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Jeremy Thurlow Interview

Posted on 20 August 2007. © Copyright 2004-2023 Composition:Today

C:T talks to Jeremy Thurlow, composer and author of a new book on the music of Henri Dutilleux

Tell us something about your background.

My parents were not musicians, though they were interested in going to concerts and indulged and nurtured my craze for music, which started early and has never gone away. I studied music at Cambridge, and sang, conducted and played piano there, and then at the Guildhall and at King's College London. Later I spent a year in Paris and lived for some time in Scotland.

How did you start composing?

I started composing when I was quite little - about 6 or 7 - and wrote a piece for the recorder. I followed this up with little pieces for piano, and then some sort of string quartet and a march for wind band. I remember enjoying buying the different kinds of manuscript paper, and then thinking I really ought to write something on them!

Which composers have influenced you the most?

Very hard question to answer, as my music is very much steeped in my love of all sorts of composers from Byrd to Murail, but despite this I always feel that it stands up best when I've managed to do something independent, something that's simply in my head. For quite a long time I was influenced by Britten, but now, though I still admire his music, I feel that cultivating that kind of language was holding me back, and excluding too much. I like the way Berio managed to embrace so many different sounds and ideas, and still be recognizably himself. Other influences might include Lutoslawski, Tippett, Judith Weir, Sandy Goehr, Alejandro Viñao, and plenty of older figures including Bartók, Berg, Beethoven…

Which non-musical influences have affected your music most?

This is also hard to answer, as I'm interested in various things, but it's
hard to say which of them actually influence my music. That process is
largely unconscious, so if I know about it at all it's largely in retrospect. One the one hand there are various mathematical ideas I find inspiring - fractals, algorithms, shapes and processes in different dimensions - and I wish I had studied maths for longer and could pursue these things in more detail. And on the other, there are all kinds of sensuous experiences - fields of wheat, trees, skies, also paintings, sculpture and design, theatre, modern architecture especially, which stopped me in my tracks.

You've written a book on Henri Dutilleux. Tell us something about your

I'm particularly interested in the way Dutilleux writes for orchestra. He has a magical feel for sonority, creating soundscapes which shimmer and glow, and transform organically as you listen. I think all his orchestral pieces from the two symphonies up to The Shadows of Time have something special to offer.

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

I'm not very good at routines! When I can I tend to compose very intensively, without doing anything else. But of course there are usually all sorts of other things needing to be attended to, so I just fit it in as often as I can. But I do have a place that's special. I have a small study with a French window onto the garden, and a sturdy Victorian desk which used to belong to Vaughan Williams - I found it completely by chance at an antiques stall. My iMac sits on top, and in all it feels like an apt combination of nature, history and technology.

What's the craziest idea for a piece you've ever had?

When I had a Fellowship at Churchill College they acquired a sculpture by Anthony Caro. It was a huge, rusty, ugly-beautiful cast-iron thing on an industrial scale, and was loved and hated in equal measure. There was another composer Matt Rogalski there too, and together we conceived the idea for a piece which would be performed entirely on this sculpture, banging and tapping it for different rhythms and resonances. Some or all of this was going to be performed by little automated tapping robots. Sad to say, it didn't happen in the end, because the grounds were dug up for major sewage works just nearby so the whole thing would have been inaudible for the sound of JCBs.

What are you working on at the moment

A new piece for the Bergamo Ensemble and Jane Rogers to premiere at the Canterbury Festival, and also record, called The Pedlar of Swaffham. And a string quartet for the Fitzwilliam Quartet, to premiere next summer in New York. And a new piece piece to go on a new CD by Matthew Schellhorn.

What are your plans for the future?

I am hoping to bring out a CD of piano and chamber music with the pianist Matthew Schellhorn, on the Metier label. I also have plans for a chamber opera, another video-opera with Alistair Appleton, and a new piano concerto.

How can people find out more about you?

I have a website which has details of new pieces and events, and opportunities to listen to clips from various different pieces. There's also lots of information on the spnm website.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2023

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