PRS for Music Foundation: What impact will being part of New Music 20×12 have on your work?
Gavin Higgins: The opportunity to hear my music performed live holds a thrill for me and this project will guarantee repeat performances throughout 2012 and 2013. It will be fascinating to see how the work grows and develops over this period and what kind of impact this exciting collaboration might have on my future works.
As a composer you tend to spend a great deal of time exploring ideas and philosophies alone, however this can sometimes become stifling. Conversely, I know from experience that these sorts of collaborations can be extremely fruitful. The chance to share ideas and opinions with other creatives will often result in a far more refined and multi-dimensional product: a work that has had the added benefit of two or three creative minds working towards a common goal.
To work closely for such a long period of time with performers and creatives of such high caliber is an opportunity that doesn’t present itself often and I am convinced that this project will have a positive knock-on effect for my future works.
PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
GH: In 2010 I was appointed the Rambert Dance Company’s inaugural Music Fellow and as such I worked closely with the Company for a year, working with their choreographers, dancers and musicians. During my residency I developed great relationships with a number of choreographers and dancers and worked on two small ballets that were performed at the ROH Linbury Theatre. After the success of the fellowship, Paul Hoskins (the Company’s Music Director) and Mark Baldwin (Artistic Director) thought the New Music 20×12 commissions would be a great opportunity to explore a piece that they had wanted to perform for some time and suggested I write a new work to celebrate the centenary of Nijinsky’s ballet, L’après midi d’un faune.
Knowing the incredible track record of the Company and being so heavily involved with the Rambert already I naturally leapt at the chance to write a new ballet for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad – although I must say I am in awe of Debussy’s shadow; I hope to do his work justice.
PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work?
GH: This will depend on how the choreographer wants to approach the work. We already have a clear starting point; Nijinsky’s ballet L’après midi d’un faune. I know that the music I write will need to be highly active and rhythmic – a complete antithesis to the music of Debussy. Whereas the Debussy is dream-like and erotic, the new work will be aggressive, orgiastic and animalistic. This is familiar territory for me since a lot of the music I am writing at the moment tends to have these kinds of kinetic and nihilistic qualities. The challenge will be to somehow gel these two worlds organically whilst taking in Mark’s vision and choreography.
PRSF: What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
GH: From my experience, the Rambert are a rather ‘hands-on’ company with the dancers frequently having a certain amount of artistic input into the works being created. Mark is the company’s artistic director so he knows all of the performers very well. He has worked with the same team for years now and they are familiar with his practices and techniques. They are also very familiar with my music and a number of the dancers recently performed in my two short ballets. How much input each individual will have in the creation of the work remains to be seen but certainly the team of composer, choreographer and designer will mold the foundations of the work together – once it’s been staged, however, it’s over to the musicians and dancers to work their magic.
PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
GH: The Rambert take live music very seriously and as such have become accustomed to commissioning new works each year (recent composers include Julian Anderson and Howard Goodall) so their audiences are used to new music. However, I hope the media and publicity that surrounds New Music 20×12 might help to entice some of their audience to further new music concerts. It would also be lovely to see more ‘classical’ music audiences at dance shows. Music underpins almost all ballets and dance performances, certainly Rambert’s, and I hope that through New Music 20×12 a whole new type of audience may be given the opportunity to experience live dance.
PRSF: Where do you draw inspiration and influence? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
GH: I try to keep a very open mind and when I’m not composing I surround myself with as many new experiences as possible. I think it’s important for any type of creative person to keep their horizons clear and throw their nets wide. My CD, DVD and book collections are highly eclectic and still growing.
It’s hard to pinpoint particular creators that inspire me since with each new piece I compose I try to explore new ideas, sounds and structures. Musically I suppose composers such as Stravinsky, Turnage and MacMillan have inspired me but equally I am still amazed by the brilliance of Beethoven, Mahler and Tallis. I grew up surrounded by brass bands and pop music and this has filtered into my own musical language with bands such as Radiohead, Goldfrapp and Björk engrained somewhere in my subconscious. I admire great filmmakers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michael Haneke and David Lynch and enjoy reading the works of Richard Dawkins, Anthony Burgess and The Marquis de Sade. It’s a massive bonus living in the most exciting city in the world; with so many opportunities to see and hear literally anything you want, I think it’s inspirational just living in London – no other city in world compares to London with the sheer amount of varied culture one can experience here.
PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012?
GH: I don’t know just yet but the archery certainly appeals.
PRSF: What was your best favourite sport when growing up?
GH: One sport I particularly enjoyed when I was young, but was unfortunately never encouraged at my school, was gymnastics. For me it was the most artful and disciplined of all the sports we had to do as part of my studies. The similarities between gym and music clearly appealed to me and I was on home turf with the rigorous technical practices involved in the sport.
In 2012 Rambert Dance Company will stage a newly commissioned work of music and dance which celebrates the centenary of Nijinsky’s ballet, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. A new ballet, What Wild Ecstasy, by Mark Baldwin will reference the classical origins of Nijinsky’s piece in an entirely new way. Gavin Higgins’ new score will form a response to Debussy’s masterpiece and, in the composer’s words, “be a testosterone fuelled work exploring a darker side of the Faun’s sensual character.” This new work of music for dance will take Debussy’s harmonic palette as a starting point and create a partner to the re-scored original which will provide the musical underpinning of the work. Gavin Higgins is a remarkable young composer who is Rambert’s first Music Fellow. His new work for New Music 20×12 will be performed by Rambert Orchestra on Rambert’s tour throughout 2012 and 2013 in venues up and down the UK.