COMPOSER INTERVIEW

Mae'r cynnwys hwn ar gael

yn Saesneg yn unig.

William Mival

What were your first musical experiences?

One of my very earliest musical experiences was a concert given by the Halle Orchestra one Sunday afternoon in the Pavilion Theatre in Rhyl. I remember Evelyn Barbirolli was the soloist in the Vaughan Williams oboe concerto. The main work in the second half was the Beethoven 3rd Symphony, the Eroica, which made a huge impact. But the concert started with William Mathias' Welsh Dances'. He stood up to bow at the end of his piece, coming to the front of the balcony and it was the first time I had ever seen a living composer in the flesh and in front of me. Up to that time I had assumed that composers and composing were all in the past and it was a revelation that someone alive, and there in front of me, could be a composer. It was a life-changing experience and I knew from then on that that was what I wanted to do.

 

A few years after that the Pavilion Theatre, with its landmark dome on the Rhyl sea-front, was demolished and orchestras didn't come to Rhyl any more. However they did come to St Asaph, to the North Wales Music Festival which William Mathias set up in the small but very beautiful cathedral there and as a schoolboy I went to as many of those performances as I could, hearing for the first time Shostakovich, Tippett, Hindemith, Poulenc and a host of other amazing composers whose sound worlds opened up so many possibilities. 

As you grew older, what were your influences?

My entire musical up-bringing owes everything to the musical culture in North Wales in the later 1970's. I was a pupil at Rhyl High School which had a thriving music department led by the energetic Jefferson Thomas, who staged musicals and operettas, set up a youth choir which toured Europe and even North America and just involved all in his students, including myself, in a torrent of music-making - setting it at the centre of school life. It was thrilling! Then there were the buses arranged to the regular Spring visits to Llandudno by Welsh National Opera, a real treat, where for the first time I saw great opera in great performances - even if just occasionally the ageing infrastructure of the Astra Theatre would play its own unwanted role and the safety curtain would stick closed needing to be winched up again by hand as the orchestra cheekily improvised slow rising chromatic scales.

 

By my teens I was composing extensively, getting the occasional performance at school but determined to make more of it. My parents, not at all musical, were surprised by my interest and by the effort and time I put into it and suggested I send some of my compositions to William Mathias at Bangor University. Mathias, to my relief, was hugely encouraging. Since that first concert in the Pavilion in Rhyl, I had admired both him and his music - and today I recognise the enormous influence both his example and his work has had on me personally. 

 

His music still speaks strongly to me. Just last Christmas, 2017, I was in Melbourne, Australia and was at the Christmas Day service at the Cathedral where the choir sang a motet by Mathias (and great to see Welsh music again taking the international stage!). It struck me that the music came over with so much power and so much individuality of voice. Mathias for me will always remain a composer of the greatest stature.

Where do you feel you and your music sit within the Welsh music ecology? Is there a particular scene/scenes that you feel part of?

Mathias suggested I study at Bangor. But I chose instead to head to London and the Royal College of Music. Wales had certainly given me a lot - but I was hungry to know what else was out there and London seemed the place to be!

 

As things developed I found myself exposed to a huge range of new ideas - I explored Boulez, Stockhausen, Reich, Adams, Rihm, Lachenmann - and so many others whose music I hadn't come across before.

I went on from the RCM, and Anthony Milner, who I had chosen for his knowledge of Tippett (a huge influence on me at the time) and studied privately with Robert Saxton and then in Cologne with Stockhausen pupil York Holler. 

 

I became Head of Composition at the RCM in 2000, initially sharing the role with Julian Anderson before taking sole control in 2004. Teaching has inevitably taken up a substantial part of the last 20 or so years. During that time, and with the support of my colleagues I have built a powerful composition faculty at the RCM which has been responsible for setting some of todays brightest young composers on their paths to professional success. 

Teaching and composing have become mutually dependant - the one feeding the other. When I wrote 'Correntandemente - (Runningly-ish)' in 2015, it was in response to a commission from the RCM for a new piece for a concert that would celebrate the work of the RCM's composition Faculty over the past years - and so it is simultaneously a reflection of my teaching, of my role as Head of Composition, and is also a personal statement of myself as a composer. I was delighted that the concert in which it was first performed included former RCM students, (Britten) current RCM staff, Holt, Turnage and myself as well as new work by a young Singaporean composer and then undergraduate RCM student Bertram Wee.

What was the initial idea behind Correntadamente (Running-ly-ish) ?

The initial idea behind my piece came from a discussion with a student about how little material is needed to create an extended piece of music and how something as simple as just speeding up or slowing down could provide all that is required. On my own I then worked that idea into a potential musical shape and, in ways that are too detailed and intricate to go into here, made that operate across a range of musical actions. 

Do you have any specific hopes about how people might experience this piece …?

I often think that a listeners experience is nothing at all to do with how a piece is conceived and written. Composition for me is a private, detailed, forensic and intricate process - you work at every single element in a piece in meticulous detail. A friend of mine once suggested the image of a watch-maker; the tiniest fragments have themselves to be crafted before being assembled into a mechanism of subtle beauty and balance. That's not how music sounds however - it can be dramatic and emotional - but what makes it that, and makes it have its power, is patience and precision.

 

Which of your pieces (if any) would you say sums you up as a composer? And why? [is there a recording we can point people to, or a forthcoming event/concert?]

 

I've been lucky enough to have had a number of commissions over the years and to have had the chance to write some works that have been, for me at least, important. 'Tristan - still' was a BBC Commission for the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2003, shortlisted for a BASCA British composer award. It received a successful performance by the orchestra at the Barbican Hall in London under the esteemed Wagnerian conductor Donald Runnicles. Quartet RBG was premiered by the Belcea String Quartet at the 2001 Sydney Festival during their Michael Berkeley curated chamber music series. In 2012 I had the chance to write for the Choirs of Salisbury Cathedral, with a group of five motets setting words by John Cosin 'And Singing Say and Saying Sing'.

 

Very little of my music is currently publicly available - however you can hear one of my orchestral works - 'On the Ringstreet' was originally written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra - here it is played by the RCM Philharmonic conducted by Martyn Brabbins in a recording from 2016:  

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