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Richard Causton

Richard Causton, commissioned by European Union Youth Orchestra

‘Twenty-Seven Heavens’

Special thanks to RVW Trust for making this New Music 20×12 commission possible.

PRS for Music Foundation: What impact do you think your involvement in New Music 20×12 will have on your work?
Richard Causton: In terms of the number of people involved, orchestral music is music on the grandest scale possible. Every second of the finished piece involves parts for about 100 players – which means that, rather like with film animation, the amount of work that goes into producing an orchestral piece is colossal. Although over the years I’ve written a lot for smaller forces, I’ve only composed for such a large-scale orchestra twice before, and on each occasion it was a real milestone for me.

The nature, size and subject of this project all mean that it’s going to be a very important work for me, although exactly what impact it will have I won’t know until afterwards.

PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
I think that right now, the most interesting and important things that are happening in the field of orchestral music are being done by youth orchestras. It’s difficult for professional groups to match them in terms of the energy, dynamism and sheer joy of their music making – and often also the adventurousness of their programming.

Not only does the European Union Youth Orchestra have all these qualities – it also has as part of its raison d’être an international membership (its players are drawn from all of the twenty-seven nations in the European Union), which I think is very exciting. So, although I hadn’t worked with the orchestra before, I got in touch and was happy to find that they were as excited about the New Music 20×12 project as I was.

PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
For me, the gestation of a new piece is always quite a private thing. I don’t like to let go of it until I’m absolutely sure it’s how I want it and while I’m working, I’m not keen on anyone else hearing what I’m doing. But once a whole section of music has been completely sketched out, it’s extremely useful to be able to work with the players and hear a run-through to be able to judge what works and what doesn’t, and possibly make adjustments. With most new orchestral pieces this is impossible, but I’m hoping to able to hear some of my New Music 20×12 piece in workshop at the start of 2012. At that point, the input of the players and conductor will be crucial.

PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
I’m not aiming to address any particular group of people as opposed to any other group – I think the best art of any kind reaches people who have open ears, eyes and minds. I’d like it if listeners feel they have been really drawn into something: not just new and exciting sounds, but something emotionally and spiritually engaging as well.

PRSF: Where do you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
Inspiration and influences come from all over the place! Even something apparently unimportant like seeing a passing landscape out of the window of a train can be hugely important if it comes at a moment when you are receptive to it. Inspiration also comes in different forms: one can be helped by seeing or hearing something done technically in a certain way, if that technique is relevant to the problems being dealt with at work.

It’s extremely hard to say which creators I most admire! Bach would certainly be up there, for the extraordinary spirit that radiates through his work.

PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
My favourite events when I was growing up were track athletics – like lots of other people of my age, this was probably partly a result of seeing the film Chariots of Fire when I was young! I still find these events very exciting and moving, and I’d also love to see the cycling. 

A message from commissioning organisation European Union Youth Orchestra

The European Union Youth Orchestra has invited East-End-born Richard Causton to create a work celebrating the Cultural Olympiad in our home city. Provisionally entitled Twenty-Seven Heavens, it will be a concerto for orchestra scored for around 120 players and conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. The title comes from Blake’s Jerusalem, in which the poet parallels aspects of his mythological world with various districts of London, including areas such as Hackney, Bow and Stratford – now part of the Olympics site, and close to the composer’s home. The twenty-seven heavens are layers of obscurity that the individual must penetrate to see the vision of Eternity – an idea which has resonance for both the artist and the athlete. It can also be seen to refer to the 27 nationalities represented by the EUYO’s musicians. Performances are planned for the UK, Amsterdam, Berlin and key European festivals.