Fiona Rutherford

Fiona Rutherford, composer & harpist

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

I first got into writing music when I took up the Scottish harp (Clarsach) aged 14.  I immediately found it a very creative instrument and began writing music on it almost straight away.  I performed my own music before becoming interested in writing for other instruments and went on to study Composition at Dartington College of Arts and Edinburgh University.  My biggest inspiration on the harp was probably Savourna Stevenson as she has written countless adventurous and beautiful pieces for the instrument, which really break down genre barriers.  There are no harp clichés in sight with her music, or indeed much of the exciting music which is currently written by today’s modern harpists.  I am very inspired by composer/performers in general whether that is singer songwriters/bands such as Laura Veirs or This is the Kit, or neo-classical musicians such as Nils Frahm, Martin Kohlstedt and Olafur Arnolds.  I’m also a big fan of an emotive melody which is probably why I am interested in film music and trying to represent the ‘unsaid’ through music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? It would be great if there could always be an exciting opportunity to be working towards but sometimes this just isn’t the case and searching for new challenges/creating your own work can be one of the most daunting parts of being a musician.  It can be easy to stay in your comfort zone, but not much can change if you don’t have the courage to sometimes work on the smallest idea, in hope it can fuel something bigger.  Sometimes just forcing yourself to write something new even when their is no deadline can be very tricky and I definitely have a lot more started pieces than finished ones!#

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

With specific commissions, it is a rare pleasure to get to know the musicians and write for that musician specifically, rather than just their instrument.  A particular example that stands out for me is working with Drake Music Scotland.  This fantastic organisation creates music making opportunities for children and adults with disabilities and additional support needs.  Many of the musicians play digital instruments tailored specifically to themselves, so getting to know the player and their instrumental set up is crucial, otherwise the project just wouldn’t work.  When you get to know people or write for friends, you have their personality in your mind when you work- this really helps with inspiration.  I always like musicians to bring a part of their own style to the music such as, with folk musicians, their own style of phrasing or playing ornamentation.  With this in mind, I find one of the hardest sides of commissions is to be totally specific in the notation!  I find it pretty intimidating when a group of musicians suddenly start grilling you about how individual note should be played!

Of which works are you most proud? 

I am most proud of my album ‘Seed’, released on 31st March this year. The album represents a diverse collection of my most recent pieces for Scottish Harp, Piano, Strings, Woodwind and Voice.  I wrote a lot of the music whilst pregnant with my first daughter and I now have two daughters!  The project was very gradual and there was sometimes big gaps between recording dates which could make me question if it would ever be finished!  I’m proud that I have managed to complete it whilst navigating motherhood, remaining true to my own musical style and maintaining a busy schedule teaching and playing harp.  I feel the album shows the different sides to my personality and musical taste, and I hope listeners will find a connection with it.

How would you characterise your compositional language? 

Eclectic, melodic, emotive, filmic and contemporary.   Hard to define, like I’m sure many composers say…

How do you work? 

If I am writing for harp, then I will always write through playing/improvising and often won’t notate the piece until it is a ‘finished’ composition and I have been playing it for quite a while!  For everything else, I work with a combination of Piano and Sibelius.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

I think this is really just getting to place yourself in the present musical moment as often as possible!  When this happens, I find it means you are being most true to your musical self, without any other motivations whatsoever.  To keep finding this rare spark has always been my aim and was what originally made me want to be a musician.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring composers? 

Listen to as much music as possible and try not to overthink your writing style.  Record/notate ideas as much as you can as sometimes older ideas can inspire new ones.

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

I am always inspired by an eclectic mix of music, and love going to concerts/listening to radio that also embraces this ethos.  I find the idea of a diverse billing appealing as audiences can discover music they wouldn’t otherwise.  Both the performers and the listeners are not required to label themselves!  The contemporary classical scene has seen some concerts move away from traditional concert halls and I think this has got to be a good way of reaching new audiences.

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

People are talking about it much more now but there is still a massive under representation of female composers across all genres.  I would also like to see more support/opportunities for female composers who aren’t just at the very start of their career.

‘Seed’ by Fiona Rutherford is available now on the Orbit Audio label

Fiona is from Edinburgh. She began playing the harp aged 14 and has been privilaged to study with Sophie Askew, Isobel Mieras and Savourna Stevenson. At 16, she gained a place at ‘The City of Edinburgh Music School’ where she was part of an inspiring learning environment, with exposure and involvement in a wide range of musical styles. Fiona became increasingly interested in composition work, and has since been earning much recognition as a composer/performer of new music for the Scottish harp.

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