Click here to download a short excerpt from Opera (2.2mb).
D:A piece with a title like Opera doesn't instantly suggest instrumental music for violin & piano. Where did this originate from and is the title very important to you in terms of how it might reflect the type of piece this word suggests to the general public?
M: While working on the piece for violin and piano I went down to Brighton to visit Antony Bye (editor of the musical Times) and one of his enthusiasms was the film maker Dario Argento.....I was absolutely mesmerized by the film 'Opera' which we watched together....it's not a regular occurance to find oneself in this situation....usually it's a case of seeing/hearing things which you might like to a greater or lesser extent but the experience goes no further... I realised at once that the abrupt cutting/prowling camerawork/surreal atmosphere bore a relationship with my musical interests. I also relished the title 'Opera' having not come up with a suitable libretto for a request from the Almeida Theatre. This was like a temporary substitute, a way of compacting an opera into a short timespan and for such modest forces! Preferable to the other way round of stretching something something which is essentially small vision onto a big canvas.
D: When you & I were working through early drafts of this piece you kept referring to sections of music from J S Bach's French Suites (I think!) Is his music particularly influential on you ?
M: One of the early drafts of the piece did involve the Sarabande from Bach's 5th French Suite coupled with a freshly composed violin part by me.The violin soaring above the piano part and slightly at a tangent, though not completely as is the case with the recent Finnissy piece for violin and piano. I'm particularly wary about the combination of violin and piano having made a miscalculation in a Trio for clarinet, violin and piano and the Bach experiment was a case of 'what happens if I do this?...' I liked the results but sadly it never reached the final piece! I came to Bach via the quirky interpretations of Glenn Gould which always seemed to get bad write-ups in the Penguin Record Guide so naturally there was a certain exoticism assosciated with him!.....it sounded so modern/fresh! More specifically, I like the preference in Baroque music to stick to one mood in a particular section, then move onto something different. 'Opera' is a good example of this.
D: Every time I hear or perform your music I'm immediately struck by the parallels to composers like Gerald Barry and Michael Finnissy. Without trying to offend, yours can be a music of a certain 'manic nature'. What do you think about this?
M : I agree, my music has a manic quality and it's certainly what has always come most naturally to me though not necessarily in music. When I was very young I loved drawing highly detailed/violent medieval battle scenes, teeming with incident and activity.Though technically primitive I won a prize once for one of these pictures! It's a shame that with the passing of time they've all gone missing.
D: Do your compositional processes change much piece to piece?
M: In general, I'd say the way I work is fairly intuitive which isn't to say I make it up as I go along and the notes magically ooze out...... It's more a case of being flexible with the material...having an overall vision which however strong can be open to all kinds of possibilities. 'Opera' as it happens is a much tighter structure than some of my previous works with the various sections/scenes emerging out of the initial set of notes, quietly stated (at the start) on the violin and piano. The process is transparent where previously I might've obscured matters with various tranformations. Simplicity is often best!
D: Your violin writing in Opera and other pieces I have performed by you is very idiomatic. Was this something you consciously considered whilst writing Opera ?
M: I was very aware of the timbre of the violin while working on 'Opera'....in this respect, I found our early read through of some of the drafts very useful for orientating myself. Unlike Richard Barrett who once said in an interview that he didn't find a dialogue with the performer useful I actually find it quite liberating even if in the end I don't take on board any suggestions!
D: What's your favourite piece of 20th/21st century violin music?
M: It's hard to nominate only one! I'm very fond of the Dillon and Feldman concertos. Both pieces are very alluring and sensual in completely different ways. Solo works by Xenakis, Sciarrino, Barrett(air), Finnissy and Barry are particular favourites as they all have a good sense of line.