Thefullscore BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE 17 MEET THE COMPOSER Gavin Bryars Marilyn Forever is my first chamber opera. One of the di culties of writing it is that so much was assumed to be known about Marilyn Monroe. It was a question of weening out the dross, doubt and sensationalism. The libretto is by the Canadian writer Marilyn Bowering, who had written a radio play I felt was really ripe for a stage production, and we worked on it together. I like chamber opera a lot. It’s a big e ort putting on a full evening work in an opera house, and it takes years of planning. It seems a bit da . With a chamber opera you can move it around a bit. My fi h opera – also a chamber work – looks at another American legend, based on Michael Ondaatje’s book The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Like Marilyn Forever, it’s a piece about the end of an era. It’s important for a composer to be in front of the public. They shouldn’t just hide behind the performers. So I have my Gavin Bryars Ensemble. I learned everything I know about writing music from being with musicians. A French horn player will always know more about the French horn than I ever will. Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Sinking of the Titanic are my best-known pieces. I will be known for those more than the other vast amount of music I have written. I don’t mind that. They are from half a century ago, so are very distant pieces. I’m a di erent composer now but I’m still a ected by what I find in these works and I’m very happy to play them. It’s important to have respect for history. If you’re aware of the past, you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. You’re starting from a basis of knowledge. There’s a thought that music became increasingly complicated throughout history but look back at some Medieval and Renaissance music and there’s incredible complexity, and extraordinary harmonic thinking. I’ve written madrigals based on the Renaissance era and I would love to write more. Front of stage: ‘Composers shouldn’t hide behind the performers’ Gavin Bryars started his musical life as a jazz bassist and first made his mark as a composer in the 1970s. From experimental roots, he branched out into all areas, from choral works to ballet. His 2013 opera Marilyn Forever is being performed for the first time in the UK by the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society, 22-25 May.
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