In between practice and rehearsals, it has been great to read all your comments this week and I will try and answer them if time permits whilst away in France. I have enjoyed catching up with my friends in Glasgow as we prepare for our mini tour and I managed to get the opportunity to Interview Lliam Paterson the composer of BambinO.
I am so happy that I am finally able to share some more amazing news with you all, we are to take ‘BambinO’ to New York 😊 at the end of April for the Metropolitan Opera. I never dreamt that being a part of this fantastic production would allow me to visit and perform in both Paris and New York.
Liam when we met you were the resident emerging artist Composer at Scottish Opera, what did this entail?
The first thing to say is what an amazing opportunity it was to be resident in a national opera company! The level of support and the inspiring atmosphere were really outstanding. Scottish Opera helped to nurture my theatrical instincts, and importantly the company wasn’t afraid to take risks in commissioning a hitherto unknown young composer!
When I first arrived at Scottish Opera, I worked on small-scale pieces: I wrote miniature operas for the marvelous Opera Highlights tours, which take opera to the farthest flung parts of Scotland! It was marvelous knowing that my little dramatic works – each written to a comic libretto of my own devising – would be performed dozens of times all around the country. I also wrote a fanfare to celebrate the opening of the new Theatre Royal foyer in Glasgow in 2015.
After this, I was commissioned to produce large-scale works. The 8th Door was a new opera to partner Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, performed in a co-production with Vanishing Point in a production by Matthew Lenton, and conducted by Sian Edwards. During the process of working on this, Jane Davidson – head of Scottish Opera’s Education Department – commissioned me to write an opera for babies aged 6 to 18 months! The resulting piece – BambinO – opened at Manchester International Festival last year in a production directed by Phelim McDermott.
For both works, I had lots of workshop time facilitated by Scottish Opera. I worked really closely with Matthew Lenton for The 8th Door and with Phelim McDermott and design team Giuseppe and Emma Belli for BambinO. I learned so much about all aspects of creating powerful opera through working with these amazingly creative people!
I also did a lot of repetiteur work for the company, ranging from regular playing for the Connect Company (Scottish Opera’s youth opera) to Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Greek at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Where did you go to High School?
I attended the Aberdeen City Music School and for my last two years of school went to St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh.
When did Composition become your main interest?
I become really fascinated by the idea of composing around the age of 12, although my first work came the following year! For most of secondary school, my main studies revolved around the piano and French horn. However, I realised early on those composers of the past had all been performers too, so for that point on performance and composition were totally linked for me.
What were your favourite subjects and which subjects most helped you to achieve your goals looking back with hindsight?
I loved English and Art & Design more than anything!
Creative writing and Art both help you develop a uniquely subjective view of the world. This is so important in composition, where you have to really believe in the integrity of the sound world you create, whatever it is!
What did you do after high school?
After school, I studied music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, and subsequently studied for a Masters in piano accompaniment and repetituer studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I started my residency at Scottish Opera even before I’d graduated from Guildhall!
What instruments do you play? What age did you start lessons? Are your family from an art or musical background?
I play the piano and any keyboard instrument that’s put in front of me! For recent opera performances, I’ve played digital piano (set to a fantastic retro 80s synth sound!) and harmonium! I played French horn until I was twenty, but piano and composition took up all my time by my second year at university.
I started piano lessons around age nine and horn the following year. Before that, I was already singing in the Haddo Children’s Choir, which really developed my ear.
I’m from a very creative family – my parents went to the Glasgow School of Art, as did many other family members, and my sister has had a very varied career in the arts, from working in the film industry and radio broadcasting, to teaching English! Although my parents aren’t musicians, they have a very broad interest in the arts, so it feels natural that I ended up as a musician. They encouraged open-mindedness but the impetus for getting involved in music came from me I think! I became obsessed with the idea of playing the harp for some reason! My sister was also in orchestras and choirs all through secondary school.
If you hadn’t gone down the Music/Composition route, what would you do instead? Is there any way you can interweave this into your future career?
I think I would have attempted a career writing fiction and being an academic in a university English department somewhere! It’s wonderful that I now have the opportunity to write my own libretti and devise scenarios for theatre works. It’s much collaborative but still uses my instinct for creative writing!
I’m also a huge fan of film across a wide range of genres! I think this partly stems from my sister’s involvement in the film world! Film really flared up as a big passion at university and remains so today – I collect the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine and the film journal Little White Lies. I’m currently writing my first film score for a documentary, so it’s brilliant to get my first taste of this business from the creative end of things!
Who would you say are your main role models not just for composition but for life too?
Composer Sofia Gubaidulina for her absolute integrity in everything she does; film critic Mark Kermode for his insights on the importance of film makers’ views of the world and the need to challenge censorship in art; composer John Luther Adams for his connectedness to the environment and his use of music as a powerful reflection of the state of the world; composer Lili Boulanger for reaching profound depths in her work at such an early age despite suffering from debilitating illness and being in the midst of war; film-maker David Cronenberg for the uncompromising vision of his work; composer Philip Glass for the amazing volume and diversity of work he has achieved in his life!
Recently when I have been sourcing contemporary music, I had problems finding
music for a small ensemble, (piano and voice). Is accessibility a concern when you compose or do think that would sacrifice musical integrity?
I think of accessibility as allowing a way in to a musical work for a listener, whether they are a musician or not. How do you grip a listener’s attention in the opening moments of a work to keep them interested? How do I move between consonance and dissonance in my music to keep dramatic tension but overload an audience not accustomed to new music?
I believe that if you make accessibility a core element of your approach to art, it doesn’t affect musical integrity.
You have been writing Operas is this your preference? If so why?
I love the dramatic immediacy of opera, and music’s interconnectedness to all the other art forms that make up opera: set design, lighting, acting, etc. Music in opera is not abstract: it can propel dramatic action just as it can become the soul of a character. I become inspired by my role in an art work that is greater than the sum of its parts! I am inspired by conversations with directors, librettists, set designers and so on. There is much ‘abstract’ music I also love, but the writing process is much more of an interior one, at least for me. I love the sociability of creativity in opera.
Do you ever enter your compositions into competitions? And what are your thoughts about them?
I have entered my compositions into competitions in the past. For instance, I won the 2014 International Frederic Mompou Composition Competition in Barcelona. Competitions are as much the reflection of a jury’s taste (or the tensions between jurors) as they are a reflection of quality and integrity on the part of competitive artists. Competitions can give a much needed financial boost to an artist in the early stages of their career, as well as giving artists a platform to hone their craft in a highly pressurised environment.
For composers, competitions almost never launch a career – but they are useful if the prize involves the performance of a work for orchestra or other large-scale forces. I’ll end with the much-quoted (and probably miss-quoted!) saying of Béla Bartók: ‘Competitions are for horses, not for people!’ People have very unique strengths and qualities that competitions often don’t have room to recognise.
Do you have a particular approach when you write a new opera/large scale works?
Usually, I do as much research as possible at the start of a project, reading about the subject matter of a new opera from many different angles. Discussions with other collaborators on a large-scale project are also crucial to making many decisions about the work at an early stage.
I write a sketch score of an opera very quickly, usually working to a strict routine every day. Then I play through the sketch score a lot to get a sense of how the dramatic pacing is working, and make extensive amendments if needed. After this, I orchestrate the work and revise as I go.
If possible, I like to speak to singers cast in one of my works as soon as it is finished, so I can respond to any concerns and make revisions. If I know a singer’s voice beforehand, this is in my mind throughout the creative process, and I hear their voice as I write their vocal lines. This was the case with your role of Uccellina in BambinO!
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement…. that would have to be my name appearing in the New York Times in an article about the Metropolitan Opera performing BambinO! I love the New York Times and am a subscriber, so that was a thrill!
Do certain places inspire you to compose?
I can compose almost anywhere, but I prefer to be in a room with large windows overlooking a city! The Board Room on the top floor of Scottish Opera’s Elmbank Crescent building was my composing base for three years!
Natural landscapes and open skies inspire me very much, especially those of the North- East of Scotland. I also love Suffolk, Aldeburgh in particular.
What are your future aspirations?
I would love to continue writing opera and to explore collaborating across different art forms. In future, I hope to collaborate with other artists who also seek to fuse opera and film.
Finally, Lliam What is your favourite colour?
Coming from a family of visual artists, I have always been sensitive to the different tonal qualities of colour! I am most drawn to blue in all its many shades.
Thank you Lliam for being so open and giving us your time and a peek into your world.
Here is a link to Lliam’s website: Lliam Paterson