Composer of the Week: Benjamin Graves

Tell us a little about your background
I was born and raised in Northamptonshire and began studying the piano at the age of 6, moving swiftly on to the clarinet because teachers told me I was too small to play the saxophone. Once large enough I took up this too. I continued the clarinet on into a BMus at the Birmingham Conservatoire, gaining an interest in contemporary performance and eventually composition through friendships with some wonderful composers. I decided to move forward with composition with a Masters at the Guildhall School. I am a keen rock climber and a big fan of Chelsea and England Football teams.

What have your career highlights been so far?
I have been lucky enough to travel to some wonderful places with my music: I was part of the young artists programme at the Aix-en-Provence Festival last summer, sun, sea and (opera) singing; a performance by my good friend Jenni Hogan and percussionists of Basel Sonfonieorchester took me to Switzerland and Germany and I worked with dancers at Royaumont abby just outside of Paris. I believe the LSO’s Panufnik young composer scheme could be seen as a highlight but it was just plain terrifying.

What are your current projects?
I am currently completing my PhD at Cambridge University, which puts me in the wonderful position of working on my music full time. This has produced a series of 5 Quartettsätze, no. 1 of which will have its premiere at St. John’s Smith Square in April and I have just begun a viola concerto for my close friend and collaborator Stephen Upshaw.

What are your future plans?
The plan in the near future is to begin work on a chamber opera with director Jude Christian, who I met in Aix. We were originally planning a work based on Carol Churchill’s Not, not, not, not, not enough Oxygen, but complications arose so we’re considering working on a play with young playwright Cordelia Lynn’s work Lela & Co..

Can you tell us a little bit about one of your pieces?
The Metamorphosis of Britten was written for my sister who was performing along side her husband, Robin, who was playing Britten’s Metamorphoses for solo oboe. These pieces consider stories by Ovid which explore characters morphing into various forms as a result of some higher force. This was always a preoccupation of Britten’s and so I decided to explore, through quotation, the metamorphosis his music would have undergone had he taken up studies with Berg in Vienna.

How would you recommend someone approaches learning the piece?
I would always recommend someone listen to as much music as possible, no matter who they are or what they are doing. So I can first recommend listening to the quoted pieces and learning about them: Britten’s Metamorphoses for solo oboe and Billy Budd, Strauss’ Salome, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and Berg’s Wozzeck. Aside from this, take time to consider which movements or parts of movements they feel require a more improvisatory approach and decide on direction of phrasing and rhythm. Finally, enjoy!

The Metamorphoses of Britten (YouTube)

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