MEET THE COMPOSER
Judith Bingham (b1952) studied composition and singing at the Royal Academy of Music. She spent 12 years performing with the BBC Singers before a five-year stint as their composer in residence. Her work ranges from large-scale symphonic works to solo pieces, and her A Walk with Ivor Gurney is out now on Signum Classics.
When I started out in the 1970s, I felt I was a freak. I didn’t feel there were other women composers. I realised when I came to London there were women, but it was hard. It was a very sexist world. It is massively better now, but it’s still self-conscious. People talk about women composers like they are a special thing, and we’ve got a long way to go before there’s a sense of normality about programming music by women. Emily Brontë and Berlioz were my huge loves. I didn’t have any living role models as a teenager. When I got to London, the first person who was a real model was the teacher I had when I le the Royal Academy of Music, Hans Keller. He taught me how to think properly about things. He was an amazing, unique man.
I make my living entirely from commissions. I usually have to write eight to ten pieces a year. Occasionally, I might do something as a present. When I was very young, I thought it would be romantic, and it took me a while to realise it was
pragmatic and took a lot of work. Stress is the name of the game for composers. It’s precarious, but I like it.
A Walk with Ivor Gurney was a voyage of discovery. I had come across his poems and songs but I did a lot of reading before I chose the texts. I like anybody who is wedded to their landscape. Gurney is about Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds, and this piece includes texts from Roman tomb memorials found there. Just as Gurney became stranded in a foreign country in World War I, these soldiers were stranded. That was a real link for him.
I’m currently writing a piece for two organs. A lot of cathedrals have both a main organ and a smaller choir organ. It’s an extremely di cult piece to write. I do a lot of thinking in advance – pre-composition. That’s really important to me. And then I like to try and write the piece quickly. This piece is for a cathedral in Sweden. They have some wonderful cathedrals and organs over there.
Enjoy the scenery:‘I like anybody who is wedded to their landscape’