St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh invited me onto their online Celebrity interview series, viewed by the whole school on a Friday afternoon. It was a very well organised Zoom occasion, with my wonderful colleague Will Conway (pictured during some Hebrides Ensemble session we did "in the olden days before Covid-19") in the digital chair. Some very good questions came from the students, which I’m still wondering about the next day:
“How do you ensure motivic consisitency in an extended symphonic composition?” Search me. This is possibly one of those things that goes wrong if you pay it too much attention. Writing a short (maybe 90-seconds) stretch of melody is the way I can best get started, and hopefully out of that, some usuable material will emerge, though I don’t yet know which bit it will be.
“In a large choral work, how do you balance voices and orchestra ?” How remarkable to be already aware of this dangerous area in your teens! There are certainly many acoustic pitfalls you can’t find out ahead. I well remember some innocuous trombone line of mine rendering the altos inaudible throughout.
“What is your favourite interval?” (!) Immediately jumping into my mind came the augmented 4th, that interval we’re told not to use. Then followed immediately after by the major 7th. Clearly, unresolved intervals mean the composer has a job to get going with.
“What is your favourite pencil?” (!!) I’m sure some people have interesting answers for this, but I don’t have the time/personality to be fetishistic about composer equipment. When Sara Mohr Pietsch years ago visited my workroom for her legendary Composers Rooms feature, I felt rather embarrassed by my chewed up ends of pencils, blackened bits of erasers and clapped out earphones. Now on the lookout for a fittingly magnificent pencil.