Greg Harradine, composer

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

I like to think I have been influenced by a broad range of music-makers including, but not limited to, Debussy, J. S. Bach, Joni Mitchell, Mars Volta, Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens, and the anonymous composers of many an old folk song.

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

It can often be a challenge to square one’s compositional ambitions with the opportunities available at any current moment. As a pianist, I can always write piano works and record them myself, but if I want to compose for orchestra, it is a hugely more complex task to realise that goal. Commissions do arise from time to time, for which I am deeply grateful, but oh, to have a grand hall packed full of musicians of all stripes on permanent retainer to draw upon as my will desires! An impossibly lovely dream.

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

I both adore and slightly dread working on commissions. I adore writing for a specific purpose, for specific people — it is such a creative thrill. But, the pressure! I want to astonish and delight those who have entrusted me to compose something for them, and living up to that high ideal can be a daunting prospect.

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

When you get to know a particular musician, you can arrive at a wondrous place of trust and collaboration, where you are not afraid to challenge each other, or to debate certain musical decisions. One of my favourite things is asking musicians to comment on what I have written; often they suggest brilliant amendments which I would never have thought of myself. It is a challenge for composers to become idiomatically fluent in every single instrument — I must admit that I am certainly not there yet!

Of which works are you most proud?

I am usually most proud of whatever piece I am writing at the time! A new composition becomes, for a while, your favourite child, your pride and joy. But as the passage of time elapses, you view them in relation to your other works, and a blurry hierarchy does appear through the mist. Of my larger works, I would say I am most proud of my ‘Incandenza Variations’, which was commissioned by the K3A Orchestra. Of my piano compositions, I have a special fondness for my piece ‘The curse is come upon me’, which was inspired by The Lady of Shalott — both Tennyson’s poem and Waterhouse’s painting of the same name.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

My compositional language is largely tonal, often lyrical, and attempts to grasp the complex inner life that we all experience. I aim to offer a sonic window that any listener, of whatever background, can gaze through and glimpse a truth that they recognise — perhaps dimly, or perhaps with sudden clarity. I am also often inspired by other works of art: paintings, poems, novels. Trying to create a musical representation of other artworks is a hugely enjoyable process for me.

How do you work?

I try to put aside a few hours each day for composing, slotted in around my teaching and parenting commitments. I usually compose at the piano, and if I’m not working on a commission then I’ll be composing a piece of my own, which I share on my YouTube channel, and with my beloved Patreon supporters, who receive scores and recordings of all my new compositions.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Musical success comes through an admixture of hard work, talent, dedication, and a genuine ability to express one’s innermost feelings through the medium of music. I don’t define success by any measures of fame or pecuniary triumph. When musicians or composers try to deliberately and consciously succeed commercially, they often diminish their own authenticity in the process. True artistry will out.

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

Be yourself. Don’t follow the crowd. Listen to your own passions, however potentially unfashionable they may be, and be guided by them. Don’t try to fit yourself into any particular slot in the musical landscape. Craft your own musical landscape from scratch. Work hard, and don’t give up.

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

We should be open, not too formal, enthusiastic, warm, unpretentious, honest, while remaining proud of the music we are sharing, and never make apologies for its perceived difficulty. Some people want to simplify or overly-commercialise classical music in order to attract the younger generation. This I disagree with intensely. It is patronising. If musicians and composers display passion, excitement, and of course talent, hopefully that is enough to attract new ears.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness for me would be to alternate two very different kinds of day. The first would be a day of either very focused composing, or of walking in beautiful countryside all day long — either way, I want to be worn out by my effort as night falls. On the second day I would luxuriate at home with my wife, doing nothing but reading, listening to good music, eating good food, drinking at first good coffee and later good wine. These two contrasts would keep me intensely happy for a very long stretch indeed.

Greg Harradine on YouTube

Greg Harradine has an MMus Composing for Film & TV from Kingston University and a BMus Music Technology (Hons), First Class, also from Kingston. Since graduating from his MMus in 2010 he has been a freelance composer and musician working in London and around the UK. In 2014 he was composer-in-residence at Soho Theatre, helping to develop several plays and musicals including I Kiss Your Heart which involved setting the poetry of Dylan Thomas to music with Grammy Award-winning singer Lady Rizo. Other theatre companies he has composed for recently include Camisado Club, Look Left Look Right, Whispering Beasts, Theatre Uncut and the Young Vic.

Read more about Greg Harradine here

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