Toni Castells, composer

Founded by the late MP, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness published in 2017 that in the UK alone, more than 9 million people often or always feel lonely. Bringing to the surface what is often referred to as “the silent disease”, it spelled out clearly that across society, huge numbers of individuals were struggling to cope with isolation in a world which sees less and less human interaction. These findings have inspired composer Toni Castells to write his latest work, “Hhumann X”, an exploration of the paradox of growing social isolation at a time of technological hyper-connectedness.

Ahead of the performance of his new work at the Barbican on 20th October, Toni Castells shares some insights into his influences and inspirations, and his creative life…..

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

Music called me at the early age of 3, listening to ABBA’s Chiquitita at that age was my first conscious musical experience. I didn’t know you could have a career in music I just loved music.

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

The teachers at the music school I attended as a child.

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

Losing the love for music in moments of my career, probably because of the strains of the industry and the huge sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to create my work.

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

I’ve never worked on a commissioned piece, I’ve been lucky enough to have absolute control over my work and to write about what I wanted when I wanted.

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

Coordinating and managing people is very difficult, especially with budget constraints which mean you have very little rehearsal time and a lot of pressure for the performance.

Of which works are you most proud?

Probably ‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal’ – it was created and performed under incredibly difficult circumstances and it’s the piece that has been better received from all my repertoire.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s a synthesis of styles and genres that speaks to the wide public and goes beyond standard music-magazine genre subdivisions. Pop music is an influence although the work is too profound to be characterised as pop music, and it’s too deliberately communicative to belong to any traditional contemporary schools of composition.

How do you work?

I start with acoustic instruments such as the piano or guitar to find the melodies and harmonies, the kernels of my work, then move to the computer which has become my main instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Max Richter and Zbigniew Preisner.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not to lose the love for music throughout one’s life.

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

To find their own voice, to be unique, and not to be attached to the Western idea of success.

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

Hopefully still doing what I do.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Not to condition that happiness to external circumstances.

What is your most treasured possession?


What do you enjoy doing most?

Swimming in the ocean.

What is your present state of mind?

A bit restless today.

For the debut performance of Hhumann X on 20th October at LSO St Luke’s in London, Toni Castells is collaborating with More Than Just A Choir, a community choir based in North London that works with people suffering from mental illness and social isolation. The choir helps its members build their confidence, whilst also connecting with the wider community. This collaboration is key to strengthen the meaning of the piece, bringing into the core of the performance these individuals who are overcoming social isolation through music and community.

Further information and tickets

Toni Castells is a British-naturalised composer currently based in London. His sonic worlds transpire an inherited precocious classical training with an inventive use of modern technologies to create unique and distinctive dreamy, cinematic and poetic soundscapes. His music has been described as “Morricone meets Satie” by Michael Haas, producer of prize-winning recordings with major classical artists including Zubin Mehta, Mstislav Rostropovich, Daniel Barenboim, Cecilia Bartoli and Luciano Pavarotti. His music speaks to a wide public and goes well beyond standard music-magazine genre subdivisions. His works are too profound to be dismissed as pop music (though pop is an obvious influence) and far too deliberately communicative to belong to any traditional contemporary schools of composition.

(image courtesy of Kings Place)

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