Simon Hester, composer 

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My Dad was a fine pianist as were both my two older brothers and my Mum was very involved in Amateur Theatre so music was always flowing around my home as I grew up. Playing and performing therefore, was a very natural thing to do. Composing was the next step and when I was about 11, I became very serious about writing string quartets and symphonies. Unfortunately I never found anyone to perform my unfinished masterpieces, so when it came to studying at the Royal Academy composing went onto to back burner.

In retrospect this was probably a good thing as I was later able to pursue writing in the way I wanted to.

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

I often say that the big double piano stool that we had at home when I was a child has been my biggest musical influence.

As a child I would lift the lid and excitedly discover Beethoven Sonatas, Bach Well Tempered Clavier, Chopin Nocturnes & Polonaises and Wagner opera selections. These lay unashamedly amongst Henry Mancini film themes, Teddy Wilson transcriptions and songs from the past 100 years of popular music and musical theatre. It was all fair game! There was never any preconceived judgement from my parents that all these diverse musical elements couldn’t happily coexist. They were just waiting to be discovered.

For better or worse therefore my musical personality is, shall we say, diverse but discerning.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Getting people to take a chance and your music and being your own PR department, when all you really want to do is sit in a room and write music!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

To me a commission is a real inspiration. To know that the music you’re writing will see the light of day as a performance is all the excitement I need to get me writing. The challenges that follow are never too onerous and I’m always happy to work with a performer’s requirements. And equally I love to hear how a performer interprets my music!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

As a performer myself I always work hard to make my finished scores as complete and user friendly as possible. I hope that the printed music will be enough to inspire the performer. There’s always great pleasure to hear a melody that lived in your head for weeks or months suddenly come alive to another musician as they play it. I confess I often shed a tear at such moments.

Which works are you most proud of?

I recently had the opportunity to perform my own Piano Concerto. This was a work that one day, a few years ago, I decided I must complete. As a keen 13 year old I’d written the first page of a grand romantic concerto (or so I thought). Without any performance in view I was determined to finish it, if only to please the 13 year old in me!

To then get to play it was wonderful, and it was very well received by both audience and players.

How would you describe your compositional language?

I would describe my language as primarily melodic, lyrical and with a tendency to use jazz slang.

I’m happy to pick and choose from the historic harmonic palette to meet the needs of the music.

How do you work?

I always work at the piano with pencil and paper. Initial inspiration usually comes from a title or even a vague structure. I like to think of the process as “edited improvisation”.

The chore of writing is constantly having to play from the start to ensure the integrity of each new idea.

The joy of writing is not knowing where the music may take you next!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Hard to say! I do love the individual voices of great players such as Horowitz, Artur Rubinstein and Heifetz. Recently I’ve rediscovered Haydn: I think his symphonies are full of imagination and innovation.

I really admire arrangers such as Nelson Riddle and Marty Paich.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For novelty value, playing with a singer whilst being in a different room for the performance (not allowed to move the piano). Also, playing an outdoor concert in Malta whilst competing with canon fire, thankfully not aimed at me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

When I work with young composers I always encourage them just to write, write and write some more. Don’t wait for a performance; don’t get hung up on questions of style or being original. The only way to find your voice is to learn through the art of composing itself.

Also learn harmony and counterpoint old school style. It’s part of your armoury as a composer.

What do you enjoy doing most?


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