We are delighted that Joy Lisney is one of our 2016-17 Composers in Residence. Joy is a composer and cellist who is currently completing her PhD at King’s College. Her new work, ‘Thread of the Infinite’, will be premiered by CUCO on Saturday 13 May.
Tell us about your musical background. When did you start composing, and why?
I dabbled in composition during school but when the carousel of submitting coursework for public exams was over, so – it seemed – was my compositional career. I returned to the manuscript in my second year as a music undergraduate (2012), chiefly to avoid writing any more essays than absolutely necessary! I was also performing contemporary music at the time, including a piece called JOY by Jan Vriend, which I premiered at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This experience was instrumental in inspiring me to write my own music.
Do you have any particular musical influences, or is there a particular piece which really inspired you?
I find it difficult to identify musical influences in my own work though I am sure there are things in there which other people notice! Early on, however, I was influenced by a piece called Anatomy of Passion (2004), also by the Dutch composer Jan Vriend mentioned above. Anatomy is a truly epic addition to the cello and piano repertoire and one that I found fascinating to learn, memorise and perform. The understanding I gained from this experience still informs much of my compositional process. I can point interested readers in the direction of this YouTube video of a live performance with the score.
How has your time at Cambridge shaped your compositional career?
My time at Cambridge essentially encompasses my entire composition career and continues to do so! The music I came across during my Undergraduate degree broadened my ideas hugely and the weekly Composers’ Workshops have often seen me head straight to the library to listen to something new. I am also incredibly grateful to the department and in particular Richard Causton and Jeremy Thurlow who gave me my first opportunities to hear my music. I was very lucky to have my first string quartet premiered by the Arditti Quartet in 2014.
How do you see your compositional career developing?
I grew up as a cellist and have always intended to make that the centre of my musical life. In the last couple of years, however, I have begun to explore the worlds of composition and of conducting and am discovering that they complement and benefit one another very well. Composer-pianists dominated the history of music throughout the last three centuries and I intend to revive that tradition as a composer-cellist.
What advice would you give to aspiring young composers?
As a latecomer to composition myself, I cannot easily compare my experiences with the more precocious young composer! I would however advise all young composers to learn an instrument to as high a standard as you can as I feel that there are many subtleties and realities about performance that it is impossible to pick up as an outsider. Your music can only benefit from a more thorough understanding of how it might feel to perform it.
You can hear the world première of ‘Thread of the Infinite’ at 8pm in West Road Concert Hall on Saturday 13 May, directed from the violin by Thomas Gould. See here for more details and booking.