June 11, 2016
Night Music released on NMC Records
My debut album is released on NMC records. Featuring chamber works from 2006-2014 performed by Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexi Grynyk, Guy Johnston, Richard Uttley, Nicholas Daniel, Ensemble 10/10 Jonathan Small, Clark Rundell and myself.
You can purchase here
Watch video here::
Interview with James Longstaffe:
I imagine a lot of people will be most familiar with your music from the 2012 BBC Proms season, when your piece sparks.. opened the Last Night. How was that experience for you? Did the high profile of the occasion influence your writing in any way, or did you try not to think about that whilst you were composing the piece?
To begin with, I have to admit the high-profile nature of the concert was daunting. It’s just the nature of the beast! But there’s only so long you can dwell on that kind of thing. Also, it’s almost impossible to conceptualise the many millions of people who were watching on TV, or even the thousands in the hall. You have to let go and just write something that you think will work. But that in itself was tricky. How was I going to pitch it? Would I do an unashamedly modernist free-for- all, or try and appeal to a wider audience taste and give something that more people would enjoy? It was hard to decide. I decided that this uncertainty was something I could play with and the piece actually has three false starts before it kicks in. After that I wanted high-energy, dense orchestral texture and virtuosity.
Several of the pieces on this disc are, if not programmatic, then at least inspired by extra-musical ideas, be it the poetry of Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes, or your somewhat unsettling experience of staying in a farmhouse in Barkham. The obvious exception to this would be Nur Musik, whose title implies that it is perhaps relatively unusual in your output for being ‘just music’: do you find it helpful to have a specific inspiration rather than beginning with a blank slate, as it were?
Yes I do. If there is some kind of narrative structure, an idea or concept, or even words to set the music to, things flow much more easily. It’s something that I wasn’t aware of whilst growing up writing. A creative fire would light on reading or seeing something and then that’s when the music starts to light up too. I get it sometimes in spaces, although I’ve never written music for specific spaces yet. Sometimes, I go to a place and feel that music should be happening. The only difficulty is that it’s a nightmare to organise these kinds of events, and organising them often takes time away from writing!
Your proficiency in the clarinet has enabled you to include some striking effects when writing for that instrument (especially in Echoes and Embers); do you start with particular techniques that you know you can achieve and then try to incorporate them somehow, or do they grow more naturally out of your musical ideas?
Always with musical ideas. There is a moment in Echoes and Embers about three quarters of the way through the piece where a stillness is reached, and having kept the piano pedal down from the resonances just before, I place an extremely delicate and open sounding chord that had A-flat at its centre. At this moment I knew that there was a specific technique that sounds kind of like a whale call, that centres around concert A-flat too, and so it was a perfect coalescence of my knowledge of the instrument and what the piece needed musically at that moment. I don’t use extended techniques that often in my pieces, only when necessary. Also, in Lov(escape), I wrote that at the piano and in concert pitch. Although I knew how the part felt I didn’t write it for me per se, even though I knew I was going to play it. I just wrote a very wild piece and it fitted well with my playing technique and what I can do. Sounds strange but it’s true.
Similarly, most of the pieces on this disc are performed by their dedicatees: when you’re composing for an instrument that you don’t play, how much do you involve the intended performer in the compositional process in order to discuss technical capabilities and limitations?
I often just try to write the music that I’d like to play and hear myself. I had played with a lot of the musicians on this disc many times before so there was an instinctive knowledge of how they play. I knew what would work and what wouldn’t because of that.
You’ve just had a great success with your first opera, Pleasure, as well as the premiere of your oratorio, The Immortal, last year: did you find different challenges to working on such larger-scale works? Do you prefer writing smaller, more intimate pieces, or do you not really distinguish between forms in that way?
I approach each project as it comes. In the case of The Immortal and Pleasure I’d planned them for a very long time and had very specific ideas about what the pieces were to be about, extra-musically speaking, and that in turn shaped the music. After a period of research and development a line is crossed and I feel as though I can start to really create the music. It’s hard to explain exactly how the process works and at what point I decide to write. But I like to throw myself into a period of research and planning before a big project. I’ve not yet written a piece on a small scale that has the same amount of energy behind it that, say, The Immortal and Pleasure had. Maybe that will come in the future!
Finally, I see that you have a new trio for clarinet, viola, and piano being premiered next year, a commission from the Salzburg Festival, no less. Can you tell us any more about that and any other forthcoming projects? Any more operas on the horizon? Perhaps, given your status as both composer and performer, a clarinet concerto?
The trio will be performed by myself, Antoine Tamestit and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. It is an hommage to György Kurtág and it begins the first half of the concert. The second half of the concert is a relay of hommages, beginning with the Schumann Märchenerzählungen and then the Kurtág Hommage à R. Sch. and a piece by Marco Stroppa, Hommage À Gy. K. My piece is comprised of small movements, as you might expect from an hommage to Kurtág. After the premiere performances in Edinburgh and Salzburg we will tour it to Cologne and Strasbourg. After that I will write a solo clarinet piece for myself and then a cello concerto for Leonard Elschenbroich titled NOX, which is my first official commission as Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. That will be performed on May 27th 2017 at Bridgewater Hall with Juanjo Mena. Clarinet Concerto? Watch this space…