By way of introduction, here are a few facts about me: originally from Ellon in Aberdeenshire, I attended the Aberdeen City Music School and later St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, studying piano, composition and French horn. Later studies followed at Cambridge University (Fitzwilliam College) and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, first in piano accompaniment, and then in the Opera School as a repetiteur. Directly after the completion of my Masters in 2014, I came to Glasgow as Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artist Composer-in-Residence, a post I continue to hold.
During my school years, soundfestival became a seminal part of my musical development. I was involved from the very first year of the festival in 2005: imagine my excitement at meeting one of my favourite contemporary composers - James MacMillan - and playing second horn in his brilliant orchestral fantasy Into the Ferment! After the performance in the Elphinstone Hall, I still remember very nervously asking James if he would take a look at my composition portfolio. He was very encouraging, advising a good dose of Palestrina! An experience like that is remarkably important for a young composer, providing inspiration and also giving the impetus to take oneself more seriously as an artist.
My experiences over the next few years were no less inspiring: there were workshops with leading performers – Rohan de Saram of the Arditti Quartet, members of the Scottish Ensemble; individual sessions with renowned composers – John Casken and James Clapperton. Gaining first-hand knowledge of both the practicalities of writing for instruments and approaches to musical structuring at such an early age really set me in good stead as a developing composer! Even now I can recall the invaluable advice from these sessions.
Perhaps my most positive experience with soundfestival was the Aberdeen International Youth Festival Go Compose! Competition in 2008. My string quartet, Tetraptych (themes from Picasso), was chosen to be workshopped by the Alba Quartet, led by now-Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir. It was thrilling to hear Judith’s advice, and I was overjoyed to receive first place in the competition after a final performance in King’s College Chapel. That experience of meeting Judith had resonances in my musical development for years to come: my interest in her music having been sparked by that day, I conducted her opera The Consolations of Scholarship while at university, wrote my final year thesis on her operas, was repetiteur for her A Night at the Chinese Opera with British Youth Opera in 2012, and studied privately with Judith while at the Guildhall! I have soundfestival to thank for beginning such an important and integral part of my musical journey.
Now that I am once again based in Scotland, I take great pleasure in attending soundfestival events. A particular highlight was Philip Mead’s piano recital at the 2014 festival, featuring modern masterworks alongside brilliant new pieces from local composers. Listening to their innovative new approaches to piano writing, I was very happy to note that composers are continuing to be inspired by this wonderful festival, just as I have been.