The music that made me
"George Lewis is the sort of fearless, extreme and brilliant composer that everyone wishes they were."
Composer David John Roche selects some of the music that has been significant to his life
My earliest musical memory
I remember being in Sunday school as a child with my brother. Neither of us were interested in anything that was going on in church and he insisted on singing Red Car/Blue Car from the Milky Way advert. Badly! (He was only little so I’ll forgive him.) None of the hymns and other religious songs we sang seem to have made an impression but music from a chocolate bar advert certainly did — I don't know what that says about me!
The piece that inspired me to become a composer
It was a black and white film from the 1960s of Stravinsky conducting his Firebird Suite. He doesn’t do the best job of this, misses a load of entries and even laughs about this but it’s just fantastic from start to finish. It’s Disney and classical music and the greatest composer of the twentieth century all rolled into one massive piece for orchestra. I love it!
The piece I wish I’d written
Brian Ferneyhough’s Firecycle Beta. Maybe I'm being unkind but I think this piece is ridiculous and I can’t believe anyone would actually allow it to exist! The score is unreadable nonsense – two orchestras and five conductors. If anyone out there reads this, please commission me to write a companion piece for this ensemble.
The recording I would give as a gift
I worked in a classical CD shop for years and often encouraged customers to listen to Percy Grainger’s Ramble on Love [an arrangement of the finale from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier] played by Marc-André Hamelin. For me, it’s as good as pianism gets. If you don’t like this piece of music, you have no heart!
My comfort listen
South Catalina by Christopher Cerrone. It’s soft, direct, sensitive, not over-cluttered and just a really gorgeous piece of contemporary classical music that needs no explanation. If someone says, ‘Show me something good!’, I just show them this. Nobody talks over it, nobody complains about it — it’s just obviously and clearly excellent. I’ll just wish there was more music like that.
The music that reignites my imagination
I have chosen three pieces, starting with Minds in Flux by George Lewis. I met him when he was giving a series of talks about his music at Tanglewood and he was the real deal. I hate using the word ‘genius’ but he actually deserves that description. George Lewis is the sort of fearless, extreme and brilliant composer that everyone wishes they were.
Seven Pillars by Andy Akiho which Sandbox Percussion performed at the 2022 Vale of Glamorgan Festival. When I first heard this it made me think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been writing crap for years! This is what I should be doing instead.’ It’s such a standout piece, I can’t even imagine how much work went into creating it. The ensemble’s virtuosity and professionalism and Akiho’s compositional abilities are something that should be shown as an instructional video at universities.
My final choice is a bit of a weird one. It’s No Birds by my friend Valentin Pelisch which is a piece for video that features a pigeon eating a chip — every time it pecks at the chip, a random section of a piece of classical music is played. I don’t know why but I think about this probably a couple of times a week — it’s strange and actually funny and a little bit pretentious but also weirdly compelling. It reminds me to be open minded.