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Graham Fitkin Interview

Posted on 13 November 2004. © Copyright 2004-2023 Composition:Today

Graham Fitkin
Recent works by Graham Fitkin include Double Concerto for two Pianos and Orchestra - CIRCUIT, commissioned by the BBC and featuring soloists Kathyrn Stott and Noriko Ogawa, and KAPLAN, a sixty minute piece for keyboards based on the central character from Hitchcock's North By Northwest. This seven movement work also uses video and live webcams and is concerned with mistaken identity. Other recent collaborations include LENS a piano trio commissioned by the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, a new BBC commission for the Duke Quartet - PAWN, a solo for the new organ at Birmingham Symphony Hall and new interactive work GEOGRAPHY. Graham is touring KAPLAN in 2004 in UK, Japan and Holland. 2005 sees the start of a new multi location work for computers and video starting in New York. Find more info on Graham Fitkin at

Tell us something about your background.

I was born and brought up in Cornwall. My mother was, and still is, a piano teacher and my father is, shall we say, slightly less musical. They were both hugely influential in my early musical upbringing. My mum allowed me to give up the piano five times before I was eleven, which was a very sensible thing to do, as I was always drawn back to the sound of the thing anyway and didn't feel forced. My dad was heroic in carting me around from band practise to
orchestral practise to jazz orchestra concerts etc etc.

Living in Cornwall at that time ( a long way from any urban life) meant that the local communities has little if any access to touring culture, professional orchestra concerts, shows etc. This meant that there was a plethora of locally driven musical activity, operas, ensembles, bands etc which allowed people
like me to participate constantly in public events. I found this enormously useful.

How did you start composing?

It was during the periods that my mum allowed me to give up the piano that I actually liked sitting at it making things up. So I was constantly making things up from the age of 8 or so. My brother also gave me a CD of Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring when I was eleven and that was a huge thing for me.

Who or what has influenced your style?

Well certainly Stravinsky, but then my brother introduced me also to Keith Jarrett, Mugsy Spanier, Miles Davis etc so in my teens I was into jazz in a big way. Also at that age I got to hear Steve Reich for the first time - Music for Eighteen Musicians - and then Webern and Boulez. I suppose these guys all had an influence, but popular culture also played a big part. The Smiths, Wire, Frank Sinatra, Pet Shop Boys and countless others played a part. And of course, I don't stop being influenced by music just because I'm a fully fledged adult. It goes on - Underworld, Crane, Bryars, Groove Armada, Koop, Hermann .....

How did you get your first commission?

I was asked to work with some students at Dartington College of Arts on a devised piece. It was not paid and we all worked all hours for three weeks but in the end I had a piece called THE CONE GATHERERS. Some people heard that, and also came to concerts which I was putting on and so I was asked by William Jones at Dovecot Arts Centre to write a piece for jazz orchestra. That became CUD and was how it started and I'm happy that people still want to commission me now.

Where do your ideas come from?

That's somewhat tricky but predominantly they arise from musical and time based parameters rather than extra musical influences. Mathematics is also strongly entwined, in a rudimentary way.

Do you have particular techniques - one's you come back to again and again? Tell us a bit about them.

I supose that repetition, modification and manipulation of repetitive procedures are often found in my work. I find that in order to create tension within a period of time, which is what I'm largely trying to do, repetition is something I'm drawn to. And when you have repetition by its very nature you then have a tonal centre, or tonal area. Playing around with that notion of moving between tonal plateaux is quite important for me.

What inspires you to write?

I have always liked creating things, whether musical or not, however inspiration is not a word I like, because it has romantic connotations which are alien to the way I work. Having said that I must get ideas from somewhere and most will come from something very simple. As I implied earlier they are unlikely to be visual, ie landscapes, or text based i.e .poetry. It's more likely to be a line on a piece of paper or a grid or the notion of moving towards a point in time.

There has been the odd piece though which bucks this trend - GRAF took the tension and resolution of one particular game in tennis match between Graf and Vicario as a starting point.

KAPLAN took the notion of mistaken identity and voyeurism as a start.

What advice would you give to a young composer just starting out?

I don't think I could anymore

What are you working on at the moment

I am writing a piece for tenor saxophone and CD. Brought about by Andy Scott, he has involved twelve players from around the world to share the commission fee, get the rights to perform it and all premiere the piece on the same day in April 2005. It's too early to say what the piece is about or what it's likely to sound like - but there are very few pieces for tenor sax and so it's very exciting for me.

Do you have a routine? A place that's special

No I don't really have a routine but when I'm in composing mode generally I get up and work immediately. And then it all depends what might follow before I sleep again.

As for speical places - yes I do have one but in order to keep it that way it's probably still best kept between me and it.

Do you do other work as well as composing?

I like being involved in all aspects of music making so from time to time I perform, conduct, record, organise, run workshops and as I self publish most of my scores there is a lot to do in order to allow people to hear the stuff.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2023

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