Andrew Hamilton, composer

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

I remember, around the age of six, finding an old cassette of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto and by the end of the first two minutes thinking “yes, I’ll do that!”.  Hearing it thirty seven years later still brings back that feeling of wonder that any human can make something so beautiful.  Soon after hearing this one of my brothers started taking violin lessons and I went to my parents and said “I want to learn the violin”.  They let me.

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

I was very fortunate to have had very inspiring music teachers growing up in 1980s/90s Dublin: Vanessa Sweeney, Frank Hughes, Maeve Broderick, Jean Archibald, Mark Duley, Peter Scott and Michael Ball.  These people passed on a deep love for music, not just dry theory or technique.  Also, in my late teens I met Kevin Volans and Gerald Barry, both living in Dublin at the time.  Both have a massive influence on me to this day and mostly everything I know about how to compose comes from my ten or so years of study with Volans. I also think the three years I spent studying and living in The Hague (where I studied with Louis Andriessen at the Koninklijk Conservatorium) were incredibly important as it was such a contrast to the rest of my education – Andriessen, my fellow students and the musical culture of the Netherlands at that time challenged my assumptions and helped me define for myself what is important.

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

Definitely there are periods when I stumble and am not sure if I have anything worthwhile to say or add to the world.   Society seems overly obsessed with everyone always being creative as though this is the most important thing a person can do.  Sometimes it’s good to just sit down and shut up for a while.  The challenge is to know when!

As a composer, how would you describe your musical/compositional language?

I take the mundane and already known and hopefully reinvestigate it, make it more interesting and beautiful.

Of which works are you most proud?

I am proud of the pieces on this new album [‘Joy’, released on 8 June].  Recently I’ve been happy with a choral piece ‘The Problem’ (a movement from ‘Music for Thomas Bernhard’) and a short song ‘In airde’ from ‘Ceol don Bhéal Bocht’.  These two pieces have opened up new territory for me.

How do you work?

Constant editing down or pushing material to breaking point (or past that). Throw away. Recycle. Destroy. Rebuild.

Tell us more about your new album ‘Joy’. What was the inspiration and compositional process for this?

‘Joy’ is the culmination of fifteen years of writing pieces I can perform myself singing and playing the violin.  When I had accumulated a larger body of work my good friends Garrett Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly suggested we make an album of some of the works on their label Ergodos.  The pieces on the album were all written at different times so they reflect varying impetus: love, art, the horrors of learning solfège, breaking voices, and memory.

How do you balance the different strands of your musical/creative life?

I think like most musicians as best I can (i.e. not very well).  I’m fortunate to teach some lovely young people at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire for three days a week.  It’s good to share anything I might have learned along the way.

What keeps you motivated to continue to compose and produce?

Just this week a young singer from the US whom I have never met sent a recording he had made of one of my pieces and said the work meant a lot to him emotionally.  Feeling your work might somehow help another human helps to keep going. 

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

It’s very difficult to give blanket advice but maybe really listen for yourself- find what speaks to your condition even if that makes you seem a bit odd. And for a schmaltzy but honest finale: it’s always good to balance heart and head: the secret is they are one and the same!


‘Joy’, Andrew Hamilton’s new album of solo work, was released on on Ergodos on June 8th – stream and download available here.

Andrew Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1977 and studied in Ireland, UK and The Netherlands with Kevin Volans, Anthony Gilbert and at the Koninklijk Conservatorium with Louis Andriessen. Recently he has had works performed by Crash Ensemble, An assembly, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Choir Ireland, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, EXAUDI, Juliet Fraser/Maxime Echardour, Oliver Coates, Michelle O’Rourke and Eliza McCarthy.

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(photo by Peter Campbell)

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