February 1999

Keeping busy...

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 Offers service.

The monthly listings magazine new notes is essential reading for composers, performers, and everyone interested in what's new in new music. In its printed version new notes reaches over 5,000 contemporary music enthusiasts in the UK and around the world.

If you promote new music events you should advertise them in new notes.
Single concert listings are just £60+VAT. The magazine also features ads for festivals, composer competitions, recordings and more.

new notes
also features
monthly articles on issues at the forefront of new music
special offers on CDs, tickets, scores and books for spnm members
information about forthcoming spnm events
a free classified section for spnm members' non-trade ads.

For full details on advertising or inserting leaflets in new notes please contact
the Editor:

Event listings for this month


Previous articles:

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!

December 1998
Forty years of madness?

November 1998
To plug in or not to plug in?

October 1998
No, honestly it is a cello

September 1998
Composing for film

July/August 1998
New music on old instruments

June 1998
Blue sheep of record companies

May 1998
spnm looks to the future

April 1998
New Music 98 in Manchester