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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