BBC Music Magazine
MEET THE COMPOSER
Huw Watkins is both a pianist and a composer. Born in Wales in 1976, he studied at Chetham’s School of Music and Cambridge University. He took up a three-year post as composer-in-association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in 2015, and a new recording showcasing his music is out now on the NMC label.
Be honest to yourself. That’s something I learnt from the composer Julian Anderson. He taught me that I didn’t need to follow whatever seemed to be trendy, I could just write. Studying at Cambridge was my first opportunity to meet real-life composers – it felt like the place you should go if you wanted to be a composer yourself, particularly King’s College.
The nicest thing is to write for people you know. Because I’m a pianist as well, a lot of commissions come from musicians I have played with. Both the concertos on my new disc came about because of certain players. I wrote a solo piece for violinist Alina Ibragimova about ten years ago, and she asked me to write a concerto. And I played with flautist Adam Walker, and he had some money from a fund that he decided to spend on his piece. ‘Symphony’ has been used so much for vastly di erent types of music. I think in terms of the classical tradition, but I’m trying
to do something fresh, something that might sound familiar but isn’t quite like anything else. There would be no point otherwise. If you want to make sense you have to write in some kind of recognisable language. I think that’s why I’m drawn towards established forms.
You can’t learn to write for orchestra without hearing it. Being composer-in-association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales has been brilliant for learning the art of writing for orchestra. I’ve written two pieces for them, and I’m starting a last piece, which is going to have a choir in it. I love having the chance to be with the orchestra I grew up listening to in the 1980s. You can’t second-guess what audiences will like. You just have to write what you like. My taste ranges from cerebral newmusic to much more flu y, cheesy things as well. In the end, I just want to appeal to myself. I feel like I’m just another person in the audience, not somebody with any special understanding, really.