The young guitarist is a special performer in many ways. Playing with great intensity with a very relaxed posture, her musical communication has both clarity and directness. She is also more than one type of all-rounder, being a composer, arranger and improviser working in various musical fields. She talks to Al Summers.
Working as a soloist is very different from playing in ensembles and duos. Guitarists sometimes lack opportunities for the latter. Do you actively seek this kind of work or has it been an organic part of your life as a musician?
I’d say both. One of my earliest memories is of playing folk music with my dad, and when I first went to the Royal College of Music I had a ‘say yes to everything week’ and started playing folk and busking with percussionist Ruari Glasheen, which developed into five-part folk ensemble Tir Eolas. We were fortunate early on to be part of the wonderful Live Music Now scheme, and in 2013 to be selected as City Music Foundation artists. This allowed us to release our debut album, and we were invited soon after by guitarist John Williams to perform at the gorgeous Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Other times these things will come totally out of the blue - last year for example, I was invited by the Musicall Compass to improvise at Kings Place and on Radio 3 in between movements of Victoria’s Requiem Mass, which proved to be a thrilling (and totally unexpected) experience.
The Uppsala International Guitar Festival in Sweden and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama are both hosting your masterclasses soon. Do you particularly enjoy this work?
Yes, it’s hugely rewarding. It’s interesting because I don’t wish to force somebody to feel the music in a particular way, but I can help them find ways of feeling for themselves - perhaps through singing, movement, speech, imagery, etc. I learn a great deal both from giving masterclasses and in my role as assistant guitar teacher at the Yehudi Menuhin School, and also in workshops through the Musicians’ Company’s brilliant outreach scheme.
Your playing of the Berkeley Sonatina has extraordinary depth. It is almost 60 years old but I’ve never heard anyone perform it like this. It has made people revise their perception of it. What insights enable you to bring out so much in this music?
I find that many parts of the piece do have a ‘lightness’, in a positive sense, for instance its pastoral opening, or the joyful abandon which concludes the work. The music has a certain delicacy and I think it needs great subtlety and control for its colourful intricacies to really speak. My sessions with Julian Bream (for whom the piece was composed) greatly helped me to navigate its nuances and to make sense of the work as a whole.
With some recorded performances available on your website and elsewhere on the internet, what forthcoming opportunities do we have to listen to you: are there any special concert appearances?
Yes, there are many concerts I’m looking forward to. The Park Lane Group has asked me to compose a new solo piece for a premiere at St John’s Smith Square in April 2017; in the same concert, I’ll also be performing Julian Anderson’s Catalan Peasant with Guitar, which I premiered at Wigmore Hall last year for the Julian Bream Trust.
There’s an exciting new festival taking place on 19 and 20 November, the Stoke Newington Guitar Festival, and I’m looking forward to giving a concert and class there.
On 11 November you will be performing with violinist Joo Yeon Sir at King’s Lynn Festival with support from the Tillett Trust. Will the concert feature your award-winning Five Impressions?
Yes, and funnily enough it was this piece which first brought us together. I was later commissioned to write us a piece by the International Guitar Foundation, a fantastic organisation committed to staging guitar concerts, new music and educational events. Joo Yeon is not only a formidable violinist but also a composer, so our joint passion for composition inspired a series of workshops last year at the RCM’s Junior Department, culminating in 28 new works being written for the duo by student composers.