Experience never-before-heard music from composers of the here and now on Saturday 10 April. Pre-recorded in February and premiered on our YouTube channel, LSO musicians and friends perform four new pieces, the product of 15 months of development, change and discovery for their creators. Composer Clare Elton tells us more about herself and her music ahead of the concert …
How did you first get into music and composing?
Having an older sibling that was learning the trumpet, at the age of nine I immediately wanted to play the trumpet too. I loved performing and took every opportunity to play, from county orchestras to local brass bands. Alongside performing, I always enjoyed being creative and composing for myself, however it wasn’t until my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway that I started to explore composition more specifically. I thrived from the opportunities at university to compose for my peers as well as professional musicians. After my time there, I decided to pursue composition further in a Master’s degree at Guildhall, and here we are!
What has the past year been like for you as a musician?
It has been a really challenging time for everyone, in many different ways. For me personally, the restriction of lockdowns as well as becoming unwell with the virus has meant that much of my professional work in teaching and composition has moved online, or stopped altogether. That was hard, but instead the past year has been a time of rest and reflection, where I stepped back for a while to prioritise. I composed for no purpose other than for my enjoyment, I explored some of my other interests in art, making things and cooking, and I wrote for musician friends, thinking creatively about how to collaborate in lockdowns. Towards the latter end of 2020, it was a joy to work on the LSO Soundhub project. It was so exciting being able to dialogue with the musicians in the workshops, hear music performed in person and work creatively again.
What were your first steps when you started writing your piece as part of the LSO Soundhub scheme?
My first step was to begin by thinking about instrumentation. Having less experience in composing for percussion outside of orchestral or larger ensemble settings, I decided to use this as my starting point. I was drawn to the bass drum and its sonically demanding presence. With it being a large instrument, it is a visual focal point, and this sparked the concept of composing a piece investigating ideas of gathering. With the bass drum forming the centre around which the performance takes place, I wanted to explore a sense of coming together throughout the piece. However, these ideas were planned before the pandemic and lockdown restrictions of 2020. Consequently, I had to adapt, with the close physical gathering of the musicians around the bass drum not being possible. Instead, I explored simple movements within the whole space, gestural mimicking between the musicians and the similarities between the instruments, and the bass drum having a central role of signalling changes.
Looking back on your time on the LSO Soundhub scheme, are there any stand-out moments?
My stand-out moments have to be the two workshops with the musicians. I loved having the space and time to try out ideas, take risks, reflect, gather material for the electronics and see how it changed over the two sessions – it was a rewarding time of discovery and discussion! Working with LSO musicians was wonderful. They were very helpful and patient, offering suggestions, feedback and technical advice on writing for their instruments, and practical ideas about the piece itself, such as issues when playing spaced apart. And they were open to trying out different types of notation and exploring the idea of memory with some of the more freely composed passages. The final rehearsal and recording were conducted by Darren Bloom, who was a massive help in bringing it together.
What’s your overwhelming feeling now that the piece is finished and recorded?
Excitement, relief and gratitude. It was such a privilege to have a piece finished and recorded, particularly after such a challenging year. It’s been an invaluable experience to spend such a long stretch of time composing, where I was able to push myself as a composer and refine ideas. The musicians performed brilliantly, and a huge thanks goes to my mentor Anna Thorvaldsdottir and the LSO team involved, who made the whole scheme from start to finish a smooth and enjoyable project to be a part of. I’m looking forward to the final sharing of the work on Saturday 10 April on YouTube, alongside the other pieces by three very talented composers.
Can you give us a glimpse of the finished piece?
My new piece is called Around, for percussion, violin, cello and electronics. It explores the ideas of gathering and memory. There is a sense of coming together throughout the piece for a fleeting moment and then moving apart, with the percussionist having a central role. The musical textures are influenced by notions of conversing, remembering, mimicking and learning, with the musicians acting in dialogue, interrupting each other, and sometimes conflicting. This is often blurred by the electronics, that consist solely of recordings of the instruments themselves and in particular, one musical idea that permeates throughout the whole piece, providing a sense of remembrance and familiarity.
Other than the LSO Soundhub scheme, are you working on anything else that we should look out for?
A new commission for voice, lute and harp, an opera performed in a unique format and a collaboration with a choreographer.
Clare Elton is a composer based in London. With a strong interest in collaboration with other artists, her music has been heard on BBC Radio 3, performed by ensembles including musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, EXAUDI vocal ensemble, Plus-Minus Ensemble and Psappha, and performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Milton Court Concert Hall, Union Chapel and at the Cheltenham Festival.
Hear Clare Elton's Around in our online concert on Saturday 10 April, alongside music by other early-career composers. Watch for free on our YouTube channel, and join in with the live chat from 7pm GMT, where you can ask our four composers about their pieces and experiences on the LSO Soundhub scheme.