Roxanna Panufnik, composer

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

Inevitably and genetically, my composer father Sir Andrzej Panufnik. But also late French Romantic music, world music and anything choral, particularly faith-based!

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

I once had to write a piece for two conductors in two different simultaneous time signatures – my head nearly imploded!

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

I love collaborating with whomever I’m writing for – that process of planning and sparking ideas off each other is so exciting.

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

Even if you think you know how to write for certain instruments and singers, there’s nearly always a surprise! That’s why it’s so wonderful to collaborate.

Of which works are you most proud?

My 2018 Last Night of the Proms piece ‘Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light’ – I managed to fulfil the BBC’s brief but also promote a message of harmony between the three main monotheistic faiths.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

People tell me that my music is very emotional and the first thing I focus on is harmony – for me this is the most moving aspect of music, when you get a harmonic progression that says something impossible to put into words.

How do you work?

Often I have to do a week or two of research before I start a piece which is great as over that time musical ghosts start to haunt my brain. Then, I start at the piano – trying to pull the music floating in my head out through my fingers and onto the keyboard so I can give it precise pitches. Once I have some sketches I’ll move onto music notation software which is basically like a word processor for music.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The ability to move people – for your listeners to find an emotion they can identify with in your music.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring composers?

Study at a University music dept or conservatoire and surround yourself with instrumentalists who are willing to try out what you write. Also keep your ear to the ground about who is doing what in the music world and seek out those who share similar interests. Social media is very good for that but also music journals e.g. Classical Music and/or BBC Music Magazine.

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

I fear the days of people wanting to just sit and listen to a concert for two hours are numbered. We live in a visual age – I think more needs to be done to interweave different art forms together, featuring classical music, of course!

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about but you think we should be?

More tax relief on childcare for self-employed musicians!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being on holiday with my gorgeous family

What is your present state of mind?


Roxanna Panufnik (b.1968) FRAM, ARAM, GRSM(hons), LRAM studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and, since then, has written a wide range of pieces – opera, ballet, music theatre, choral works, orchestral and chamber compositions, and music for film and television – which are performed all over the world.

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