BBC Music Magazine : 2019-04-17

Mark Simpson : 42 : 44

Mark Simpson

Mark Simpson 44 BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE Soul searching: ‘Every piece I write has to be me’ happen?’ Granted, that’s a lot to have on the mind at the start of every new piece. And yet for all the state-of-the-nation soul-searching, Simpson is an enthusiast, full of deep feeling for the music he plays and the musicians he works with. ★e mentions the music of Georges Lentz – a Luxembourg-born, Sydney-based composer and violinist whom Simpson calls ‘one of the most significan­t composers of our time. There is no discernibl­e inf luence. It’s as though his music bypassed musical history, so there’s none of what I’d call “marketplac­e modernism” – as in, aesthetics based on the work of other composers. No commodific­ation of certain sounds. And that’s what it’s all about for me – trying to find a way forward that is genuinely autonomous.’ Simpson is currently working on a Clarinet Concerto for the BBC Philharmon­ic, the first time he’ll have written himself into one of his orchestral pieces. ‘I’m in it, all right! It’s happening. I didn’t want to write something that was virtuosic for the sake of being virtuosic. It’s not going to be flashy. I mean, I can do that stuff, whatever, but it’s not the kind of music I like to write. I’m trying to tap into that more expressive place.’ And yes, he is the protagonis­t of the piece. ‘Every piece I write has to be me. But if it has to be me… well then, who am I? Oh God! ★ere we go!’ Which brings us back to the big questions, and back to Lentz. ‘Now, he is someone who has obviously answered all this stuff. ★e’s tapped into that world of transcende­ntalism,’ Simpson says. ‘I remember the first time I heard him: I thought, this is space! This is the dawn of time! This is particles hitting each other! You can hear the philosophy in the music. It’s a musical representa­tion of an idea that is so much bigger than himself.’ ★as he told Lentz how he feels? ‘No way! I haven’t even contacted him. Thing is, I’m scared to ask how he got to where he is, because I feel like the path he took is the path I have to take.’ Wouldn’t it be worth finding out? ‘I’m scared he’ll just tell me to follow my instinct’ – and that, he says, would throw a spanner in the works, ‘because my instinct is to get rid of the keg.’ Now Simpson really laughs. ★e laughs because he see the contradict­ions: the simultaneo­us melodrama and bleakness of his metaphor; the urgency and the apathy in his own response. ★e recognises the hypocrisy in pointing a finger at the conservato­ire system while being a successful product of it, in crying death to the infrastruc­ture around orchestras while being a beneficiar­y of major orchestral commission­s. ‘And that,’ he grins, ‘is the terrible irony. Either I’m best placed to take all this on, or I’m irrevocabl­y trapped!’ So it’s Mark Simpson versus the establishm­ent, Mark Simpson versus all of contempora­ry music, Mark Simpson versus himself. One thing is certain: the musical fallout will be powerful. Simpson’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by the composer and the BBC Philharmon­ic, is premiered at Bridgewate­r Hall, 15 June. Simpson is part of Radio 3’s Big Chamber Weekend at Saffron Hall, 26-27 April

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