Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I was born in the seventies so my parents at that time were buying lots of records by artists such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd and others. I remember listening to all of these records, especially during the weekends when my parents were entertaining friends at home, and they were all playing these records.
Because of this, as a child I became a music lover and then in my teens, I decided to be a musician. I started studying piano when I was 14 after listening to Supertramp; this was the band that introduced me to the beautiful world of the piano.
I played keyboards in different cover bands and then when I was 20, I decided that I wanted to compose my own music and become a composer. I was mesmerized with the way Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies both were playing the piano. Elton John and Billy Joel also helped with this decision.
I had attempted music school before, but found it to be stale and formulaic. I left in search of a teacher who could be a true inspiration. Enric Torra Pòrtulas proved to be just that man. Under his tutelage, I received the musical education I so desperately needed. I was so lucky to find Enric Torra. I was 20 years old and he was 80. I was amazed, as I’d never seen so much energy and enthusiasm in a person of his age. He loved teaching piano, anyone could see that immediately.
During the five years we studied together, I learned the music of the great masters – Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, but the most important thing I took away from my lessons was my teacher’s undying love for music. Our lessons, scheduled to be 60 minutes long, would regularly go multiple hours, as we both were so absorbed by the music we were making together. During this time I truly discovered myself as a musician, finding my own individual voice as a composer.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I’ve had different influences. For example, during the late 1980s and early 1990s I was listening to the music of composers such as Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre, so I was influenced by them. Then during the mid 90’s I started to listen to electronic music artists such as Chicane, Future Sound of London and Robert Miles, so I also became influenced by them.
Years later I discovered the music of Max Richter, Ludovico Einaudi and other contemporary crossover/minimalist composers who also influenced me. As I was growing older, I discovered that the way I was composing was more in the style of these composers, something more minimalist with usually the piano as the main instrument. At the same time, the Ambient influences from the early composers I listened to are still there.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Although I was raised in a family with lots of music lovers, there were no musicians in my family, so I remember being completely lost as I didn’t have anyone to guide me into what I wanted to become my career. I had a lovely piano teacher – Enric Torra Pòrtulas – who was encouraging me to compose, but he could not give me advice on how to become a professional composer because his job was being a music teacher. He was also a composer but he had no idea on how to make money with his music either.
In Spain, if you wanted to make a living in music, the choices usually were to become a music teacher or play with cover bands in weddings, etc… None of these two choices were interesting me so when I was 25 I decided to move to London to pursue my dream to become a composer.
It took me years to learn on my own all the things needed to become a professional composer and also to create the necessary contacts. This has been my greatest challenge; for many years, it was also my frustration.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
I do not take commissioned work. I do not see myself creating music under a work for hire basis. I compose the music I want and then I license it for projects such as videos, short films, documentaries, etc. I always tell the people who contact me to create music for one of their projects that I do not do work for hire, but they can license my existing catalogue.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Sometimes it is difficult to explain to a musician what you want them to do, so for me it is very important to find musicians who are also in the same style of music. Otherwise it becomes difficult to get what you need from them. Fortunately, the internet has helped a lot with this as it allows me to find musicians who are in the same style of music as me and this creates a deeper connection and it’s easier to speak with them.
Of which works are you most proud?
I am very proud of my latest and third album ‘Touch & Sound’ [released October 2021]. It’s the hybridization of my two loves – growing up as a classical musician and falling in love with Ambient/New Age electronic music later on. The album’s 17 tracks cover an array of moods and emotions, from melodic to meditative to edgy. It took me 15 months to finish, and with it I’ve been very fortunate enough collaborate with amazing musicians such as sopranos Morgane Matteuzzi, Nacre, Kirine and Caroline Joy Clarke, violinist Mirela Nita, Cello players Liz Hanks, Yoed Nir and Daniel Frankhuizen plus Duduk player Ilia Mazia.
My piano composition “Rebirth” is also special for me because it was composed during a period when I was overcoming some insecurities. It is a gentle and reflective piano piece where my artistic self-esteem takes form and rise. Its message is about overcoming everything that is holding you back and experiencing a creative and spiritual rebirth.
“Now The Silence” is also very special for me because it is a piano composition about the importance of solitude and quiet time written during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was forced to be locked at home and spend some time away from others. After the experience, I can only stress the importance of what it means to take some time out and reflect on things from both a mental and spiritual perspective.
In my piano composition “Very Young Old Man,” I pay tribute to the man who shaped my musicianship, my music teacher Enric Torra Pòrtulas. He was an elderly man with a young spirit, a ‘Very Young Old Man’. Enric Torra passed away on August 4th, 2003. He was 93 years old. I will never forget him.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I’d say that it is very focused on melody and emotion. My goal as an instrumental music composer is to tell my own stories without lyrics and hopefully allow people to connect with the music on an emotional level.
How do you work?
As a composer, I do not have any specific work schedule. I am also a sound designer so I combine my composing job with my sound design job. Usually I compose in the evening after I am done with my sound design job. I sit at the piano and I start playing and improvising and when I hear something that I like and think that it could be developed into a complete piece, I record it and then I start working from this initial idea.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I do not have favourite musicians/composers as there are so many that I love the music they create but I’d say that I often listen to the music of contemporary composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Luke Howard, Philip Glass, Hauschka, Joep Beving, Bruno Sanfilippo, Dustin O’Halloran, Johan Johansson, Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Hania Rani.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me success is first to be able to create music that completely resonates with others and then finding that there are people who connect with this music and that is meaningful to them. It’s also knowing I’ve done my very best creating something unique to me (and hopefully to others’ experience, too).
The ability to express one’s inner soul and communicate on a completely different level through the power of music is unparalleled in any other form of human communication, and having the ability and determination to achieve this is immensely rewarding.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Enjoy what you are doing and do not compare yourself with other artists. Never stop learning and do not be afraid to experiment with new ideas, just follow your instinct. It is also very important to learn how to market your music, this is the key to become successful, you need to create good music of course, but you also have to be very good at promoting it.
For those who are thinking about pursuing a career composing music, I would recommend that they learn to play the music of their favourite composers as by doing this, they will get some nice ideas that they can then develop and create a composition of their own. At least this is how I get new ideas most of the time. Improvising is also another good way of getting ideas.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow and maintain classical music’s audiences?
I think that traditional classical music venues and labels need to take more risks and start offering new modern contemporary styles of classical music. The classical music label Deutsche Grammophon is already embracing this philosophy and they are growing their audiences.
I see that a group of modern classical musicians such as Ludovico Einaudi, Hania Rani and Joep Beving are already attracting younger people to their concerts. There is a classical music sensibility to their playing, but at the same time, they made this style of music more approachable for people out there including younger people.
What is your most treasured possession?
My digital and acoustic pianos and my stand up paddle board. I love paddling on the sea – it makes me feel so relaxed and free.
What do you enjoy doing most?
I enjoy playing the piano, running and paddling on the sea. I feel very lucky to be able to do all of these things every day. I play the piano and then go running every day and once a week I go to paddle on the sea if weather permits of course.
What is your present state of mind?
At the time of completing this interview, I feel very happy and motivated. My wife says that I am always happy and motivated so this is usually my current state of mind.
On 21 January 2022, Juan Sánchez will be performing a livestreamed piano and cello concert by candlelight in Barcelona with the Spanish cellist Iratxe Ibaibarriaga. More information. https://juansanchezmusic.info/live-streaming-concerts
“The moment you start really believing in yourself, the magic begins.” – Juan Sánchez
Juan Sánchez is a composer living in Barcelona, Spain; currently, he is primarily focused on the piano. In his twenties, he lived in London and performed with live bands before returning to Spain. In 1999, he retreated to the studio to make instrumental ambient electronic music, and since then he has been creating music for multimedia and sound libraries for music producers.