Interview with Alexander Campkin - Composer in Residence of BSO Resound

Posted on: 14 August 2019


Alexander Campkin is Composer in Residence of BSO Resound. His compositions have been performed by the UK's leading ensembles, from the London Sinfonietta to the BBC Singers; and his new work, trembling, hoping, lingering, flying, was premiered by BSO Resound in November 2019.

Tell us a little about your early musical background and when you knew that composing was right for you?

The viola was my first instrument, but my musical journey was changed after medical symptoms and the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis aged 17. This was just months before I was due to perform with the Arad Philharmonic in Romania as a viola player. MS changed my life. It stopped me playing viola. But it certainly didn't stop me composing. I studied music at Oxford University as a choral and organ scholar, the Royal Academy of Music, and the University for Performing Arts in Vienna. I received tuition from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Robert Saxton, Stephen Montague, Michael Jarrell and Simon Bainbridge.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I draw influences from a great many sources including visual arts, poetry, architecture, and composers including Stravinsky, Arvo Pärt and Ligeti.

What does a typical day look like for you as a composer?

There is no typical day for me as a composer, as it depends on the commission I'm writing and at what stage I am in the process. My cats like to take it in turns sitting on my lap whilst I compose, that is one fairly constant element of my working day!

Tell us about your connection with BSO Resound.

I have been Composer in Residence with BSO Resound since 2017. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have commissioned five works, including a piece for the BBC Proms 2018 in the Royal Albert Hall, London. It's an honour to have been the first composer to work with the ensemble.

Can you explain how you might compose a new piece of work? Where did you start with BSO Resound?

BSO Resound isn't made up of the 'traditional' chamber ensemble instruments, which could present both a challenge and liberation for me as a composer. For example, there is a Linnstrument (a MIDI-based keyboard instrument) and James Rose conducts using a head­ mounted baton. We also have a player who uses Braille notation. As a composer, I must consider how the performance will come together, whilst also enjoying access to a new world of colour with this combination of sounds.

Working with BSO Resound must be a fantastic experience; do you have a particular highlight?

Without a doubt the BBC Proms 2018! BSO Resound made history as the first disabled-led ensemble to perform at the Proms. The players performed within Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra before moving to the front of the stage to perform as soloists in the premiere of my new work, hoping. It was a moment I'll never forget.

What advice would you give to aspiring young composers who are working towards professional careers?

Be courageous!

What is your favourite musical composition? What makes it so good?

Such a difficult question, there are so many! The 40-part Renaissance motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, composed in c. 1570 for eight choirs. It displays such incredible control of texture and polyphonic writing. Or Gruppen for three orchestras by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Or Brahms's String sextet in B flat? Or Janacek's Sinfonietta; my favourite varies all time.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra won the RPS Impact Award in November 2019 for its Change Makers programme and BSO Resound. Learn more about BSO Resound.


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