Composer Spotlight Q&A: Finn Patrick McLean

Finn Patrick McLean is a composer and performer based in Glasgow. 

Finn recently took part in our annual development opportunity for composers' with Red Note Ensemble composing a piece of music for double bass and marimba which was premiered at soundfestival 2021, and has also taken part in our composition course with the International Percussion Institute.

What stage are you at in your career right now?

I am currently in the third year of my undergraduate degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, studying with David Fennessy and Matthew McAllister.

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

It was during the first few weeks of my first year of my undergrad. Originally, I was only studying classical guitar and I thought that would be my career route! Then, I bumped into a bunch of composers at the local pub and after gushing about new music with them over an extended series of pints they encouraged me to join the Composition department as well, so composing via peer pressure! Seriously though, it was the encouragement of other composers that really felt like I was able to go down this artistic path. I think a lot of young performers feel so disconnected from composition because we are constantly dealing with the ‘genius’ figure when playing classical music, a fable that can be incredibly discouraging to young musicians.  Throw composer-exceptionalism in the bin!

Tell us about a favourite piece of music that you have written.

Earlier this year, I wrote this piece ‘fills the plain’ for ten triangles, that was performed by the lovely Angela Wai-Nok Hui and Calum Huggan, which I think was very significant for me. I think I found something in that piece that I had been trying to achieve for quite a while, like everything was clicking into place. Incredibly proud of that one and I sincerely hope we can get it put on again a few times, the premiere had to be livestreamed but I would love people to be able to hear it in person.

Were you involved in any special musical or compositional projects during lockdown?

I was involved in a very special project with Psappha Ensemble down in Manchester over the course of quite a few months where I developed this piece ‘How Long?’ for cello and piano with ebow with Jennifer Langridge, Benjamin Powell and Tim Williams. All of the work was conducted remotely online and it felt quite special and gave me a lot of optimism at the time that we were we able to work so well and foster an artistic connection without ever having met in person! And especially at that difficult time of various lockdowns, the whole Psappha team were very accommodating – which relaxed any anxieties I can have sometimes when working with proper professional musicians that I admire!

What are your compositional aspirations? 

Be afforded the means to keep on writing what I like.

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

Both the music of Morton Feldman and Orlando Gibbons have made quite a huge impact on my music and my perception of what I do in a broader musical context. It was just lovely to hear people achieving what I had been trying to find for myself before - instead of trying to carve an entirely new home for me in the classical music landscape, I could see paths have eroded all around me. That can be a great comfort, I think. I also have to mention the wonderful Rylan Gleave, who I met in my first year of studies and ever since has provided so much support to me and my music - always out of a genuine sense of interest and care. What I find so inspiring about him though, is as his career deservedly ascends and ascends, how he has managed to deviate from the idea of the composer as a sole being, moulded and created only by themselves, but instead as a product of life experiences, environment and community. Rylan consistently finds ways to engage and include other people he’s in community with into his projects, and it’s not separate from his composing! It’s such an integrated part of his practice– that’s what makes him special, I think.

What would you consider to be a dream commission? 

I would really love the time to develop a work for radio, in line with Glenn Gould’s ‘contrapuntal radio’ works and the radio ballads of Ewan Maccoll, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker. I’ve always thought it’s such a beautiful form, that composed radio, and I’m not sure it’s had the attention it deserves in recent years.

What do you do to take your mind off composing?

I enjoy reading, primarily plays. The form of a play I think is so interesting – something about ‘the script’ I find a great relation to when writing scores. The works of Sarah Kane, Anne Carson and Samuel Beckett specifically have played a big part in my artistic process and output the past year or so...also Doctor Who has been very good this year.

If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

Ridiculous, sad - tragicomedy.

What music have you been listening to lately that you would recommend to others? 

I’ve been really interested in the live album lately - the ability to take recordings, sometimes gathered over a dozen of nights, and then create a structure of a fictional night where all magic is contained. Some of my favourite albums that achieve this to a great level in my opinion are ‘Black Gold’ by Nina Simone, ‘Live at the Point’ by Christy Moore and ‘American Utopia on Broadway’ by David Byrne. And I attended a great gig recently of composer Rufus Isabel Elliott’s work ‘A/am/ams (come ashore; turn over)’ which has been fizzing around my head ever since, I believe there’s a recording of that coming out soon on the GLARC label so I would recommend people watch out for that if they didn’t have a chance to hear the work live, I know I will be...

Listen on SoundCloud