Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, composer

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

Summed up, the most significant influences have been learning, love, and luck. I wouldn’t have had a chance were it not for my circumstances — a roof over my head, a family which supported me, and an education which pushed my understanding. I grew up by the sea, the same Suffolk coast in England where Benjamin Britten lived and left a legacy of community music-making.

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

I’d say my greatest challenge to date has been making this album, Welcome Party, during a pandemic, not least because I lost my creativity at the start of it. I’ve run out of ideas before in my career, but I’d never run out of the will to have ideas. It was heartbreaking for me, and it was due to the tragic conditions around us. With support from the participating artists, funders and label NMC Recordings, creativity eventually returned to me. We were able to book recording sessions as soon as it was safe to do so, with the London Symphony Orchestra, Trish Clowes and Girton College Choir of Cambridge committing themselves despite the uncertain circumstances. I realise now I had assumed that my creative thinking would be with me at all times, but now I appreciate it as a welcome guest.

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

It’s a real pleasure to work people who bring new ways of thinking to my practice. Commissions can offer that — sometimes they introduce a new collaborator, or provide a new story for setting, or they have unique performance skills to share. My piece Muted Lines was commissioned by saxophonist Trish Clowes who performs an orchestral version on my album as well as her own with her trio My Iris. Its entire melodic structure owes its existence to the fact that Trish expressed an interest in singing as well as playing saxophone.

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

Musicians can challenge what is possible, and it’s inspiring to write for them. You can hear Ziazan singing on a lot of my album because I’m interested in how her bel canto technique from the 19th century can be applied to my music — covering influences from folk inflection, Blues intonation, and imitations of specific birdsong in Swallows and Nightingales. It’s an honour to work with the London Symphony Orchestra. They play with jaw-dropping precision and beauty, and my role in recording is to communicate as clearly as possible how a new piece should sound. That was a particular challenge when I had to bellow in the church we were recording in, everyone 2 meters apart, the brass section vanishing behind columns…

Of which works are you most proud?

I particularly enjoy hearing the influence of my collaborators in my work, such as my duo Crewdson & Cevanne. I appreciate how others have changed me and my practice — such as Cap O’Rushes, a music-dance film based on a local folktale which I initiated with inclusive ensembles for an international arts and health conference. But I have to remind myself to feel proud of my solo work — especially the Welcome Party album, for the sheer effort it took to produce.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Multi-lingual. Although I’m not fluent, I’d like to communicate with as many musicians and cultures as I can. My Welcome Party album is a mix of classical performers and jazz musicians playing my interpretations on all sorts of cultures including my own Armenian heritage. My BRACE album with Crewdson is rooted in English folk and electronica.

How do you work?

Sometimes I have to ask myself this, when I’m struggling to get anything done… In general, I enjoy approaching ideas with extra-musical games, such as physically cutting up my manuscript, or writing a conceptual framework with a text-based ‘event score’. Borrowing from visual art can help me to reveal sonic ideas. Sometimes I generate ‘AugenMusik’ scores, like Inkwells in the Welcome Party album, or House Music — both created by composing through holes cut into the manuscript, a little like The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Link to Inkwells:

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Good relationships and the ability to appreciate them. Good stories and the means to tell them.

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

Find what you enjoy in your work and in the work of others, and nurture them both.

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

We need to create a more welcoming atmosphere in the concert hall — I’ve been shushed by an entitled member of the audience at my own première before the concert had even started! There must be more ways to make the space physically accessible, affordable, and friendly for audiences — and for performers, too. It’s partly why I’ve called my classical album Welcome Party. Encouraging listeners to trust their ears, and to enjoy the freedom of the unknown.

What is your present state of mind?

Floating, suspended.

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian’s debut classical album, Welcome Party, is released on the on NMC Recordings label

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian has been double-nominated for the 2017 British Composer Awards for ‘Muted Lines’, which is in the album. Elsewhere, Cevanne’s creative endeavours have extended from composing ballets for Birmingham Royal Ballet, to being half of the folk electronica duo Crewdson & Cevanne. She is also known for her unique ‘Eye Music’ scores, where visual structures create physical parameters for her composition.

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