Box Office 020 7520 1490 info@kingsplace.co.uk

Howard Skempton

Q&A

Composer Howard Skempton’s 70th birthday is celebrated in a special concert this autumn. He reflects on a creative life that began with Cornelius Cardew, with Helen Wallace

In 1969 you helped found the Scratch Orchestra, with Cornelius Cardew. What did you learn from him?
I studied privately with Cardew and I learnt from him what it means to be professional. Breaking the barrier between player and composer was always central to his thinking, and that remains a priority for me.

Who influenced you most?
The most important composers for me, in the late Sixties, were Webern, Feldman, G.recki, Cardew and Britten. I must have taken the Beatles for granted, because they could well have been the biggest influence of all. Feldman promoted sound as the experience of music, and that still means a great deal.

The distilled nature of your music seems to have given it a timeless quality.
There’s little stylistic difference between the piano pieces of different decades. Stylistic changes have largely, but not entirely, come about through the challenge of a new medium. Writing for strings, for example, prompted an exploration of counterpoint and chromaticism, both of which are now central concerns.

‘Feldman promoted sound as the experience of music, and that still means a great deal.’

Which work are you proudest of? And which fondest of?
It has to be Lento. At the moment, I’m fondest of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, possibly because it’s still quite new.

Tell me about Expectancy, to be performed in this concert ?
Expectancy was composed in 2008 for the Coull Quartet at Warwick University. I was pleased to have a reason to set a strong poem by a favourite Warwickshire poet, John Drinkwater. The repertoire for mixed choir and string quartet is quite small – Beethoven’s Elegischer Gesang is a fine example.

What role does the accordion play in your musical life?
I bought the accordion I still play in 1971. The original idea was to play experimental pieces, and to improvise, but I soon discovered that it was a most expressive melody instrument. In guiding me towards melody, my accordion remains of paramount importance.

Highlights of your time at Kings Place since it opened?
William Howard’s piano recital was magical, as were Marielle Lab.que’s performances of my piano pieces a few years ago. I remember a series curated by Graham Fitkin, one of which included Chimes for 8 cellos.

What are you working on?
A second big setting for baritone Roderick Williams, of DH Lawrence’s Man and Bat for baritone, piano, string quartet and bass.

I was struck by your 1971 statement ‘without economy there is no power, and without self-control there is nothing’.
I still hold to that bold statement. It’s mainly about form, something which still preoccupies me.

Recommended articles

Federico Colli

Q&A

Federico Colli is a favourite pianist among British music lovers and was a 2018 recipient of the UK Critics’ Circle…

Read the article

Christian Ihle Hadland

Q&A

Acclaimed pianist Christian Ihle Hadland has established himself as a true craftsman of the piano. At this year’s London Piano…

Read the article

Pavel Kolesnikov

Q&A

Rising Russian star Pavel Kolesnikov makes a keenly anticipated Kings Place recital debut with two signature composers, Couperin and Schumann,…

Read the article

Alexandra Dariescu

Q&A

World-class pianist Alexandra Dariescu brings her ground-breaking performance The Nutcracker and I to London Piano Festival, following its critically-acclaimed world premiere last…

Read the article

Tempo Ticciati

Q&A

Hugo Ticciati is artist-in-residence for Time Unwrapped. Here he introduces his own curations and his fascination with the connection between…

Read the article

A view from the bassline

Q&A

Award-winning cellist and director David Watkin brings his unique ‘continuo’ perspective to the exploration of Bach in three special events…

Read the article

The Sinking of the Titanic, Fifty Years On

Feature

Gavin Bryars reveals the impetus behind composing the work and some of the most eventful performances as we approach the…

Read the article

Screen Obsessions

Feature

Pianist Zubin Kanga discusses his upcoming recital, inspired by classic films, video games and 80s hip hop

Read the article

Light in the Darkness

Interview

Tansy Davies goes deeper than most composers dare to do and emerges with music of clarity and hope. Amanda Holloway…

Read the article

Swallowed by the Machine?

Feature

Renowned vocalist and composer Lore Lixenberg discusses her new project, Nancarrow Karaoke.

Read the article