Craig Leon, composer & conductor

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

The first time I can remember hearing music was sitting under the piano listening to my mother playing. From where I was sitting I remember this incredible, huge reverberant vibration. My first higher level piano instructor, Emma Wehrle, provided the inspiration and guidance to push further and explore.

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

Everything I hear or read influences and inspires me.

The first composers whose works I became familiar with were the “classics” – Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner. Studying composition and orchestration later on – Stravinsky. Around the same time I encountered the more “difficult” composers of the modern era including the pioneers of electronic and minimalist music who influenced me greatly. . As things progressed “ethnic” music and the socially conscious popular music of the 1950s and 1960s came into my musical vocabulary as well.

As well as musical influences “alternative” ways of thinking in all of the arts and in philosophy are utmost inspirations for me.

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

Overcoming prejudice and the conservative attitudes that are found throughout the musical world. There are many people in it who are unwilling to think outside of their self imposed boxes regarding which genre they think is superior or inferior to another. It is one of the greatest barriers that we have to overcome. The increased access to all of musical styles that has been provided by the internet has given us a way to expand our horizons and overcome this.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

I have usually prepared the master score of the works for a recording or performance. I give as much instruction as possible into each score and then go over finer details of the work with the musicians in discussion, rehearsal or recording. I also feel that it’s important to discuss as well as rehearse pieces. It is important to let the musicians know the answer to the question “Why did you write this”?

As a composer, how do you work?

I work in the usual way (old school pre-computer) though I use notational software to write down the dots these days. A piece starts from sounds in my mind, then on to sketches and then progresses to a short score. Eventually it gets expanded to its final orchestration.

Of which works are you most proud?

As a composer I am proud of the final versions of almost everything that I have written. I am most happy with several works. The Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music vol 1.(Nommos/Visiting), The upcoming Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music vols. 2 & 3 (Krysmos,The Canon),W ayfaring Stranger (American Folk Song and Elysium, as well as various arrangements of standard repertoire in new forms also make me feel like I’ve accomplished something that makes me happy. Romance of the Violin recorded by Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields springs to mind.

As conductor and performer: George Martin The Film Scores and Original Compositions, Bach to Moog, Nommos/Visiting Live in Performance Quartet and Orchestral versions, Natasha Marsh and The London Symphony Orchestra-Amour and many more.

Tell us more about The George Martin project……

George Martin is a very important force to me. He started out in the classics and then used his knowledge to enhance the pop recordings he produced enabling him to stretch the boundaries and the imagination of popular music and film listeners.

In the 1960s I came to the wrong conclusion that somehow the music of the streets and folk music was a more relevant path to explore than that of the “old world’s” music. George Martin inspired me and many other producers and arrangers to dispose of these prejudices and to blur the lines between the genres in the music we were arranging and writing for the recordings that we were producing. We must remember that it was impossible to think about a string quartet with internal chorale like movement in it as the main backing track for a hit pop single until “Yesterday” came along.

More power to the Beatles and to Martin’s expertise for pushing the limits of the recording studio to make this happen.

In the year before his death I was contacted and asked to become a member of the team that were consulting the creators of a forthcoming book which will contain photographic reproductions of many of Martin’s hand written arrangement and composition manuscripts. During the course of examining all of the scores that were sent to my studio (essentially George Martin’s creative life’s work) I came across things that had not been previously recorded or pieces that I thought deserved a fresh interpretation. So Adam Sharp, Martin’s long time manager, and I decided to undertake a recording of those pieces.

You are also a noted Moog synthesizer expert. What is the attraction of this instrument for you and how do you feel it can be used in classical music?

I was fascinated by the possibilities of what electronic music offered from the very beginning. It provided a whole new palette for composers’ coloration and vocabulary. Synthesizers in general , not just Moogs definitely have a place in contemporary music performance.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Creating a work that prompts an emotional response or promotes a new train of thought in the listener.

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

To paraphrase Rabelais “Create what Thou wilt “ and settle for nothing less.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Alive in as healthy and happy a state as can be expected creating, performing and recording.

What is your present state of mind?

Enjoying the work that I just completed and looking forward to the new projects I’m starting out on.



Performed by The Berlin Music Ensemble, conducted by Craig Leon

Recorded in July 2017 at The Meistersaal/Emil Berliner Recording Studios, Berlin

Release Date: 10th November 2017


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