Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Errollyn Wallen, 2: “I orchestrated 'The Girl In My Alphabet' for the American Composers Orchestra”

[Errollyn Wallen]

On December 24, 2010 AfriClassical interviewed Errollyn Wallen, the composer, pianist and vocal artist who was born in Belize and has lived in England since she was 2 years old. Part 1 appeared Dec. 27, 2010. Part 2 follows:

Then after secondary school, what type of college did you attend?
Well I went to the University of London, originally I wanted to do a course in dance music, but then I decided that I seem to be playing the piano 10 hours a day, so I'd better switch to Music! So I went to London University, Goldsmith's College, and then I did a Masters in composition at King's College London, then much later did studies in composition at Cambridge. But in between I did lots of things. I played in other people's bands, other people's recording studios. I took part in many different types of music-making with various bands. I was in a music comedy band, but it never really quite took over. I realized that I should try and make a living from composing, which is a crazy notion! But that's what I set out to do! I treat it as it's my job now.
I see that you have two recordings from 2004; one is called Errollyn and the other one, also on the Avie label...
Around about 1999 I won an award and made a solo album called Meet Me At Howard Moore's which is a more Pop/Jazz album. So that's three and I think also in 2005, you know I've got some odd tracks that pop up in compilations, and there's one on Moodswings, the Brodsky CD, called Unloosenings, with Bjork and Sting where there is the String Quartet, and the artists singing their own songs, so that was fun to make that!
I wanted to ask about the recording The Girl In My Alphabet...
Because that is the piece that is going to be performed in New York, in the KeyedUp MusicProject of Marc Peloquin?
Yes, yes!
Would you like to tell us about that?
Yes, well that's a really early composition! I wrote it in 1990 when I was playing in a group which had two pianos and four pianists, and it was written very quickly, within a few weeks, for that group. And then after that, I made an arrangement for just piano duo. It's that version that's recorded on the CD The Girl In My Alphabet, but the original version was four pianists, and it's that version that we will play this coming year at Tanglewood, where Charles Wuorinen programmed the piece. That will be the U.S. premiere for that version.
That's in August?
Yes, and Ursula Oppens will be one of the pianists there. I'll be playing too in it, so that's going to be fun. And then, as you know, the other thing is, this year I orchestrated The Girl In My Alphabet for the American Composers Orchestra, and they played that in their orchestra in New York.
They played it in August of this year?
Yes, they played it in Miller Hall. It might have been July. But what I'm trying to say is that piece seems to have different lives to it! So, it will have three different outings in the United States over the period of a year, which pleases me. And that piece, I suppose it lasts about 12 minutes, and it goes through and represents very clearly my love of different textures and of harmony. Also dissonance, and yet melody together.
That's an interesting combination! That's challenging, I would think sometimes, to combine...
It comes naturally to me!
I see.
I suppose this is partly my training, early training when I was at university, much in the Second Viennese School. Now, I don't write like that now! But I haven't turned my back on the way of thinking of that music, which is to embrace everything, embrace the sound, and I love this music! But I also love the idea of music sounding spontaneous and free! And yet, using discipline and instinct to give it shape.
You want it all!
Yes, I do! I really do! But I feel very lucky that some of my contemporaries, when they were learning composition, I felt they were stifled by their training. For me, I was a little kid; I just found my own way of communicating without railing too much against what I now look back and see as quite a limited approach to music. So a piece like The Girl In My Alphabet has influences of jazz, but also it seems to me there's some Stockhausen in it and also soul music. Everything is in that piece! But I love that piece because it is so full of energy and life, and song.
What a coincidence! I interviewed a South African composer last week who told me about his Stockhausen Project!
They played Mantra in South Africa to introduce composers there to modern music.
So I'm interested to hear you raise the issue of that personality again, Stockhausen!
Yes, when I started music, there was very much an idea of if you wanted to be a composer, you had to write in a certain way! So when I was growing up, people like Stockhausen, Boulez, they were the people you would look up to. Now my music is actually nothing like theirs, but it doesn't mean I don't respect them. I feel as if music has come very far since those days, and I'm so pleased that I'm able to write in such a free way!

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