Lee Westwood is a winner of Riot Ensemble’s 2016 Call for Scores. His large-scale work ‘Florescence’ will be performed at a 5pm concert on October 29th at St Nicholas Church (Dyke Road) alongside a dozen miniatures by fellow NMB members. See the post below for full details and our concert flyer.
Here is an interview conducted by Riot Ensemble’s Aaron Holloway-Nahum in March 2016, shortly after Lee was announced as the winner of the competition.
Please come to the concert to meet Lee and hear his extraordinary new piece!
You are both a performer (guitarist) and composer. Does your work as one influence the other?
Yes, I think unavoidably so. For many years, all the music I wrote was really intended for me to perform myself, so over that time the two had been inseparable parts of the same thing: my relationship with my instrument (the guitar) and with music. I think that kind of relationship also leaves you with a very deep sense of the importance of the tactile qualities of the music you write – how it feels to play – and that’s something I try to sustain when writing for other instruments. Whether I’m always successful in that is another question… On the other hand, that very close relationship with the guitar was the reason I had to distance myself from it for a while, in order to break away from thinking like a guitarist all the time when composing!
You were self-taught for a long time as a composer (and musician), but I believe you’ve recently taken up PhD studies? What is it like to be studying for the first time? Has it been a positive influence on your work?
I am indeed in my third year of a PhD at Sussex with Martin Butler. To be honest, as an undergrad (I studied Psychology at Sussex years ago), I was a terrible student within an academic context, and spent all my time playing guitar, transcribing music I loved, and composing. After scraping through my degree I thought it would be a great antidote to enroll on a Jazz course, but only lasted six weeks there – I just couldn’t sit in a classroom for another minute! So, many years later, it’s great to be back, studying what I love formally, and on my own terms. To be honest, it’s really just an extension of what I do day to day anyway, but perhaps there’s something about the academic environment which makes you question your motives a bit deeper, helps to focus your practice a little. It’s just a shame that time moves so fast – I feel like I’m just getting started!
One thing that we definitely think helped bring your work through the many entries in the call is its very strong and distinctive voice. Do you feel like you have a ‘personal style’ in your composing? Could you describe your own style to us?
Ha! Tough question. In a way, I’m the worst person to ask – better for people to listen and make their own mind up. And what’s more – I’m aware this sounds a little evasive, perhaps pretentious, but it’s true – if we’re talking about the very voice of a music, and not just the superficial surface elements that help convey it (as meaning is to a sequence of syllables), music is what I use to say the things I can’t say with words – so of course I can’t tell you here what they are…
One thing we felt about your music was that there was a sense of lightheartedness and playfulness – at times joy – that came through really strongly in the pieces we heard. Is this something you agree with? Do you seek out these characteristics purposefully, or are they just a byproduct of other focus in your work?
There’s definitely a particular kind of energy and excitement I enjoy feeding into my music – perhaps this can be joyful at times – and sometimes it can be lighthearted, but I’m not sure I’d call this a general characteristic: my music is not always difficult, but I think lightheartedness is the wrong word. I strive to give all my music an immediacy about it, regardless of whether its message is simple, or very complex. But hell, who am I to say, really.
Could you tell us a bit about other projects you have going on in 2016/2017?
Well, this year I’m very lucky to be part of two great composer schemes: firstly, I’m writing a piece for bassoon and ensemble as part of the LSO Soundhub, which will be premiered at St Luke’s in February next year; secondly, I’ve been working with the East London Community Band through the Adopt A Composer scheme, on a new piece called ‘Barricades’, for a premiere on October 8th in Bethnal Green – two very different projects, both of which have kept me extremely busy. Finally, I also have a series of EPs of chamber music old and new that I’m in the process of releasing, three of which feature the master keyboard skills of the Riot Ensemble’s very own Adam Swayne – so keep your ears peeled for that!
Update! The EPs have now been released and may be found on Lee’s Bandcamp page.
With our July concert just round the corner, we asked Talkestra conductor Steve Dummer to give us the lowdown on clarinets, Cabaret, and the importance of supporting new music…
1 – Tell us a little bit about your involvement with new music.
I’ve been involved with playing new music since college and I feel very strongly that all performers should be enthusiastic about getting involved in it. It’s such a cool thing to do! As well as being a clarinet player I’m also a conductor and I try to programme as much new music as I can when the opportunity arises. I started Talkestra to attract reluctant concert goers and I found that ‘new ears’ were often more captivated by new music as long as the music was good, played well and they were given a few explanations as to why, how and when. Much of my work now is with amateur groups where there is often a reluctance to take on new pieces but many of the reasons are very understandable. The reluctance doesn’t necessarily come from a dislike of the music, more an irritation at unreasonable demands, unthoughtful part writing or just simply bad music. As conductor of the Horsham Symphony Orchestra, we’ve played quite a lot of new scores including Lutoslaswski’s ‘Mi Parti’ which they really enjoyed doing and we commissioned a symphony from your very own Julian Broughton, a fabulous piece that went down very well with both players and audience. The thing that marks both of those pieces out is they were really enjoyable for everyone to rehearse after a day’s work.
2 – What was it that got you into music originally, and what drew you to performing?
I started playing the piano when I was 10 and the clarinet at 12 but it wasn’t until I joined the West Sussex Youth Concert Band at 15 that gave me the bug to take it seriously and it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I thought it as a career worth pursuing. I went to Guildhall as a clarinet player and then Royal College of Music as a conductor but I would say the biggest influence on my performing life was being in Itchy Feet, a very zany jazz band. We played for weddings, parties, pubs – all that sort of thing and it still makes me smile to think of it. We haven’t played for years now but a reunion is often spoken of.
3 – Most glorious live experience? And most hideously embarrassing?!
Most of the most memorable live performances have been with amateurs where the result is way higher than it was supposed to be – a bit like Leicester City. There was a Percy Grainger concert I conducted at Dartington a few years ago with professionals taking the first half (Green Bushes, Random Round for six pianists on two pianos – I was no.6!), then the all-comers orchestra in the second half playing all the well known lollipops (Shepherd’s Hey, Molly on the Shore, Handel in the Strand etc). By its nature an all-comers orchestra isn’t going to be particularly balanced but this one was spectacularly unbalanced in having eighteen oboes! One of the pieces we did was Harvest Hymn which has an oboe solo at the start. The sound of eighteen of them playing it was astonishing (in a good way!). The whole event was cracking. John Woolrich, who was Artistic Director at the time, said “when you realise it’s not the Vienna Phil it’s actually better!”.
Most hideously embarrassing was being in the stage band for Cabaret. The director wanted us to be dressed as women in a subversive, 1930’s Berlin nightclub kind of way. But we ended up looking like Hinge and Bracket. My mum brought one of her friends (who hadn’t seen me for many years) to see it. A bit strange meeting her after the show. We ordered a pizza for backstage one night and missed one of our cues. I remember the director walking down the corridor in the interval to tell us off but had to walk away because he started to laugh. There are photos but I don’t seem to be able to find them now…
4 – What was the last piece of music you listened to?
I occasionally get a bit concerned that my listening habits are governed by work rather than pleasure but that still means listening to some great music. Horsham Symphony Orchestra have got a great programme together for next year including Berg’s Violin Concerto so it’s been great fun getting back into other Berg and also Schoenberg and Webern. I’ve also started to go to opera a bit more and I went to see The Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne last weekend. Fabulous music that I haven’t listened to for many years so it was a real pleasure.
5 – Are there any exciting projects you’re involved in at the moment that we should know about?
Recently I’ve quite enjoyed being involved in other people projects rather than doing my own but I’m starting to get itchy for doing something new. But the favourite project that I’m involved at the moment is Kidenza, a group that plays concerts for children. Not much chance of playing new music but I get to work with some great players, I can mess about a bit in the concerts and I’m normally home by 6.00.
6 – Talkestra will be playing a whole programme of works by NMB composers on July 2nd. Do you think there’s any unifying thread, a sound, that connects these works, or perhaps defines the Brighton compositional scene in general? What can we expect from the concert?
I’m not sure I can tell a particularly ‘Brighton’ sound or a unifying thread. Some of the composers have written for me before so maybe they have that in mind. There isn’t anything that’s overwhelmingly ‘experimental’ but there’s plenty of imagination in what the combination of instruments can achieve. I’m always amazed at how much composing is actually happening and Brighton is so vibrant in that respect. It’s always a pleasure to be involved with NMB which I have great admiration for. Val and Juliet are cracking players, both of whom I’ve worked with before but never all together so it’ll be great fun for us – and hopefully for the composers and the audience.
Talkestra perform a full programme of music by NMB composers on 2nd July @ Friend’s Meeting House, Brighton, 2.30pm. Visit the event page for more info:
NMB is pleased to announce our concert with Ensemble Bash percussionist Chris Brannick and versatile soprano Sara Stowe performing a lively and entertaining programme of music for soprano and percussion. See the Events page for more details.
Saturday 14 November at 3pm – Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton.
Download poster pdf 427Kb
Friday 25 September at 7.30pm – St Luke’s Church. Queens Park Road, Brighton – the Ireland Trio (Ellie Blackshaw, violin, Peter Copley, cello, Adam Swayne, piano) – in collaboration with Music & Wine at St Luke’s
Jonathan Clark Four Short Pieces for Piano Trio
Barry Mills Piano Trio
Georgina Bowden Forces Beyond Our Control
John Ireland Phantasie in A minor
Terence Allbright Piano Trio No.2
Phil Baker Study in Stripes With Boogie
Clive Whitburn ‘Elegy’ from Piano Trio
Peter Copley Piano Trio No.1
Ric Graebner Keep Clear
There will be a short pre-concert discussion at 7pm
£7 £5 £3
Over the next few weeks this website is going to be upgraded and re-designed. The internet moves rapidly and we are endeavouring to improve how this website works with mobiles, tablets and other devices. If the site looks a little odd on occasion it’s because some upgrading is going on behind the scenes and a further announcement will be made when it’s complete.
Having interviewed several composers and musicians associated with New Music Brighton for Radio Free Brighton a few years ago, I thought it would be of general interest to post the interviews on the NMB’s own website. Some of the original recordings from the radio programme (called MusTalk, incidentally) are included, but others are more recent, including interviews with Ken Jones, Barry Mills, Ric Graebner and Clive Whitburn. The interviews incorporate much of the music which is discussed so that anyone can listen and also hear the composers talk about it.
Composers and performers represented, or who will be represented are: Ken Jones, Ric Graebner, Barry Mills, Clive Whitburn, Peter Owen, Debbie Bridge, Helen Glavin, Roger Harmar. Several more are planned.