Luke Styles, composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I began composing out of frustration as a teenage actor. I wanted more agency in making the work I was performing, and I saw in composing a way to articulate conceptual ideas in the most expressive form. This was all a long time ago, and my perspective on how or why I compose has certainly changed and developed, but I am keenly aware that my path to composing came through the theatre.

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

My greatest career challenges have never come from the artistic side. They have always been logistical (such as bringing together large-scale projects together) or administrative. Right now there are some big challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic and the ability to travel. I deeply want to be present for and part of the rehearsal process, in different countries, for a number of big projects, including new operas, but right now it’s not possible to jump on a plane and go straight into a rehearsal room, so inevitably I have to miss out on the invaluable process of being part of bringing new work to life. This is saddening and challenging for me personally, but hardly the biggest difficulty that covid has presented to the world.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Recently a premiere of mine in Australia in March (No Friend But The Mountains: A Symphonic Song Cycle) was turned into a 2-part documentary. It recently aired on the ABC and will hopefully be broadcast by the BBC before too long. I am pretty chuffed that there is a documentary about my work, which opens a whole new audience up to my music.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

This is probably more a question for performers, but I do a lot of reading/research on a whole range of different topics, usually relating to something I’m composing or could be composing in the future. This always instigates new ideas for future works and creates new connections in my current work.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love found or non-traditional concert spaces that can be utilised to stage concerts/events with a real eye and ear on the total experience of an audience member, from the moment they enter a space to when they leave. All of this is part of the performance and should be shaped and considered as part of the audience experience.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think stop worrying about demographics and focus on access and making people feel comfortable to trust how they experience music, rather than feeling intimidated by perceived notions of how you should listen to or engage with classical music. There is an awful snobbery in classical music, which turns many potential audiences away. I would always encourage audiences to believe (or be given the freedom to believe) that all they need to engage with classical music are open ears and to trust their instincts. The audiences are there, and they are devoted to live music, we just need to remove the artificial (or at least non-musical) barriers to it.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In order of experience: Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (Bolshoi Ballet) at the Southbank Centre. Wolfgang Rihm’s Vigilia at the Berliner Philharmonie. Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht, Birmingham Opera Company.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to make the work I want to make.

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

For composers I would say: Listen to your inner voice. Make it as loud and clear as possible.

You’ve written something for this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival; tell us more about it.

‘Awakening Shadow’ is a new chamber opera fusing original scenes of mine with Britten’s Five Canticles. Themes of light and darkness emerge in the music as it illuminates the highly dramatic subject matter – religious faith, the emergence of language, sacrifice, birth, death and humanity itself. To do this I use biblical texts (Old and New Testament) and fragments of poetry by Byron and Shelley extend Britten’s themes still further, bringing a sense of ritual and providing a pathway towards a humanist outlook on the world.

What is your most treasured possession?

Books and scores

‘Awakening Shadow’, a chamber opera by Benjamin Britten and Luke Styles, receives its world premiere on 4th July 2021, as part of this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival. More information


Luke Styles is a British and Australian composer, represented by Linda Marks and published by G.Schirmer/Wise Music. Luke was the first Glyndebourne Young Composer in Residence, represented by IMG Artists and the first composer in residence at the Foundling Museum since Handel. Luke’s operas have been performed on the famous Glyndebourne main stage, and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of conductors such as Vladimir Jurowski.

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(Photo credit: Kira Doherty

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