Alumnus Ned Bigham is a composer with a chameleonic approach and an open-minded attitude. His career has seen him work across a wide range of styles including orchestral music, chamber music, club music and electronica. We asked him some questions in the midst of a busy summer season of commissions.
- The RSNO have recently recorded a piece they commissioned from you with the support of Creative Scotland, entitled Staffa. Can you tell us a little more about that?
This is a multi-media piece, a collaboration with BAFTA-award winning film director Gerry Fox. Inspired by Mendelssohn’s journey to Fingal’s Cave, I have composed new music and Gerry has shot some amazing footage of the island and the cave in different conditions. This will be performed as an installation, with three screens arranged in a semi-circle and quadraphonic sound. It will first be shown in Edinburgh and then we hope rolled out to other venues in the UK including the Highlands and London. There is also the possibility of live performances, whereby images will be projected onto three screens above the orchestra as it performs the score.
- It seems you’ve never been bound by genres or musical styles, and this is reflected in your wide range of work. How has this benefited your approach to composition, if at all?
This is a difficult question to answer! It has meant that I have never been lost for inspiration. Music is a universal language which crosses borders unlike any other art form, and I find this diversity a constant source of fascination and energy.
- What did you learn during your time at Trinity Laban (Trinity College of Music at the time)?
I was lucky to be taught by some truly brilliant and inspiring composers: Daryl Runswick, John Ashton Thomas, Mike Garrick, Geoffrey Hanson and Gregory Rose. Not only did they have the patience to impart a lot of technical information, but they were also broad-minded and visionary and encouraged me to develop my own voice. At no stage did I feel any pressure to fit into a particular category or style of music. Trinity itself was equally open-minded. I had looked at some other conservatoires which were more restrictive: if you joined the composition department, they expected a modernist approach and tonality was the devil incarnate. And if you wanted to join a jazz arranging class you could only do that if you were part of the jazz department. But Trinity’s attitude was very much ‘if it interests you, do it!’
- What advice would you give to young composers today?
Follow your heart! Dig deep and develop the kind of music that inspires you, not what you feel you ought to be composing. If it moves you then chances are that it will move others too. If you love Penderecki and also Country and Western, don’t be afraid, embrace the difference.
- What’s next for you?
Two new commissions are being performed later this month: Music To Hear, an acappella setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet VIII, being performed by the massed choirs of Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals as part of the Southern Cathedrals Festival. And Heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness, a commission for the Brodsky Quartet, is being performed at Champs Hill and at St Mary’s Church as part of the Petworth Festival.
Further ahead, a commission from the Bernardi Music Group and Shipley Arts Festival: a ten minute piece for string orchestra which will hopefully include Trinity Laban string players. It will be great to collaborate with fellow Trinity Labanites!
Ned Bigham graduated from Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) with a Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma in Composition in 1999. To find out more about Ned’s various activities please visit the Ned Bigham website.
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