Composer spotlight: Electra Perivolaris

When did you start composing?

I started writing music at the age of 14 through the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers’ Scheme (now called the BBC Young Composer scheme). I loved the idea of composing, and signed up online for different free events organised by BBC Inspire, where I got to attend workshops with other people of my own age, led by actual composers (!) and try writing music for different instruments and voices. It gave me so much confidence to try composing at home on my own and when I got started I didn’t want to stop.

When and what made you decide to pursue composition as a career?

When I was 16, I composed my first complete piece for female voice choir, called ‘Obon Lantern Festival’. It was inspired by the Obon festival, a Japanese festival for the deceased in which paper lanterns are placed on rivers and lakes, and left to float away in rememberance. I had sung in my school choir for years, so it seemed natural to compose my first piece for voices. After finishing the piece, I saw an opportunity advertised to take part in a BBC Inspire scheme choral composition event with the BBC Singers and I sent my piece off to be considered, without expecting it would be chosen at all. It was selected by Judith Weir CBE and workshopped and performed by the BBC Singers during the 2013 BBC Proms, and this inspired me and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in composition.

Where and with whom did you study?

In July 2019 I graduated from the Bachelor of Music Joint Principal Study degree in Composition and Piano Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I studied with several different teachers during my time at the RCS, starting with Dr Gordon McPherson, and then with Dr Oliver Searle, and studying in my final year with Dr Linda Buckley.

What stage are you at in your career right now?

I am currently completing a Masters of Music degree in Composition and additional piano studies as a scholar at the Royal Academy of Music in London (studying with Professor Philip Cashian and Professor David Sawer). Alongside my masters degree, I am writing music to commission and taking part in schemes for emerging composers, such as the London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub Scheme. I am also Ambassador for the BBC Young Composer scheme, and I mentor children and people younger than myself who are interested in creating their own music.

How would you describe the type of music you write?

I write contemporary classical music, for instruments and voices, which takes inspiration from diverse folk and world musics, especially Scottish traditional music and Gaelic singing. My music often incorporates other elements, such as text, film and recorded sound to reflect on the natural world and our place within it.

Is there something that inspires or helps you structure your compositions?

I am inspired by landscape and nature (especially around my home in the West of Scotland), and most of my music depicts physical landscapes or more abstract emotional, inner landscapes. Over the past few years, I have drawn inspiration from ecology and changes in the natural world, often using music as a way of portraying both the connection that we can feel to particular spaces and places in nature, but also the impact that humans are having on the natural world.

What forces do you prefer writing for and why? 

I love writing both instrumental and vocal music. A recent commission to compose a new piece for the BBC Singers as part of BBC Radio 3‘s ‘Seven Ages of Woman’ project for International Women’s Day allowed me to return to choral composition, and it reminded me how much I love writing for human voices. I think contemporary choral composition is a form of new music that really diverse audiences can connect with and it’s very special to me for this reason.

Which composer (dead or alive) has most inspired you and why?

That is such a tricky question- there are many composers who have inspired me! I have been inspired by the music of Judith Weir, especially her operas, which I find so musically intricate and stimulating, whilst still being human and relatable to. The music of Danish composer, Per Norgard,is also a big influence on me in the way that he seems to conjure the complexity of nature in lots of his music, as well as Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and the way that her music portrays actual visual and sonic complexities from the landscape she grew up in. My teacher for the last year of my degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Dr Linda Buckley, has also hugely inspired my approach to composition and the ways in which folk elements can fuse with more classical aspects in my music.

Name a piece of music (or two) that you listen to over and over, or find inspiring and why?

At the moment, I am listening to the music of Takemitsu, especially his piece, ‘A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden’. It feels particularly relevant to the way we are currently living, as during this isolation period I have become much more aware of the sounds of nature around my home. Takemitsu’s music reflects this period of slowing down for me, and awareness of silence and absence is central to his work.

What do you do to take your mind off composing?

I am also a pianist, and I love to practice and perform other contemporary, (and older!) music. Playing the piano reminds me of how I developed a love of music in the first place, and how much joy playing and hearing live music can bring to people.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently writing a piece for Scottish based classical guitarist, Sasha Savaloni who has commissioned several new pieces for guitar as part of his PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I am really enjoying learning more about composing for the guitar from Sasha and I’m excited to hear the piece performed over the coming year. More details about this first performance to be confirmed!

What would your dream commission be?

I would love to receive a commission to write a new piece inspired by a particular landscape, natural or urban space that is new to me, and for the commission to include a residency to stay in that place, just really getting to know the space in great depth. If the first performance of the piece could be for the local community of that place/space, that would be even better!

Is there anything about the current lockdown situation that is affecting your compositional activity, whether positive or negative?

I am making sure that I keep composing through this very strange period of time. Many composers have said that they usually ‘lockdown’ when composing a new piece, but for me, I thrive on the daily interactions with other people which break up my composing time and provide me with new inspiration, so getting used to the isolation and silence has been a challenge. Despite all the cancellations I have faced (with three premieres of new pieces I have written being cancelled in the space of a month), I have moved back to my rural home in Scotland, and this return to nature is inspiring new pieces, which are perhaps sparser and simpler, pared back to only the essential, like all our lives have become over the last month.

Chessmen was commissioned by sound and written for a trio from Red Note Ensemble. It was first performed on 27 October 2018 in St Andrew's Cathedral, Aberdeen. 

Following its premiere performance at soundfestival 'Chessmen' was performed by members of the London Symphony Orchestra on 8th February 2019 at LSO St Luke's after being selected for the LSO Soundhub Showcase.

Find out more about Electra: 

Website: https://www.electraperivolaris...