Daniel Fardon: Life as an Apprentice Composer

02 Apr 2019

Life's been full of surprises for composer Daniel Fardon since his Wigmore Hall Apprenticeship took off. He's immersed himself in their Learning Department and written sketches for an art installation, working with the Bloomsbury Quartet who'll perform his commission in July. Find out what he's been up to in our latest blog...

On the 7th June 2018, which incidentally was my birthday, I received perhaps the best gift that was possible: news that I had won a Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize! I was overjoyed, and spent the weekend pinching myself in a sunshiny Brighton on a birthday getaway. Later in the year, the nature of my commission was finalised and I found out I was going to be the 2018/19 Rosie Johnson RPS Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer – a scheme named in honour of Rosie Johnson, former Executive Director of the RPS, who led the charity for 20 years.

The apprenticeship gives me the chance to observe, take part in, and collaborate on projects led by Wigmore Hall and their Learning Department. As part of this, I receive tailored development support from the RPS, as well as mentorship from Wigmore Hall's Composer in Residence, Helen Grime. Very excitingly, the whole scheme culminates in the world premiere of my RPS commission, which will be a string quartet written for the Wigmore Hall’s 2018/19 Fellowship Ensemble, the Bloomsbury Quartet. Now almost half way through the apprenticeship, I have been fully immersing myself in RPS events, and engaging with the wide array of projects at the Wigmore.

In early January, I met with Ellie Cowan, Programme Manager at the Wigmore, and the Bloomsbury Quartet, for a lovely evening getting to know each other and relishing in all our overlapping musical interests. That same evening, I also met sound-technologist-extraordinaire Gawain Hewitt. I was immediately plunged into a collaborative adventure with him, the Bloomsburys, and the Wigmore, to write some music for the hall’s Sense of Home learning festival. This marked my first official engagement on the scheme, and led me to write Three Garden Sketches for string trio, to be recorded in the Wigmore Hall with members of the Bloomsbury Quartet. It also featured in a multi-sensory sound and art installation a few weeks later.

On the 6th February, we all got together for a wonderful morning recording the sketches in the outstanding acoustics of the hall; a serious pleasure for a composer! You can listen to the recording here.

On the 18th February, the Wigmore’s Bechstein room was miraculously transformed into a house and garden wherein audiences of all ages could immerse themselves in an interactive experience. My sketches – as the title suggests – were contained within the garden area, where sounds were triggered by a watering can being placed on different responsive pads. My piece took the form of three movements, entitled: I. Flessibile; warm, II. Comodo; lilting, and III. Vigoroso; spirited. The first movement was slow and tender; my aim here was to evoke a ‘homely’ atmosphere to reflect the festival’s theme.

The second movement, very short and waltz-like, features a tripping rhythmic character aimed at being fun and upbeat. The final movement emerges rather fierce in contrast, with intense bursting gestures in the violins juxtaposed with impassioned expressions of solo cello.

This experience was a real treat, as it allowed me to work with the performers before beginning the commission itself, and what’s more, experience the Bloomsbury’s alluring sound in the very space of the final performance. This is a rare privilege. That day, I instantly felt I had a genuine creative connection with the quartet, who are already such sensitive and responsive musicians despite being a relatively new group. Naturally, this kindled a cache of inchoate ideas for my piece, which I am now currently writing for the premiere on the 17th July at Wigmore Hall.

I've not written a substantial work for string quartet before, but have always been very eager to! I want my piece to echo in some way the living tradition of the string quartet as a form, as well as play with the line between the familiar and the strange at the same time. My current aesthetic territory combines distinct materials from various cross-historical origins: a landscape in which the old and the new; the dark and the light; the simple and complex, and so on, are in dialogue with one another. I want to challenge and reject hierarchies – and perceptions of them – in different ways, by allowing boundaries between historically distinct styles to become permeable. I am exploring this pluralist approach in my string quartet. So far, I have opted for a multi-movement work in which structural proportions are in flux, and musical objects are in play with one another. During the recording session with the Bloomsburys, I noticed their acute ability to shift effortlessly between discrete stylistic temperaments with a pervading fresh and adventurous attitude. I want my compositional language to resonate with their approach, and I am excited to see where this takes me in the coming months.

Since the Sense of Home festival, I have been involved in various projects and events run by the wonderful Wigmore Learning department. This recently included a very enjoyable ‘Family Day’ centred on lullabies from around the globe, where sound artist Duncan Chapman and composer and Carnatic vocalist Supriya Nagarajan led a day of workshops sharing collective musical memories. The day culminated in an uplifting group performance in the hall of night-time sounds and songs, complete with a theremin, ondes martenot, and live electronics. Alongside my activities with the Wigmore, I have also been attending a series of professional development seminars hosted by the RPS, where industry experts talk to and guide composers about various hot topics in a relaxed and open environment. These have so far included commissioning (ABRSM), publishing, and the recording industry (NMC), and coming up we have a session on public speaking – all invaluable as well as eye-opening! I have also been able to have one-to-one meetings with Robin Sheffield from the RPS team, who's provided friendly support and guidance during my year so far.

In a world that can so often be resigned to solitude for a composer, the multitude of wonderful opportunities I've received through the RPS commission to connect and share, is a precious joy.

Daniel's commission will be performed by the Bloomsbury Quartet on Wednesday 17 July at Wigmore Hall. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.

For more of Daniel’s news, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @danielfardon.

If you've been inspired by Daniel's story and would like to support the work we do for composers, you can help by making a donation to our Music Makers Appeal. Any contribution, no matter how big or small, will make a real difference. Thank you.

OUR MEMBERS

Graham Sheffield, Director of Arts, British Council: Nobody could ever have invented the RPS. I love it for the support it gives to musicians, and for its commitment to an inspiring future for music.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bex Burch was able to spend a year in Ghana studying the gyil - an African xylophone - with Thomas Sekgura, a master musician thanks to funding from the RPS Isserlis Scholarship.