Q & A with composer Freya Waley-Cohen
18 January 2019

Described as “at once intimate and visionary” by BBC Music Magazine, Freya Waley-Cohen’s music has been heard in the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Barbican Centre, Sage Gateshead and New Mexico Museum of Art; and at the Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, Dartington, Ryedale, Santa Fe, St Magnus, Tanglewood and Spitalfields festivals.

Freya held an Open Space Residency at Snape Maltings from 2015 to 2017; is Associate Composer of contemporary-music series nightmusic at St David’s Hall and of Reverie Choir; and will be a featured artist at this year’s Dartington Festival. She is a founding member and artistic director of Listenpony, a concert series, commissioning body and record label that programmes classical music, both new and old, alongside a variety of other genres including folk, jazz and pop, in beautiful and unusual venues.

Philharmonia Composers' Academy Vol 2 will be released on January 18. Hear a preview here.

Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?
I always feel a little insincere making a list of my top pieces. I suppose this is partially because what I love to listen to is constantly changing and can become a bit like a false freeze-frame of time, representing what happened to pop into my head at that moment.  I also listen in a way that mixes in old and new, pop and classical - and therefore it feels even stranger to separate out the contemporary music and choose some top composers. If I had to pick a favourite composer, I’d say Messiaen.

Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?
The first piece I had performed was at the Walden School, which is a composition course for teenagers that happened to be 5 mins away from my step-Grandmothers house. They have a festival week at the end of the course and all their students’ pieces get performed by professional players. I was 11 the first year and I wrote a little viola duet with three movements. It was all handwritten and I wasn’t exactly the tidiest teenager, so I think that it is lost to time now (thankfully!).

Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?
I worked in a nursery school for a year. My main duties were taking three and four year olds, in groups of 8, to swimming lessons, sports lessons and drama lessons, as well as entertaining them with stories, colouring-in, puzzles and sometimes biscuits in between lessons.  With any situation including very little children there are a million funny and beautiful little moments as well as a certain amount of madness and chaos.


You're stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

If I had to pick three, I would say I’d love to meet Sappho, so that I could hear her lost songs and poems, Harriet Tubman, because I can hardly think of anyone whose bravery could be more inspiring and important, and Hildegard von Bingen, if only to find out how she managed her time so as to achieve in so many different fields in just one life time!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a piece for the LA Phil’s green umbrella series for John Adams to conduct, alongside a trio for viola da gamba, cello and clarinet for CHROMA ensemble, and a string quartet for the Albion Quartet which will be premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival this summer.


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?
At the moment my dream project would be ‘dance-cycle'; a set of loosely interconnected short stories shown through dance (and, of course, music). I’d love to collaborate with a choreographer associated with a different genre of dance for each story - so those choreographers would be my dream collaborators at the moment - and I’d need to get the writers of the short stories I have in mind on board with the project too!


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