Described as ‘…intricately and skillfully wrought’ by The Sunday Times, Hannah’s music has attracted the attentions of some of the UK’s finest groups including London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, and Philharmonia Orchestra. Born in London in 1984, Hannah went on to graduate from the University of Exeter with First Class Honours in Music, having studied composition with Joe Duddell. Hannah also completed a Masters in Advanced Composition with Distinction from the Royal College of Music studying with Kenneth Hesketh.
PRSF: Hi Hannah, we’re thrilled to have you as our March 2015 Guest of the Month!
HK: Thank you for having me! PRSF is such an incredible organisation that supports so many musicians and important projects; it’s a privilege to have been asked.
PRSF: We’re supporting your one-man opera ‘The Knife of Dawn’ through our Women Make Music programme. Can you tell us a little about the project and the motivation behind it?
HK: ‘The Knife of Dawn’ is a one-man chamber opera for baritone Peter Brathwaite. He’s such a commanding and engaging performer. It’s a project that is particularly close to my heart because it’s based on the poet and political activist Martin Carter who was from Guyana where my mother’s family are from. I’d been looking for an opportunity to highlight Guyana’s significance within the UK’s history and incorporate some parts of my own heritage into one of my works for quite some time, bringing together Caribbean and Western culture. Carter’s poems are incredibly lyrical and evocative, and five of them will be interwoven into the new libretto. The work will draw on cultural, political and racial issues still very relevant today. I also like that the work will create a role especially for opera singers of African/Caribbean descent.
PRSF: So, when can we hear ‘The Knife of Dawn’ being performed?!
HK: The premiere performances will be in October 2016, during Black History Month, and it’s looking as though it will be in a super-cool venue, which is really exciting! It’s such a shame I can’t quite share that information yet, but I’m really looking forward to updating everyone.
You’ll be able to hear snippets from the work before then though. The settings of Carter’s poems will also be a stand-alone song cycle for Peter, and an extended trio for the awesome Juice Vocal Ensemble who will form the pit choir in the opera. They’ll be performing ‘Not Hands Like Mine’ in a lunchtime concert at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff on Friday 27 November 2015. I actually did a Masters in Arts Management there once upon a time, so it will be really cool to go back with my composer hat on.
PRSF: What has been your career highlight to date?
HK: Probably my first premiere at Cheltenham Music Festival in 2011. I’d written a piece, Citygates, for string orchestra, but it was more the fact that my first composition teacher, Joe Duddell, also had a piece featured in the same concert, as did his teacher Steve Martland. It was a really special experience having my works performed professionally alongside my mentors, such celebrated composers, for the first time. The three of us were also involved in a pre-concert panel discussion, and I remember thinking and admiring how dynamic and passionate Steve was in particular, as he always was! It’s since been one of my main aims to channel that same level of enthusiasm and energy about my work. He was such an inspirational man.
PRSF: You were one of five women composers under 35 to feature on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’ programme – congratulations! Very well-deserved. How did it feel to receive that accolade?
HK: It was such a brilliant opportunity, and an honour to be involved in the series. BBC Radio 3 featuring music written by women each day during the week following International Women’s Day was a really great way of celebrating the work of female music creators. Not only was it a fantastic platform, it was also a good way of highlighting and discussing the gender imbalance within the profession. I know that some of my colleagues and I disagree on certain points. For example, I’m not necessarily against positive action because I see it as a constructive short-term solution to long-term change, but that’s absolutely fine, because isn’t it amazing that we’re having these open conversations in a public forum?!
PRSF: What are your plans for the rest of 2015 and beyond?
HK: I’ll mostly be concentrating on ‘The Knife of Dawn’ until October 2016! I’m really enjoying working on the creative process with Director John Walton and Librettist Tessa McWatt, mostly because I get to discuss ideas through with other people, which is rare as a composer! They’re both incredibly visionary artists, so they’re really feeding my continued development as a musician. More than they probably know. I have an idea for a larger-scale opera already, and I think I’d like/need(!) to get the ball rolling on that as soon as ‘The Knife of Dawn’ has had its first performances.
I also work part-time as one of the Directors at the charity London Music Masters (LMM) that aims to enable opportunity, diversity and excellence in classical music, inspiring positive change for individuals and communities. Moving forward we’ll be specifically working on projects that support new music, promote music-making across abilities and develop new audiences, which will keep us very busy over the next few years.
PRSF: What music are you enjoying at the moment?
HK: Well, my iPod’s currently on shuffle, so in the last five minutes, I enjoyed listening to Beyoncé’s ‘End of Time’, Bach’s Fugue in G minor (Book 1), and Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Heavy’! An album that I’m listening to a lot at the moment is Helen Grime’s NMC disc, ‘Night Songs’. It’s incredible. She’s one of my favourite composers, and I can’t stop listening to it. I’m particularly enjoying the first track ‘Virga’ for orchestra. It’s a very striking piece.
PRSF: Are there any performances that you’re particularly looking forward to this year, whether yours or anyone else’s?
HK: There are so many, but I’m particularly looking forward to a couple coming up quite soon. An actor friend of mine, Hannah Gittos, has been putting on these really fun nights of music, poetry and comedy called Unzip The Lip at The Book Club in Shoreditch. The next one’s on Tuesday 14 April, and it’s just a great presentation of creativity in a relaxed and supportive setting. Soprano Sarah Dacey and pianist Belinda Jones will be performing a couple of my songs, and I love that people, who probably wouldn’t ordinarily do so, will hear a little bit of contemporary classical music.
I’m also really looking forward to Gavin Higgins’ new ballet piece, Dark Arteries for Rambert at Sadler’s Wells in May. I just love the vigour and vibrancy of his music that lends itself so well to dance. The work will be performed by Tredegar Town Band, and it celebrates how brass band music continues as the legacy of the communities which mined the coalfields, the dark arteries, of Britain. It’s a brilliant concept.