Young composer Joby
Talbot describes his working life.
photo: Simone Canetty-Clarke
I've never much liked the concept of the composer as a lonely, tortured
soul, scribbling away in a draughty attic, writing wonderfully heartfelt
but probably never to be heard masterpieces while gradually fading painfully
away from consumption. I think Schubert should have got out more and lived
a little. Living a little is something I'm rather good at and the composers
whose lives I admire are those who did likewise. People like Bernstein,
Stravinsky, Boulez and Eno who whizzed (or whizz) around the globe, keeping
their ears and eyes open, working with thousands of different people in
as many different ways as they could think of. Above all they kept busy.
My recipe for keeping busy is to run three careers concurrently: composer,
arranger and performer. As a composer in 1998 I wrote a percussion concerto
for Julian Warburton and the Brunel Ensemble which they broadcast on Radio
3 and which was subsequently taken up by Evelyn Glennie and the London
Sinfonietta. I wrote a song for the contralto Hilary Summers, heard my
string piece Luminescence broadcast by the BBC Philharmonic, wrote
the Tomorrow’s World and BBC Young Musician of the Year theme tunes
and did the music for the BBC 2 comedy series The League of Gentlemen.
I co-wrote some songs on the Divine Comedy's new album, Fin de Siècle
(our first top 10 chart position), which I also arranged and played
on and we’ve been touring round Europe and Japan to promote the record
ever since. In January we played Brixton Academy, our biggest headline
gig to date, and later this month we're to do three nights at Wembley
Arena supporting Robbie Williams. Somewhere along the line I also found
time to get married and buy a house.
So how do all the things interrelate? I suppose some of the rather less
imaginative classical fraternity might imagine that I finance my indulgence
in ‘serious’ concert music by turning my hand to frivolous ‘commercial’
projects. Nothing could be further from the truth. All my musical activities
feed off one another. Art, as far as I'm concerned, is that which communicates
and engages the mind, so it shouldn't matter whether a piece is scored
for electric guitar, sampler, or symphony orchestra as long as it's approached
with conviction, energy, intelligence and integrity. Furthermore, one
can learn so much from working in different disciplines. For example,
I can now play in time – I mean really in time, something that classical
players are so rarely called upon to do. I’ve had the opportunity
of working closely and intensely with very large ensembles and fantastic
musicians and I’ve experienced recording and performing at the highest
levels of technical accuracy. (I keep hearing how British orchestras are
the best sight-readers in the world – I thinks it’s a shame
they have to be). I’ve got to grips with some of the new technology
and I’ve enjoyed playing in front of big and appreciative crowds.
It’s all so inspiring and so much fun! People are often disparaging
about the current musical climate but I can honestly say that I’d
rather be working as a creative musician now than at any other time in
history. I think all you people out there who still compartmentalise your
music making are seriously missing out.
Joby Talbot’s Animisation was performed by the Britten Sinfonia
in an spnm concert in 1997 and features on spnm’s sampler
CD Short Cuts.
Members of spnm can buy Divine Comedy’s new CD at the special
price of £11 (rrp £14.99) through our Special
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