emotional palette than among the other romantic composers for organ. Yes, Langgaard was a romantic deep down, but at the same time he was creative in forms of expression that had a clear modernistic and expressionistic appearance.
What does this piece mean to you?
Messis is an expression of a continuous ”tale told in tones” and as such, makes no attempt to use artistic effects through prevalent classical idioms or traditional knowledge of technical disciplines.

What was your motivation for approaching it in the first place?
For a youth with a tempestuous heart, this music is spontaneously attractive and I harmonized with it in those days, and since then have appropriated Langgaard’s universe as my own.

What is your understanding of Langgaard’s inspiration for the piece?
Messis in its foundation is a search away from those chaotic times (there in the 30s) and towards an earlier epoch’s ideal of beauty, drawing a divine picture of reality.

What makes this composition important to Danish culture and to the history of Danish music in general?
A characteristic throughout this composition is that ”defiance” with which the composer delivers his message. The basic romantic character is regularly marked by reactive, grotesque effects including use of modern and apparently absurd means such as unprepared dynamic jumps, illogical harmonic relations as well as changing measure. With Langgaard, that kind of musical ”collage” technique blends into a large formal whole and makes for a symphonic concept that no other Dane – not to say no other European composer – has strived for.

Many of us here in America are just now becoming familiar with Langgaard in a very substantial way; where do you see his works fitting in not only the history of Danish music but of classical music itself?
The fact is Langgaard’s music is more actual than ever as a bitter commentary on what we contemporaries are witness to the world over; the global political discord, environmental accidents, natural catastrophes and more, but in spite of it all, also a resonance of beauty, understanding and the dream that sustains our present day. It’s true that Langgaard’s written reference is the Bible, but his whole outlook on life is more strongly influenced by the expression he encountered in his own times – and in my opinion, it would have most likely become strengthened if he had lived today.

What projects do you have planned for the future?
Gazing into the future, I would like to promote large-format organ compositions like Langgaard’s Messis that, within the formal time-horizon parallel to masses and requiems, create possibilities of pushing emotionally deeper into the topic than is the case of shorter musical forms as, for example, the sonata form.

A similar, more recent example could be the French expressionistically inspired composer, Germain Desbonnet’s ” Symphony Christique” for organ with obligatto mixed final chorus. Poetry, drama and meditative music meet in one work that lifts the soul into a truly optimistic expression.

Read More →


The Skinny on NONCLASSICAL: An Interview With Gabriel Prokofiev pt.2

Today the Nonclassical label officially hits the streets (in shops and online) in North America. Here is the rest of the interview with Gabriel Prokofiev.

From Taylor Vick (Our E-Marketing Manager)

Do you get inspiration from music or from other art forms?
Well inspiration can come from anywhere really. I might hear certain rhythmic approach, or an orchestral sound in a piece of music, and then start compose something inspired by that… but often that will only be a initial kernal in the beginning of a bigger piece. A more common inspiration for me is often hearing sounds for the environment around me: I might here a distant rhythm from a train, combined with the accelaration of a car, and then some garbage rattling in the wind, these ‘atmospheric’ sounds can often inspire a melodic or rhythmic idea. I often get intial inspiration for a piece when I’m cycling to my studio in the morning, the experience of motion seems to be quite effective in getting the creative juices going, along with all the stimulus of cycling through a busy city. Of course visual art can also be very inspiring, especially abstract painting, which can inspire the idea to create something that has similar shapes, rhythms and form; though I’ve yet to compose a piece directly inspired by one piece of art.
What does the score look like for turntables? For Fanta Bottles?
For Turntables it’s as near a classical concerto score as possible.
The DJ part is similar to a percussion part, with rhythms given and approximate hi/lo pitch indication, but with clear written comments giving the type of scratching technique to be used, and indicating with sample should be used by the DJ. There is a little bit of flexibility for the DJ to improvise the finer details of some of the rhythmic scratching, and so that the most important part of the score is to give the cue points.
In the fourth movement, when the DJ plays pitched material the score is given at pitch, and is played just like a normal pitch-instrument part. And, in each movement there is a cadenza, where the DJ is free to improvise with the samples & develop new ideas.
Fanta Bottles and the rest of IMPORT/EXPORT (the 32 minute piece it is part of) is done as normal percussion score, with clear descriptions of each technique used. A loop pedal is used to create denser textures & rhythms at some points in the piece, and the record & playback point are also clearly marked. For some of the gestures like rubbing two glass fanta bottles together, graphical notation is used to visual represent the movements of the bottle.
Generally I try to use existing notation techniques, even though sometimes classical notation isn’t ideal; I find that real subtleties of rhythmcan be hard to notate with exact accuracy (with out looking ridiculously complicated), so it’s often best to use words as well to describe the ‘feel’ of how something should be played.

How do you like running your own record label and leading the charge for a re-energized classical scene?
It’s exciting, but also distracting. A couple of years ago I realised that I was spending most of my days just writing emails and talking on the phone; fortunately I know have a few other people, including the brilliant Dave Halliwell helping me run the label. I think it’s so important for any music maker to have an outlet for their work, and Nonclassical provides that for me which is great, and ofcourse we release works by other composers and performers as well, so hopefully we can become a bigger and bigger force for new music.
I’m not sure if we are completely ‘leading the charge for a re-energized classical scene’ as you say, but we’re are certainly doing what we can to get more contemporary classical music out into the ‘real world’. There are plenty of really good young composers and ensembles out there, and I just don’t understand why more people haven’t thought of putting on classical club nights and the like so that this good music can get more exposure (only in the last few years have more alternative classical nights really started appearing) . It’s our responsibility to be pro-active and make sure the music is heard… I don’t really understand how classical music has allowed itself to get stuck in such a straight jack of tradition -so that young composers barely have their work heard except for in college end of term concerts and occasional lunch-time concerts or small festivals; imagine telling a Rock band that their songs would only get performed once every 2 years, if at all!
Anyway, all in all I’m very excited by our classical club nights, and feedback we get for each CD we release; so I am very happy with what we’re doing, but it’s still early days really.

Do you have plans to expand the nonclassical movement from The Macbeth in London to other cities?
I would love to run our club in cities all over the world… but the problem is finding the time to set-up new club nights. We have previously done one-off Nonclassical nights in New York (at Le Poisson Rouge), in Austin (part of SxSW), at Rock Festivals in Oxfordshire, and Yorkshire, and at The SouthBank Centre, London. We are hoping to run more regular events in New York, and hopefully in Holland and Portugal as well. Ideally we will find ‘partners’ who can help run other events, and then we will curate the nights, and some of the Nonclassical regulars will go over and perform. We will be back in the USA in March 2010 for SxSW, and will certainly stop off in NY, but hopefully we can do something before christmas.

What is your favorite food?
Like most people involved in music, I really enjoy my food. I eat almost every type of food, and love the variety that’s out there so it’s too hard to find a favourite. It’s like music, different food works for different moods & occassions. If I was to combine several favourite dishes into an imaginary ‘symphony’ of cuisines it could consist of something like:
I Dim Sum, II Fresh Sea Food platter (oysters and fresh crab), III Cochon de lait Roti IV French Cheese Plate (Chabichou, Pont-l’Evêque, etc..) V Marquis de Chocolat….
And then there are the wines….

What is your take on the physical vs digital delivery of your albums?
The big problem with digital download is that many people just download single tracks, so that the experience of listening to a whole album by one artist is becoming less popular. And for classical music this is really tough, because many compositions are conceived as complete works of several movements that need to be listened together and that compliment each other. Also, some listeners might just check a 1 minute sample of a track before buying it digitally, and with classical music 1 minute rarely gives a balanced impression of what a piece of music will be like. Also there is the problem of sound quality; and though higher quality mp3s can be bought online, I don’t think everyone is aware of the reduced sound quality they will be getting with an mp3. CDs always give a much higher sound quality.
However digital can be a quick way for people to dip-into and discover new music without commiting to buying a whole album, so that can be a positive way for listeners to broaden their musical horizons.
From Megan McClary (E-marketing and E Press Assistant)

Who are your favorite composers?
phew… that’s always the hardest question… there’s plenty:
Big fan of Russian music (surprise, surprise): old and new: Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, S Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schnitke, Gubaidulina
French: Ravel, Debussy,
Bach of course, late Beethoven, Schubert.
20th century classics like Berio, Ligetti, some Stockhausen, Xenakis
And of course young, living composers!: Tansy Davies, John Richards, Larry Goves, are 3 young UK composers doing great stuff at the moment.
But I know I’ve missed out plenty…
What was your most recent music purchase?
I was recently introduced to the music of irish composer Gerald Barry, so I bought a CD that contained ‘chevaux-de-frise’ – seriously heavy weight orchestral texture, no compromise.
A CD that I need to buy is one that has Mossolov ‘Iron Foundry’; it was performed in the same program as my Conerto for Turntables by the RSNO in the Glasgow festival hall last year, and is a killer piece, the original version of techo circa 1928! – I believe NAXOS might have released a recordin of it….

What were the challenges of working with a DJ for your Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra?
There were quite a few challenges (several of which you’ve identified). The immediate challenge was, can the Turntables really function as a musical instrument and play with an orchestra? also notation was of course an issue -not only how to notate? but will the DJ be able to read music?
Firstly, what sounds should the DJ be using on his Turntables?
Yes that was the first most important question.
Immediately I was aware that having a DJ scratch a bunch of standard scratch samples and breaks over an Orchestra would probably sound a bit cheesy, and though I was keen to take on board influences from hip-hop, anything too literal in terms of sound material might sound cheap, so the obvious solution seemed that the DJ should scratch with sounds from the Orchestra he is playing with. So I chose various phrase that the orchestra were going to play and decided that we should record them & give them to the DJ. However DJ Yoda had explained that besides using ‘breaks’ (short, loopable musical phrases) there were certain classic scratch sounds that were particularly effective for more elaborate scratching, which are used by most DJs through out the world, like the ubiquitous “ahhhh” and “fresh” voice sounds (sampled from “Change Le Beat” by Fab Freddy Five) and even the simple test-tone sound. To fully represent the extent of what the Turntable can do we would need sounds like them. I realised that these sounds could come from the Orchestra too, but in a less conventional way. So that the loud yawn and then the ‘cough’ from the conductor at the beginning of the 3rd movement actually become useful scratch sounds for the DJ. Then in the 4th movement, a loud gasp/inhale from the flute player is used, and also a long flute note is looped into a test-tone like sound which the DJ then uses to play melodies.
Secondly, how does one compose a ‘concerto’ for an instrument that can actually play-back existing sounds and music!?
A main approach I took to composing the DJ part, was that in each movement a few different ‘Scratching’ & DJing techniques would be performed by the DJ, and that created quite a good framework for the piece. Many of the classical DJ techniques, like ‘scribbling’ for example have a very distinct sound which they bring to the original sound that is being scratched with, so that it wasn’t all about just playing-back existing sounds at all. A lot of the writing was done as if I was writing for a very expressive percussion instrument; so I was working rhythmically but also bearing in mind that I as using sounds and phrases that had already been played by the orchestra -sometimes it was almost like having 2 orchestras: one live, one on the turn-table, and of course that was fun. The opening of the 2nd movement plays with that; and the DJ play-back the opening opening string phrase, but then brutally stops it; then once the strings enter he plays it back slightl;y out of sync with the live strings creating an interesting jerking, skipping texture.
The notation for the 4th movement was different, and I could write for a pitched instrument as the DJ was using the pitch-control to play exact melodies (though the tuning of the turntable was less than exact).

Thirdly, how to notate for the DJ?
I notated the DJ part in a similar way to a percussion part, with rhythms given and approximate hi/lo pitch indication, but with clear written comments giving the type of scratching technique to be used, and indicating with sample should be used by the DJ. There is a little bit of flexibility for the DJ to improvise the finer details of some of the rhythmic scratching, and so that the most important part of the score is to give the cue points.
In the fourth movement, when the DJ plays pitched material the score is given at pitch, and is played just like a normal pitch-instrument part. And, in each movement there is a cadenza, where the DJ is free to improvise with the samples & develop new ideas.
There are a couple of specific DJ-notation methods that have been developed, but they would take quite some time to learn, and I wanted the score to be something most people could look at and understand quite quickly. I don’t think my notation was perfect but it communicates enough information; I prefer to be pragmatic in these situations, rather than try to get all clever and re-invent the wheel.

What have you found is the most common reaction of an audience listening to your music for the first time?
hmmm, tough question, it does depend on the gig. But generally people seem to engage, and follow where the music is taking them.

With your cutting-edge, modern style, do you find that your music draws a predominantly younger, hip audience?
I suppose there are aspects to my music to which younger audiences can immediately relate to, but in fact I’ve had stuff performed to older, more typically ‘classical’ audiences and it’s gone down really well; so hopefully a whole range of people can appreciate my music. But if I can appeal to audiences who might not usual consider listening to classical music that’s a very positive thing too.

What do you like to do in your free time (if you have any)?
Ha ha… Sometimes my free-time does. But once I get away from work, I’m quite good at relaxing and distracting myself with other activities.
I love to travel; and besides seeing a lot of Europe, I’ve enjoyed trips to the USA, and also spent quite a lot of time in Tanzania, East Africa where I did one years voluntary work when I was 19; I learnt Kiswahili and actually wrote my student dissertation on Tanzanian music; and I’ve also become a fan of African literature and history. I also love theatre and dance, and used to do a lot of acting when I was a teenager, even considered going to drama school!

Have you ever received any particularly negative feedback from the classical music world?
So far so good… At least I’m not aware of any serious negative feedback. But I think that may be some people in the Classical world might have disregarded what we’re doing with Nonclassical Records as ‘cross-over’; because we have ‘remixes’ on most of our releases. I think that’s a real shame, because the remixes we have on our releases are a very interesting, daring, and provocative musical ‘experiment’, which are in no way a callous attempt to ‘cross-over’, and are an exploration of the boundaries of different genres… something that can be of interest to any curious about new directions in music.

Read More →