It’s understood that you have a particular interest in contemporary music. How did that become your passion?
All good music of the past is of course still relevant today, and we often talk about how much of ourselves we can still find in it. What I like particularly about good contemporary music is that instead of finding ourselves in it, we are often presented with an unfamiliar vision, and yet one that asks new questions of us. Allowing our perceptions to change, it can challenge us to see the familiar differently.
I was fortunate that there was a great woodwind department and also a very active composition department at Birmingham Conservatoire, both of which encouraged the exchange of ideas. In search of extra performance opportunities and ways of improving my sight-reading and technique, I frequently put myself forward as a sounding post for the composition students and learnt a lot from the experience, as there were always new challenges.
Do you have an interest in any other musical traditions, such as folk or jazz?
When I first started learning the clarinet I studied jazz music with my teacher Tony Tears who was a real inspiration in my early development. I rarely play jazz now but learnt a great deal from the freedom and feel of my fellow students in Birmingham where the jazz music course is fantastic and the performance scene is thriving.
Folk music is also alive and well in Birmingham. I remember going to Brampton Live many times with my family and this was when I took up the guitar. I had a fantastic guitar teacher called Nigel Murgatroyd at Trinity School and we used to try and learn Tommy Emmanuel tunes… Since then I’ve continued to write songs and play guitar with my friend Charlie Heys. We were BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalists and made three albums with Fellside Recordings in Workington. We’ve just released our fourth album, Any Other Morning, produced by Calum Malcolm (LAU) and I’m actually playing clarinet and bass clarinet on this one too. It’s nice to finally find a way to connect both musical lives.
Your programme for our concert on the 25th September includes a piece by Edwin Roxburgh. We understand that you have worked with the composer on solo repertoire for clarinet. Can you tell us how that collaboration came about?
Edwin teaches composition at Birmingham Conservatoire. He had mentioned his Miniatures in passing to me one day and I later sought out the score. I found them beautiful, evocative and incredibly effective as they sneak in under your ‘contemporary music’ radar and frequently surprise listeners with their accessibility, lyrical expression and exploration of the Wordsworth subjects. I wrote to Edwin, who was very happy to give me his time when I was first preparing the pieces, and his insights were illuminating, as you would expect. His generosity of spirit will stay with me.
In your biographical note we read that you have performed Stockhausen’s Harlekin, which requires dance and mime while playing. You have also performed in Sebastian Matthias’s Danserye, in which both
acting and playing are involved. How did this performance element in your work develop?
I had been looking forward to seeing an older colleague at Conservatoire perform Stockhausen’s Der Kleine Harlekin (a miniature of the larger piece in which the dance movement is expanded) but this unfortunately never took place. I therefore took it upon myself to see the challenge out personally and jumped in at the deep end with the extended 45-minute piece. It went well and then in 2012 I was invited to perform the
smaller work after studying with Rumi SotaKlemm, one of Stockhausen’s regular clarinettists, in Dresden. The concert formed part of the Stockhausen Festival of Light where the world premiere of his opera Mittwoch took place.
The performance element of my work has developed over the years by a mixture of luck and investigation. Certainly the physical elements of Harlekin gave me confidence and as a performer you have to learn how to communicate in as many ways as you can. In Danserye and also the Swiss production When I Die which I have been involved in for the last two years, there is a blending of disciplines (acting as well as playing and also learning to move effectively). I enjoy the challenge and the flexibility it makes me feel as a performer in other areas of my work.
The Harlequin character of the Italian Commedia dell’arte is physically agile and mischievous in nature. Do you see any of yourself in Harlequin?
I think his character certainly attracted me to the piece; it just so happened that I visited Sienna at the time when I started work onHarlekin so I was surrounded by the characters and their masks. Both pieces, Harlekinand Der Kleine Harlekin, were the most physically demanding works I have ever studied and performed. After a week sweating in a studio in Dresden with Rumi SotaKlemm putting me through my paces however, any ideas about my own agility were well and truly smashed!
When you play for us it will be with David Quigley on piano. How did your collaboration with David
I wrote to David after completing my Masters - I had admired his playing for a while and felt comfortable enough in my own playing to suggest a partnership. It is wonderful to work regularly with the same pianist, building the musical relationship and trust, which then allows some truly exciting moments in performance. David is a great player and has made many recordings for BBC Radio 3 among others. I am always learning from everyone I have the privilege to work with and David is no exception. We have recently formed a larger group - the Incus Ensemble - with viola player Rose Redgrave, which will give its debut performances at Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the Warwick Arts Centre this October.
Do you like to eat anything in a concert interval to maintain your energy level? If so, what’s your favourite interval food?
For fear of spitting anything down my instrument at an unsuspecting audience, I don’t eat in the interval…
Imagine that you are dropped onto a desert island and there happens to be a pile of musical instruments, but no clarinet or bass clarinet. Which instrument would you pick up to help you pass the time until you are rescued?
Assuming that guitar is also out of the question it would definitely be the double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a solo recital by Dave Holland a few years ago and have never been part of a more heartfelt
standing ovation. I had never thought of how versatile the instrument could be, to be able to sound that beautiful and also kick the grit from your shoes is a real skill. It must also be fun to be the backbone of a band, and I’d love to give it a go on my desert island.
For your Carlisle concert you are returning to the area where you grew up. How does it feel to perform in your home town?
I feel very happy and a sense of pride to be given this opportunity. It’s also a real pleasure to be able to play for friends and hopefully I’ll be able to give any students that might turn up some encouragement as well. I think it’s fantastic that the Carlisle Music Society is committed to supporting young musicians and maintaining a high standard of concerts in the north.