Interview with a composer: Robin Stevens
Until recently Robin Stevens sang baritone in The Manchester Chorale, and he is also a composer. The Chorale took part in his annual charity concert at Emmanuel Church, Didsbury on 28th April 2012, so we asked him a few questions about his life as a composer.
Q When did you start composing?
I came from a musical family, and as a child used to sing myself to sleep with melodies from the piano pieces my mother was practising at home. I began playing the cello when I was 8, and piano at 11 – about the same time I started composing. Mostly pastiche Mozart to begin with. I actually went to the Royal Northern College of Music as a cellist rather than a composer, but began to take composing more seriously in my early 20s.
Q Who have been your main influences?
Certain pieces, perhaps more than particular composers, have sparked me off, although the heartfelt drama of Beethoven’s music remains my most potent influence. Walton’s First Symphony, Vaughan Williams’ Flos Campi, Bartok’s string quartets...
Q And what sort of music do you write?
Well, I’ve three composing ‘hats’: my worship-song hat, writing songs for congregations to sing, whether mainstream worship or seasonal material like carols; my solo-song hat – thoughtful music and lyrics about life, the universe and everything – I’ve actually recorded a couple of albums of my own stuff; and finally my serious-contemporary-composer hat, wearing which I write chamber works like string quartets and violin sonatas, as well as orchestral works. At the moment I’m coming towards the end of a part-time Ph.D in composing at The University of Manchester.
Q What are the particular challenges of writing for a choir – I’m assuming that, as a member of the Chorale, you’ve written for them?
Yes, I’m happy to say the Chorale sing some of my compositions – especially, perhaps, the Christmas music. I think the main difficulty for a contemporary composer writing for a choir is that most contemporary music is harmonically complex, and this makes it extraordinarily hard to sing. Therefore it is usually necessary to simplify one’s musical language, making it more obviously tonal and accessible. I still miscalculate sometimes, in this respect!
Q The April concert is a charity concert?
Yes, a good friend of mine from France went to Senegal with her husband several years ago to work among street children in Dakar. The aim is to give them a decent education, teach them a trade, and share the love of God in practical ways.
Q This is a Christian charity, then?
Yes. I’m a committed Christian myself, and see composing as a natural outworking of a God-given talent. It’s the motor behind all I do and am, ultimately.
Q Finally, what can we expect at the concert on 28th April?
The best thing about my concerts is the sheer variety of music on show! Modern novelties like my own Fantasy for two euphoniums and Miniature for bassoon quartet rub shoulders with Classic FM-type pieces such as Claire de Lune and Mozart’s Horn Rondo. The Chorale feature in about half the items, and their repertoire is always refreshingly varied, so there should be something for almost all tastes, and, whatever else, you won’t be bored. Do come!
Robin has successfully completed his Doctoral Thesis, so It's now Dr. Robin Stevens. He is no longer a full time Chorale member, but has Guested for us in recent times.