Q & A with composer Joanna Ward
24 January 2018

Introducing our Next Wave 2 composer: Joanna Ward

Jack SheenNext Wave is a partnership project between NMC Recordings, Sound and Music and Sage Gateshead, designed to support and promote composers in higher education as they transition into the professional music industry. The following Q&A is extracted from the British Music Collection website as part of their New Voices series.

Joanna Ward is a composer from Newcastle upon Tyne, currently reading undergraduate music at Cambridge University and studying with Patrick Brennan. Her works have been performed, commissioned, and workshopped by various ensembles and organisations from around the country, including the Royal Northern Sinfonia, St John’s College Cambridge Chapel Choir, Helios Collective (who premiered her opera hunger), and Gesualdo 6. Joanna is an alumna of the NYO Composers and Sage Gateshead’s Young Musicians Programme.


Joanna's piece to think at the sun features on the Next Wave 2 album which is available to pre-order here.


Her piece will be performed at the New Year New Artists concert at Sage Gateshead on 27 January 2018. For more information and tickets click here.


You're local to Gateshead and have a history with our partner, Sage Gateshead as an employee, young musician and composer. How has it been for you returning as part of this scheme and working with Royal Northern Sinfonia, your "home orchestra"?

It has been so lovely and rewarding to be working with musicians from the RNS in a professional capacity, and in the beautiful Sage building which I really do regard as a kind of second home (what with the amount of time I spent there between a part time job, two choirs, and full days at Sunday weekend school!). Returning to Sage as a composer makes me feel all kinds of nostalgia about the weekends spent wracking my brains about what to write next, in practice rooms looking out on the Tyne; clearly all those hours did something for me! Sage is such a peaceful place, unique in its design and location, and periodically returning there for Next Wave from Uni has been really wonderful in giving me space as a creative person to breathe and feel relaxed, something which can feel tricky in the academic confines of Cambridge.

The Next Wave scheme has also given me increased admiration and appreciation for RNS. Their incredible generosity with their skills and time, supporting young people making new music, makes me proud that they are my "home orchestra". In addition, what they do as a representative of high level music making in the North East - a neglected area in terms of attention and funding, in the tragically London-centric music scene - is so important and special. I'm very honoured to now be a part of that representation!


You draw on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg for this piece. What is it that appeals to you in his work, and how do you express or respond to that musically?

I really enjoy how direct Ginsberg's poetry is, whilst also being very evocative and vivid. Listening to or watching him perform his poetry is especially interesting to me as he delivers it in such an unfussy, almost un-emotive, but still very visceral way, which I kind of love - that his poetry is met with an aesthetically similar approach in its delivery, meaning its everyday-ness is communicated so effectively.

I also appreciate that his poetry is something which is meant to be spoken and heard, something which is reflected in my own work.

My piece 'to think at the sun' draws directly on phrases from the poem Transcription of Organ Music, using different methods to translate these phrases into musical ideas which I then transformed, layered and looped to create the whole piece. In a way, I like to think I've 'transcribed' the poem into music through my own personal viewpoint. I tried to be efficient and minimal with how much material I chose in the first place, to create a piece which is direct in a similar way to Ginsberg's delivery of his poetry, avoiding traditionally explicit or overtly fussy modes of expression. I also tried to capture some of the ephemeral, and at times delicate nature of this specific poem by focusing on blurring and refining different textures throughout, something which this ensemble lent itself very well to.


Read the full Q&A on the British Music Collection website.


Find out more about our Next Wave 2 project.


This work was created as part of Sound and Music’s Next Wave 2 programme. It was recorded and premiered in collaboration with Sage Gateshead and NMC Recordings. Next Wave 2 was funded by Arts Council England, PRS for Music Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and The Angus Allnatt Charitable Foundation.


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18 August 2011
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