Meet Next Wave Composers - Edwin Hillier
23 October 2014

Edwin HillierEdwin Hillier

Setting out at the beginning of the Next Wave project, I had no idea what to expect; 12 composers squashed in black cabs at Bushey Station, heading into the Hertfordshire wilderness. But the next few days provided us all with so many opportunities: the chance to work with first rate musicians and soloists, to try out new ideas and to forge relationships with fellow composers (with much of this being done after hours at the quirky Bushey Policeman's Bar across the way!)

The initial workshop of my piece (hibeh – for mezzo-soprano and instrumental ensemble), proved to be an inspiring experience. I greatly appreciated the honesty of Garry Walker and the London Sinfonietta players, and their professionalism in discussing my music – what worked (and what didn’t), and especially how I might achieve the same effect with far less effort, on both my part and theirs!

Working with Loré Lixenberg – something I’d been really excited about since submitting my proposal almost a year ago – was really important in shaping hibeh. I was lucky during the Purcell course to be timetabled a session, just myself and Loré alone with a microphone, for a potential electronic aspect of the work. Although I ultimately chose not to pursue this pre-recorded material (deciding the music was more effective as a purely acoustic piece), this session went on to influence my final composition.

Listening back recently to this recording, I was surprised by just how many of the musical features of the quasi-improvised material Loré sang that day found their way, however loosely or abstractly, into the final vocal material of hibeh. This opportunity to collaborate so closely with an artist – and to keep such an aural record of material – had really gone on to shape my final piece noticeably.

I also worked throughout the course with David Horne, who was assigned as my Next Wave scheme mentor, and it was a real privilege to receive his insight (mixing together both his expertise as performer and composer). Following on from the first workshop, David helped me lots in refining and shaping my initial ideas (I ultimately kept only 10 bars of the original music – consigning many more notes to the scrap drawer! – which then went on to form the basis of the final 9 minute piece).

Fast-forward to August, and more squashed composers and performers pulled up in black cabs outside the studios at Guildford University. The chance to have a piece recorded in such facilities, with an ensemble as expert as the Sinfonietta doesn’t come around too often – and I really have to offer at this point my most sincere thanks to all at NMC, SAM and of course to Gary, Loré and the performers for making it all happen. The day was a great insight into the rehearsal and recording process, and we composers were all hugely blessed to have the chance of working with producer David Lefeber, who’s captured so vividly and truthfully each of our pieces.  I’m now looking forward immensely to the release of the recordings on 24th November, and of course to meeting up with the whole Next Wave community at Huddersfield (hcmf//).


Listen to an extract from Edwin's hibeh

Interview with Edwin

Edwin's Top 10 Tracks


1. Sciarrino: Luci mie traditrici 

Sciarrino’s music has undoubtedly been my biggest influence over the past few years. I caught Luci mie traditrici almost by chance –  performed by Music Theatre Wales at the Linbury last October – and was blown away. The vocal writing in Luci  – like much of Sciarrino’s vast vocal output – is spun out in intricate, almost Monteverdian webs of notes, yet the meaning and drama of the words is never lost (and all this amidst an orchestral backdrop that teeters on the edge of audibility, as if on the cusp of the unknown).


2. Gesualdo / Victoria: Tenebrae – Responsories And Lamentations For Holy Saturday       

3. Sciarrino, Gesualdo, Fedele: Tre canti senza pietre: I. Mormorando

Luci (whose plot is inspired by the life of 17th-Century composer, Carlo Gesualdo) is a good segue into my second choice – the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday, written by Gesualdo in 1611. I discovered these pieces some years back now, and have long been moved by their disturbing – and often perplexing – harmonic language and dissonance. (Following on from this is a piece by Neu Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, featuring music of both of the above composers – I’m especially fond here of Sciarrino’s mischievous retelling of a selection of Gesualdo madrigals.)


4. Nigel Osborne: I am Goya

5. Rebecca Saunders: Quartet for accordion, clarinet, double-bass and piano

I came across Nigel Osborne and his I am Goya – a setting of a Andrei Voznesensky text for Baritone and ensemble (1977) – once again rather fortuitously, whilst researching the music of Rebecca Saunders (see track 5). Osborne was Saunders’ teacher at Edinburgh University, and you can hear an immediate connection in their – albeit very different – writing; an ear for subtle timbre and fine detail of sound. The opening of I am Goya is really memorable for me – with the baritone only entering proceedings after a whole two minutes (and even then, disembodied and oddly impotent in his falsetto register, before slowly descending and emerging at the forefront of the instrumental texture).


6. Wolfgang Rihm: Ricercare – Musik in memoriam Luigi Nono

Rihm also links back to Rebecca Saunders, as another of her former teachers. Ricercare is a piece that I’ve come to admire greatly, principally owing the stark simplicity of the music; essentially blocks of bare harmonic material, which effervesce and fade into silence, yet maintaining a strong sense of kinesis to their dying breath. I remember on first hearing the peculiar feeling of having no sense of time of time at all, yet feeling completely drawn in and part of the music.


7. Thomas Weelkes: When David Heard (Second)

Thomas Weelkes’ When David Heard (1612) might seem an odd choice at this point! But it’s a work from my secret choral past which I revisit frequently, and never fails to move me. There’s a real simplicity and serenity to the music, which seems completely at odds with the highly charged and emotive text, resulting in something really special. He’s not a well-known figure outside the cathedrals and chapels of this county, but I hope you’ll have a listen! Perfectly performed here by Gallicantus.


8. Corrado Canonici: A Roaring Flame

Corrado Canonici’s album of double bass music, A Roaring Flame is perhaps one of my favourite discs on NMC’s catalogue. I can’t quite remember how I came across it, but it’s been saved on my Spotify playlists for some time now – and for two tracks in particular. Firstly, Oliver Knussen’s Turba for solo double bass: a rugged and earthy piece, very much in the same vein as his Ocean de Terre (written one year later). Second is James Dillon’s title track, A Roaring Flame, a setting of gaelic poetry for mezzo-soprano and double bass – a piece bursting with rich exoticism and murky, coiling beauty.


9. Fausto Romitelli: Domeniche alla periferia dell impero: Domeniche alla periferia dell impero

I heard Romitelli’s haunting Domeniche performed earlier this year by the fabulous explorensemble, in a concert featuring my own piece, Sumac. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know Romitelli’s music at the moment having – rather shamefully – missed out on it up till now. There’s something incredibly intoxicating about this piece especially, and a soundworld and harmonic language quite unlike any other (listen out for doubling pitch pipes and kazoos throughout).


10. George Frideric Handel: As pants the hart, HWV 251b

My final choice is one of Handel’s Chandos anthems, As pants the hart, composed in 1713. The music of George Frideric Handel is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, having recently been appointed Composer in Residence at Handel House Museum for 2014-15 (which will see me over the next year writing a series of new commissions, as well as leading on education and composition workshops). I’ve thoroughly loved revisiting Handel’s music over the past few months, drawing inspiration from his music, and breaking it down to its essentials for my schools programme. As pants the hart is one of the many pieces I’ve been enjoying of late – performed here by the Sixteen.


Explore Edwin's Music Map



hibeh is available on the Next Wave album featuring all 12 new works from the Next Wave composers.


1. Weiwei Jin: Sterna Paradisaea, Returning
2. Maya Verlaak: All Verlaak's Music is Alouette
3. Eugene Birman: The winter desert of my silences
4. Edwin Hillier: hibeh
5. Ji Sun Yang: KAIROI
6. Georgia Rodgers: partial filter
7. Ben Gaunt: Filling Rubin's Vase
8. Michael Cutting: I AM A STRANGE LOOP III
9. Oliver Christophe Leith: hand coloured
10. Barnaby Hollington: Velvet Revolution
11. Paul McGuire: Panels
12. Ryan Latimer: Moby Dick

Artists: Loré Lixenberg, Sarah Nicolls, Oren Marshall, Sound Intermedia, London Sinfonietta, Garry Walker

Download the album here.



Photo: Stuart Leech

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