For the whole of 2019, we are embracing more than one hundred female composers as part of Venus Unwrapped, a series that unlocks the secret history of music by women as well as celebrating the explosion of female creativity in more recent times.
Just two months into the programme and there’s already been some astonishing performances, from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing the Seventeenth Century works of Barbara Strozzi and Musica Secreta revealing the enchanting compositions of medieval nuns, to the contemporary sounds of Laura Mvula, Cate le Bon and Pan Daijing.
Kate Molleson, music journalist for The Guardian and The Herald and a presenter for BBC Radio 3, has been lucky enough to interview some of the stars of the series, getting an insight into their creative process and inspiration, plus their thoughts on being a female composer.
In the first three interviews of the series you’ll hear from the Mercury-nominated Laura Jurd, the extraordinarily chimeric Anna Meredith and living legend, Eleanor Alberga. Each coming from distinctly different backgrounds, their experiences as composers can be totally unique to each other and yet they share core musical ideas on discipline and practice and even the realisation of their becoming musicians.
Composer and pianist Eleanor Alberga writes music that is vivid and candid. She’s written orchestral music, chamber music, vocal music and powerful operas. Her work’s often have the distinct imprint of folk music from her native Jamaica. They always have a direct and a really immediate impact.
In Eleanor’s interview, she fondly remembers writing her first composition at the age of eight for her golden retriever Prince Andrew. Recalling her many knockbacks and rise to success, Eleanor’s words of wisdom to young composers are direct ‘You have to be absolutely sure that you want to write music, it has to be something that you must do, otherwise I think, forget it.’
Joanna MacGregor performs Eleanor’s It’s Time, which draws on African rhythms and Aleksandr Pushkin’s famous poem, ‘It’s time my friend, it’s time, to create spaciousness and profundity’; while transcriptions of the great political activist and musician Nina Simone crackle with fiery virtuosity, referencing Liszt, Bach and the blues.
Opening the interview with a refreshing confidence, Laura Jurd states ‘I didn’t really think about wanting to be a musician, but I felt like I was a musician.’ A trumpet player, composer and improviser from the UK, Laura has developed a formidable reputation as one of the most distinctive and creative composer-performers to emerge from the UK in recent years.
Her interview reveals her to be a devout believer in the ‘practice of practice’, finding a discipline and sticking to it whether it be yoga, swimming or, for her, playing the trumpet is something that needs to be done daily, if not just for the technical side of things but for simple idea that its good for you.
Her advice to young musicians? In true Laura fashion, she ebulliently answers: ‘Be authentic. That’s actually the easiest thing to do, because all you have to be is to be is yourself.’
Laura’s concert Stepping Back, Jumping in takes place Fri 1 Mar, with her band Dinosaur, the Ligeti Quartet and guests, as well as a free pre-concert talk with British-Iranian composer Soosan Lolavar.
Anna Meredith is a composer, producer and performer of both acoustic and electronic music. Her sound is frequently described as ‘uncategorisable’ and ‘genre-defying’ and straddles the different worlds of contemporary classical, art pop, techno, ambient installations and experimental rock – or as the Guardian said: ‘majestic bangers’
Writing her early compositions with instructions to use your nose to play the notes, it would seem that Anna was born for greatness as a composer, but when she was young all she could dream of was joining the circus to be a trapeze artist. In Anna’s interview there are insights into her composing and collaborations, praise for the Edinburgh state school system, as well as her interesting relationship with roller coasters.
Anna’s Aurora Orchestra Lock-In went down in Kings Place history as one of the venue’s most memorable performances, featuring a bassoon that could have doubled for an electric guitar and also a drum machine that was hooked up to a dance mat controller.