Mark Hodgkin, composer

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

In terms of classical guitar, my mother Marina Hodgkin was the one who suggested and encouraged me to learn the instrument. Without her influence and support I probably would never have considered learning it.

When I’m writing for the guitar, I suppose the repertoire I learned as a student has the biggest influence on my music. Composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Johann Sebastian Bach, Isaac Albéniz and Francisco Tárrega were amongst my favourites. I like the fact that they are from different music periods and eras and I would like to think that this is somehow translated into my music.

Other classical composers such as Beethoven or even film composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone and more contemporary ones such as Thomas Newman influenced me. But I think there are too many composers and music styles that have a significant influence on me to name all of them!

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

Especially for someone beginning their career, I think finding an audience interested in your work can be challenging. The internet provides a great way for your music to be accessible, but at the same time, the overwhelming quantity of music out there can make it difficult for people to discover you.

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

As a composer that works in mediums such as films, documentaries or art installations, I take personal pleasure knowing someone wants me to put my mark and personality in their own work. What can be challenging is having different views of what type of music should be used so finding a balance is key. In film, having to compose not just the right music, but also the right amount of music is the real challenge. In this type of work it is not all about the music, so a composer should always keep that in mind. In the classical music world, I haven’t had the pleasure yet of working on a commissioned piece, but would love to!

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

I think it is very rewarding hearing people performing your music. What I probably like the most is seeing how musicians put their own personalities and interpretation into your music, giving a new voice that can surprise you – hopefully in a good way!

Of which works are you most proud?

I am proud of my classical guitar album Preludes, with 11 compositions for solo guitar. I am also proud of having played guitar in it, even though I am not a performing artist. Right now I’m enjoying writing a series of pieces for the guitar and flute which I am very proud of and hopefully will be able to release in an album in the near future.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I feel that my compositional language is a mixture of many different music styles, genres and eras. The fact that I have an European and Latin American background, with an English father and a Brazilian mother, has further enriched my musical influences and played an important part in developing my compositional language.

How do you work?

My work and musical ideas almost always develop from me having an instrument and playing it, be it a piano or guitar. Sometimes a musical idea might just appear out of the blue, and if I don’t have an instrument with me, I might just hum it and record it on my phone. When I am in front of my computer I start writing a music sheet which gives me a better overview of the work, and helps to develop themes and various parts. If I am composing for film, I start recording the different ideas with instruments, synthesizers or virtual instruments on my computer to give a better sense of where things are going.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I feel success starts on a personal level, having the passion and pleasure of playing – and maybe that is enough. But you can also consider yourself successful if then you can engage, inspire and collaborate with other people.

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

Work hard, never stop learning, keep an open mind to new music and ideas and believe in yourself. Probably the best piece of advice I was given was “Never let anyone tell you what to do with your art”.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I think different music styles end up finding their audiences, so keeping classical music accessible is important. Here in London we are lucky to have events such as the BBC Proms where for several weeks you have concerts every single day, with the best musicians and orchestras from around the world, and for affordable prices. So as long as classical music have a platform, people will find it.

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

I love my work so I would like to be able to keep doing what I currently do, hopefully on a bigger scale.

What is your most treasured possession?

My talent and good looks – said by my girlfriend!


Artist photo by Matthew Hodgkin

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