40 BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE Mark Simpson PHOTOGRAPHY: JOHN MILLAR Mark Simpson, as fine a composer as he is clarinettist, talks to Kate Molleson about his creative angst and reveals startling opinions on the nature of new music today ‘T he act of writing music – I find it overwhelmingly difficult. Painful. Dark.’ Not the statement you might expect from one of the UK’S most abundantly gifted musicians. Mark Simpson is so effusively talented that he could have chosen either of two world-class careers. Instead – after being thrust into the limelight aged 17 when he simultaneously won the BBC Proms/ Guardian Young Composer of the Year and BBC Young Musician as a clarinettist (he wrote himself a piece for the semi-final) – he chose both. In conversation his mind overflows with ideas and his words race to catch up. ★e flings references across the table: cultural theorists, digital poets, Victorian occult writers, 16th-century mystic nuns. ★is clarinet playing is similarly loquacious. Surely he can compose just as thick and fast? ‘Yeah, sure I could,’ he acknowledges, ‘but it would be crap music, and what would be the point of that? I could sit and write – it would come out – but no way would it would have the emotional depth I’m after. I don’t like superficial music. I don’t like facile music.’ Besides, on the day I visit him at home in south London, Simpson’s concerns are elsewhere. On this particular afternoon – though I suspect not only on this particular afternoon – the 30-year-old Liverpudlian is grappling with an existential angst surrounding all contemporary classical music whose weight he feels on his shoulders every time he starts a new piece. ‘The state of mind I have to be in before I even allow myself to even trust myself… it’s wrought with a lot of existential woe,’ he says plainly. ‘I have to suffer to the point where I can no longer take it, and then I allow myself to write.’ When it comes to the writing, he doesn’t have ‘elaborate systems or techniques’, he tells me, almost apologetically. ‘Some people will start with two or three precise notes and work ‘‘ I kind today of see as classical music this big keg full of holes with water spewing out of them’’ THE BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
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