During a brief break with her parents in Scotland, the composer of the moment, Anna Meredith, talks about her first compositions, her musical influences and the highlights of a busy year.
‘I think my GCSE piece was the first work that was noticed – perhaps because it included instructions to headbutt the keyboard, to play with the nose as well as the hands! At school I played in an orchestra and wind band and I was also going to Blur and Pulp concerts with my friends, and writing what were probably naive, earnest little pieces!’
Meredith studied at the University of York at the same time as composer and singer Kerry Andrew, and composer Emily Hall, who followed her to the Royal College of Music. Her composing career took off at speed, with residencies (BBC Scottish Symphony) and glowing reviews.
‘I was going down the ‘normal’ composer route with amazing commissions and orchestras playing my works, and I suddenly realised that I wanted to be ’ she says. ‘That’s what started me writing electronics, because you could be totally self-sufficient, it was a way of taking back control. At college we put on little concerts, jazz clubs, radio shows, taking it into our own hands and not waiting for commissions.’
‘My GCSE piece included the instructions to play with nose and hands, and to head butt the keyboard’
The last year has shown off the breadth of her musical activities – she’s toured with her band, written her first film score and produced her biggest-ever orchestral and choral piece, Five Telegrams, a multimedia event performed inside and outside the Royal Albert Hall on the first night of the BBC Proms.
‘I was really happy with that piece: it was a really hard thing to write and I’m proud of how it’s come across,’ she says. But whether she’s writing for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, beatboxer Shlomo or her five-piece band (a unique line-up of tuba, cello, electric guitar and drums, with Anna on keyboards, voice and clarinet), ‘I make a point of trying not to creatively distinguish any of the music that I write – I use the same compositional approach whether I’m writing for orchestra, or a remix, or a band piece.’
‘It’s all the same building blocks. If you knew Five Telegrams and you listened to the Varmints album from 2016, you’d hear some of the same stuff: there’s a lot of crossover. I take the materials I like, a harmony or rhythm, and I use them whether they’re being sung by a choir, my band, or played by nursery-age kids.’
‘ I feel inspired and supported by my peers, like Emily and Kerry Andrew, and I’m grateful to have a network. You don’t want to be in your turret writing on your own’
Next week sees the release of Anno on Moshi-Moshi Records, originally an hour-long live show in which Meredith’s pieces for string orchestra and electronics were woven through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with illustrations by her sister Eleanor. The Aurora late-night event at Kings Place will also include live visuals by Eleanor for Meredith’s Moon. ‘When we first performed this she did live drawings and it worked beautifully,’ says Meredith.
The earlier concert features Meredith’s Origami Songs for recorder and ensemble, with Emily Hall’s Life Cycle – songs about motherhood. ‘I love Emily’s music. She writes beautiful, direct, clear songs – everything’s very spare, which is something I’m not good at. I’ve seen Life Cycle a few times with the fantastic Mara Carlyle singing and it will be a lovely partner to my Origami Songs. I feel inspired and supported by my peers, like Emily and Kerry Andrew, and I’m grateful to have a network. That includes the guys in my band, who I can bounce ideas off. You don’t want to be in your turret writing on your own…’
Next she’s taking time out to write her second album, a follow-up to the award-winning Varmints. She’s also just written a soundtrack to the US indie film Eighth Grade, to be released in the UK later this year. ‘I’ve always wanted to write a film soundtrack. It has been so nice to be doing something more collaborative – so I’m not up at the front. It relieves me of all that pressure.’